Learning difficulties – Dyslexia

When you are reading do you find yourself asking ‘what does this sentence mean?’ Or ‘how can I explain to others what I have just read?’ Have you experienced embarrassment about expressing your thoughts in reports that you had to write?

Different people experience dyslexia differently. Some are able to read books and reports but struggle to process the information to help them understand it. This is frustrating and humiliating for many people who have dyslexia. Your disability usually causes you to take jobs where you will be safe from embarrassment. Even if you are smart and intelligent enough to do a particular job or business you are still afraid that other people will call you dumb for not being able to explain what you have read in business meetings or take accurate notes. To make things even more stressful, diagnoses on people whose first language is not English is difficult. All you are told is that your difficulty might not be dyslexia at all but could simply be a language barrier.

At school, I had a teacher who came once a week to help me with my reading. I speak French and English fluently, but I needed help reading in both languages. When I was growing up in Switzerland, I was the oldest kid in my class. I was what they called a dumb kid. At the age of eight, I was struggling with counting numbers from 1-10, do basic maths, and I didn’t know my alphabet until I was twenty-seven. It didn’t matter how many nights I practised, nothing stayed in. My family called me many names. The word ‘stupid’ was a common one at home and at school.

When we lived in the French-speaking part of Switzerland I was told that my difficulties were because I was born in Angola and when we were there we spoke Portuguese, and that was the reason I was struggling at school. So, when I was about nine, I decided to stop speaking Portuguese and focus on French. When I turned eleven, we moved to England, and my brain went back to ground zero. It was blank. So, I was in high school with literally no basic learning experience behind me. No alphabet to navigate me through the books, no numbers, and I was stressed. I cried silently. To compensate for my learning disabilities, I was always in the midst of fights and getting told off.

Before I left school, I saw a career advisor, and I expressed my desire to teach young children. I was advised to go into hair and beauty instead. Even today the thought of teaching young children scares me. I keep thinking that I am not smart enough, I don’t know anything to teach them. So, I have made learning my life- long friend. I study hard, but then I take a few days off and everything is forgotten. If I have deadlines at college or university, I have to study day and night non- stop until I finish everything because stopping for me is not an option.

I hate having learning disabilities, so when I had my children I decided that they would only speak one language: English; have one culture: British; so as to minimise their chances of catching my learning disabilities Even with all that, my kids each display learning disabilities like mine. It breaks my heart when my kids share their school experiences; how their brain just goes blank or they cannot understand the lesson until it is over. It is a case of information-processing delayed.

I was told I might have dyslexia, but it could not be properly diagnosed because of English not being my first language. I can’t speak Portuguese anymore. I can speak French, but I cannot read or write in French. I can speak English, and I can write with the help of Grammarly apps and help from friends, I read mostly via audiobooks.

The International Dyslexia Society said in a report that about 700 million people have dyslexia. Having dyslexia does not stop us from pushing hard to learn. I have overcome some of my learning obstacles and continue to do so. Because of my learning disabilities, I resorted to using procrastination. I became my own internal bully: ‘I’m not good enough. I’m not going to remember anything so why bother. They are just going to fail me because I’m not academic enough.’

I left many jobs out of fear. I was fine until I was offered more responsibility that needed paperwork to be done or reports to be written or letters to prospective customers. I was afraid I would not be understood so I would run away by quitting the jobs. On the outside, it looked like I was lazy and had no interest in having a job, but on the inside, I was scared that people would laugh at me. I was scared to make mistakes that could cost the company I was working for money. I worked at Alders before they shutdown. I was a supervisor and my manager did all the paperwork, so I just did the practical stuff. I was happy until I got promoted to manager at another branch. Fear overtook me. That fear leads me to have nightmares that caused a 21-year- old with only £41 in her bank account to go to Victoria station in London and catch a coach to Leeds.

The longest job I have kept was my beauty business. I worked on my own. I slowly developed my own system of completing paperwork, and slowly got into enjoying reading and that is when I started taking online courses to study at my own pace. I have spoken to other people who procrastinate because of fear of their learning disabilities, and I believe we should help one other. This why ‘Learn Together Grow’ was born. Having learning disabilities does not have to be a hindrance, and we should inspire others to see it as an opportunity.

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