How my dyslexia has shaped me – Sam’s Story

By Christine Hemphill | 6th October 2017

Samantha is the Community Lead for our neuro-diverse community in the Open Inclusion panel. She is also Head of Fellowship Services at RSA, London and has an MA in Disability Studies. She has been involved volunteering for and working with dyslexia organisations for over 20 years. As part of Dyslexia Awareness Week #positivedyslexia2017 she would like to share some of her perspectives on dyslexia.
We know Sam as a smart, passionate, funny and a great, powerful spokesperson for the community she leads at Open. Here is her story.

A woman looking at the camera and smiling with a t-shirt with a colourful heart design on. She is next to a stand of coloured threads. Strong colours are arranged at the top and pastels lower.

Sam selecting threads for the craft she loves to do

Sam’s Story

Hi, I am Sam, I have dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADD, I have spent over 11 years working in the not for profit disability sector as well as over 20 years as a volunteer for disability organisations. Today I want to reflective on my own dyslexia.

“Dyslexia is a difference, not a disease!”

Regularly you hear about new “cures” for dyslexia which really annoy me, as there is no cure. Dyslexia is a difference, not a disease! However, with it being dyslexia awareness week I have been thinking, if I was offered a cure for my dyslexia, would I take it or not? Here is my answer and why.

The challenges

Taking a cure for my dyslexia would mean getting rid of all the parts of my dyslexia that cause me difficulties and frustration. Every dyslexic is different but for me these are:

  • Difficulty with writing, especially things like reports at work, emails, even texts and social media posts like this one.
  • Spelling and grammar, which I have never understood. I am known for my Capital letters in the middle of sentences, my very own dyslexic trademark.
  • Reading, particularly aloud. I can never do this word for word.
  • The nightmare of completing a form. Just the look of a form can make me unable to write in a box or fill in my own name.
  • The lack of coordination and the ability to fall over nothing in the middle room.
  • I wear Ozzy Osbourne green glasses, so I can read off white screens or paper.
  • I wish I had a wider vocabulary and was not limited to words that are easy to spell.
  • I find it hard to pronounce words correctly and hear the difference.
  • I get sayings and phrases mixed up. I been told it is a ‘scape goat’ not an ‘escaped goat’!

As nice as it would be in a split second to get rid of the challenges/frustrations dyslexia can bring, what are the benefits of thinking differently to the majority that I might lose if I were no longer dyslexic?

The benefits

In my view the positive attributes dyslexia have given me are:

  • The ability to problem solve. Often I can see the solution before others and I usually have no idea how I got to the answer.
  • Good verbal communications skills, developed by avoiding writing as much as possible. I prefer to speak to people face-to-face or on the telephone.
  • I believe my own dyslexia experiences have made me more compassionate, thoughtful, intuitive and empathetic to others. This has given me good people management skills I use at work.
  • Having to work twice as hard as others at school to succeed as an undiagnosed dyslexic, gave me the determination and motivation to work hard throughout my life for what I want to achieve.
  • I was not naturally organised, so over the years I found coping strategies for this. Now I am highly organised, using these strategies, making me a great planning and project manager.
  • The best attribute I feel I have due to my dyslexia is strong visual skills. I am very good at seeing patterns or spotting things. Watch out, I am a very competitive at spot the difference or word searches!

When I look at these lists I see these things that are part of my identity and make me good at what I do. This is the person I am.  My dyslexia has shaped me and always been part of my life, even before it was diagnosed.

“My dyslexia has shaped me and always been part of my life, even before it was diagnosed.”

The challenges I face, can be managed; with coping strategies, the help of others (such as a good proofer – vital!) and technology. I use spell checkers, text-to-speech, computer dictation, my Amazon Echo (Alexa is my new best friend) who spells words for me and Google which allows me to check meanings of words, so I know I have the correct word.

Due to my dyslexia, I have met many amazing people, other dyslexic’s, giving me friends for life. It has also determined my career for me, a path in the disability sector, plus the drive and passion to go get an MA in disability studies.

So to come back to my original question, if I was offered a “cure” for my dyslexia, would I take it? My answer is No.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The difference is for me is that mine have a name/label and some common traits associated with that label. That are very much part of me and I would not trade those pros for the cons. So let’s shout about the positives! Enjoy #positivedyslexia2017 this dyslexia awareness week.

Want more?

If Sam’s insights have been useful to you, and you would like more views from people who can clearly describe their needs and preferences, please contact us. We provide a broad range of research and inclusion awareness services for organisations via our user panel of over 350 people who have a wide range of disabilities of varying severity or are older.