(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)At the ripe old age of 21 years, eight months and 20 days, I was told I have dyslexia.
I was in the final year of my four-year journalism degree at the University of Sheffield, just nine months away from graduating.
I had spent the better part of two decades in the British education system and no one had ever suggested that I may have a specific learning difficulty.
According to the NHS, one in every 10 people has some degree of dyslexia. It is a learning difficulty, completely separate from ability, which affects individual elements of the way a person learns and understands information.
Dyslexia is often diagnosed in early childhood, when children begin to learn how to make sounds and interpret language.
Everyone I knew who was diagnosed with dyslexia at school was in the bottom set for every subject and repeatedly told they were ‘just not academic’. That was exactly why I refused to get tested. I did not want to be limited in what I could do.
The moment that finally pushed me out of my delusional bubble that dyslexia was something I could ignore and eventually grow out of was when a colleague commented on how poor my memory is.
I was presenting in a video and kept on forgetting my lines seconds after reading or being told them. The strangest thing about it is that I had written the script myself, so I should have been better at remembering it.
I have come to realise that I was dyslexic before the dyslexia was diagnosed. This was quite a comforting thought because it reminded me that I have got here despite the ‘disability’ – so why stop now?
Finally being told I was dyslexic came as a relief. I battled with imposter syndrome a lot growing up, convincing myself that I did not deserve to be where I was because I’m not actually as smart as people think.
The diagnosis gave me a justifiable reason as to why I struggled with words and spelling. And the reason did not disqualify my intelligence.
Being smart had always been a defining aspect of my personality. The first thing my parents would say when they introduced me to someone was: ‘This is our daughter Paula. She’s so bright, top of her class. Yes, we are so proud of her.’ Friends and classmates always asked me for help with school work, expecting me to do well.
When my university disability advisor confirmed that I was likely to have a specific learning disability, thoughts of abandoning a profession in journalism and media bombarded my mind. What if I was reporting live on TV or radio and could not remember a word or struggled to read the live cues on air? How embarrassing would that be!
Some time has now passed and I am so much more at peace. I have come to realise that I was dyslexic before the dyslexia was diagnosed. This was quite a comforting thought because it reminded me that I have got here despite the ‘disability’ – so why stop now?
I always say that dyslexics should never call it ‘my dyslexia’, because we are so much more than the condition. Like many other dyslexic people, I am creative, entrepreneurial, and always think outside of the box, often coming up with solutions and answers other people would never think of.
To digest and retain information, dyslexics need to interact with information and knowledge in more ways than just reading. We need to use our senses: see it, hear it, feel it. I recommend online audio readers; websites where you can upload large documents and it reads it back to you, so you can read and hear the words at the same time.
I no longer want to be a reporter (in the old fashioned, typical sense of the word) but not because I don’t think I could do it. Learning about dyslexia, what it is and the many creative people who have it, has pushed me to aspire to create media content for people who learn like me. People who need to experience the information in more ways than just reading.
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