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My life with Dyslexia

5 December 2023

5 mins

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Let me introduce myself, my name is Sheryl Shelbourne and I am an Occupational Health and Wellbeing adviser at Loughborough University, and I am dyslexic.

I didn’t find out that I was dyslexic until I was 50 years old and doing my degree in Occupational Health (OH) at the University of Derby, where it was standard practice for all students to complete an initial assessment. Thinking about it, I’d always known that there was something different with my written English as I struggled at school, but it was never picked up on, as unfortunately when I was at school dyslexia was not really known about or assessed, so went undetected.

This was the same when I did my nurse training back in 1989. It was always a mystery to me why most people didn’t struggle the way I did when writing things down; people would laugh at the way I spelt certain words, and I was often slower than my peers at reading things, but I just thought ‘that’s me’ and worked on my own ways of doing things to try to support me in my written work.

When I did find out I was dyslexic, things just seemed to fall into place. Getting support at the University for my degree was not straightforward, and I completed my degree without any additional help or support that should have been available. That being said, I passed with a 2:1 but did find it exceedingly difficult and spent many a long night going over my assignments. I would check them at least four times to ensure I had spelt things correctly and that the sentences made sense, which took a lot of extra time and energy. As a result, I always felt drained when doing written pieces due to the extra effort needed to do what most people found came more naturally.

How did I feel about being dyslexic? Well to be honest, for many years I just thought I was not as academic as my peers, but I knew that I could come up with really good ideas, or I would know what I wanted to say but my brain just didn’t seem to be able to get it down on paper before I had forgotten it.

Like I said previously, being told I was dyslexic answered a lot of questions and made me realise that I wasn’t necessarily less academic, but that my brain worked differently, so I looked into dyslexia in more detail and finally understood what this actually meant and it was a relief.

When I started at Loughborough University, I was able to have a discussion with my manager regarding my dyslexia and my manager encouraged me to approach Access To Work to see if they could offer any guidance to help me with writing reports, alongside time management, memory and organisational skills which are also common issues for someone who is dyslexic.

I completed the online application and was advised the response would be between four to six weeks, but in fact, it took 10 weeks for me to be contacted and the process to be set in motion, which included the initial gathering of information; the assessment; and a follow-up report including recommendations of equipment, suitable software and coaching support for the technical aspects and the practical ways to approach tasks such as organisation, time management and memory.

Most importantly, these sessions helped me understand my dyslexia and my strengths and weaknesses so that I could work on them more effectively. The coaching was face-to-face which I enjoyed. The coach was very open and understanding and didn’t at any point make me feel inadequate. The technical coaching has allowed me to ask questions at my speed and has given me the confidence to explore different software and equipment that normally I would avoid as I don’t always find this easy to master. I have learned different techniques to help manage my time and memory which were also very interesting, and even now 12 months down the line I still find them helpful.

Now my best friend is called Dragon (as in Dragon software!). This package allows me to dictate my report without having to work as hard, meaning I can focus primarily on what I want to say without my brain having to work on keyboard skills, spelling individual words and worrying about whether I’m actually making sense.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have to read through my work, but not four times like before and the number of errors is greatly reduced, not to mention the time that is saved by doing it this way.

I personally would recommend anybody with a neurodiverse condition or disability to contact Access To Work and go through the process of getting help and support with their work if they’re struggling.

It does take time, which can be frustrating, but here at Occupational Health we may be able to help and support you through that time with hints and tips that we have picked up or researched along the way, which may have a positive impact on your working day as it has on mine.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

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