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Embracing my dyslexia: A journey of acceptance

7 October 2021

5 mins

I now know my story is very similar to so many. At school I was doing really well, then I hit 13 and within two years dropped down to the bottom set across the board.

It was put down to just reaching a natural ceiling, and I started to hate English and Maths. I started to focus on subjects like Design, Drama and Sports Science – the more practical they were, the more I enjoyed it.

Fast forward to university and for the first two years I was getting results in the 70-80% region for verbal and practical, but then marked in the 40’s for exams. I remember getting really upset after one exam result and talking to a member of staff. He made a throwaway comment to me: “Of course you are getting better marks in practicals than written – all dyslexics do.”

I was stunned. I’m not dyslexic, I couldn’t be. I was studying Sports Science at Loughborough. I’m not stupid. He encouraged me to get a test and low and behold I was dyslexic.

I knew so little about it and I couldn’t even spell it (obviously!). I didn’t tell anyone to start with. I was ashamed, I felt stupid. I was really embarrassed. And I started noticing all the mistakes I was making in my writing. I couldn’t tell my left from my right, and I couldn’t recite a telephone number correctly. I struggled to spell long words and often my grammar didn’t make sense. This carried on for the next 10 years.

I would then find secret methods to hide it: every word that was more than six letters long had to have a rhyme in my head; I didn’t disclose it on job applications, and I certainly didn’t publicly acknowledge it.

Then I came across a charity called Made by Dyslexia. They were supported by one of our lay members of Council, as well as a long list of business people, celebrities, and politicians, all talking about their dyslexia.

But it was different. It wasn’t about reasonable adjustments or coping strategies. It wasn’t about software to help hide my spelling mistakes. It wasn’t about putting things in place to make me seem less stupid or ‘normal’.

This charity is about empowering the GOOD skills that dyslexia gives you. It’s about creativity and imagination, and communication and emotional intelligence. It’s about visualisation and seeing 10 steps ahead. It’s about exploring and innovation, and thinking in pictures and not words – this shocked me as I assumed everyone thought like this.

I now realise that I am in the minority, but that my differences and my disability (a word that took ages to admit to) actually make me better at some things. One statistic that’s always stuck with me is that while 15% of the population have dyslexia, 40% of self-made millionaires have it. Dyslexics are known to be dreamers – so you can see why this stat appealed to me.  

I started nervously telling people. I changed my iTrent profile at work to include it. And I started tweeting about it. I was so nervous; I thought I would be treated differently, or – especially working at a university full of people who are good at writing – colleagues would stop asking me to do stuff. And I was desperate not to be treated differently.

I was treated differently. But in the best way.

I have a small group of colleagues who will always proofread work for me, including some of the senior team. And every time I request it, it is met with a smile and often a request for a red pen to mark up the inevitable mistakes.  And I am asked to work on projects that my dyslexic skills are better suited to than other colleagues.

Does it stop me from doing my job? No. Has being open about it helped? Hugely. Am I treated differently? Yes – but in a better way than I could ever have hoped for. I have had nothing but support.

Is it always easy? Not at all. I am in tears, probably weekly, when I am sat in a meeting or I get feedback about a paper I wrote and someone points out a simple spelling mistake. I feel heartbroken and silly. But not through anyone else’s doing, it’s all through my own desperation to hide the ‘bad’ and embrace the good. And I don’t want it to stop – I won’t learn about my mistakes if I don’t know.  But it doesn’t stop the upset and the self-disappointment.

It’s a constant challenge, but, for me, being open about it has meant I have a whole team of people helping me with that challenge and each one of them makes it just that little bit easier.

Ally McDonald Alonso
Vice Chancellor’s Executive Manager & Senior Recruitment Specialist, and Office Manager

This blog was written to mark Dyslexia Awareness Week (4-10 October). Any staff member with dyslexia is welcome to join the Staff Inclusivity Group, which advocates for equality in the workplace for colleagues with physical or invisible disabilities. The group is also a place to seek support from one another and challenge University policies and practices.

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