Dyslexia and Determination

“You need to aim lower. I really don’t think you have what it takes to go to university”. Guess who said that to me? A high school careers adviser.

I have always found words difficult. At primary school, teachers just thought I was a little bit ‘slow’ or lazy. I wouldn’t read out loud in class, trying to pronounce new words was terribly embarrassing, my reading speed was slow, and my spelling was so bad that it couldn’t even be classed as phonetic. Around 4th year at high school, an English teacher first mentioned that they thought I might have dyslexia. They referred me for a ‘test’. What actually happened was someone who worked at the school looked over some essays I had written. They let me know that they had found no stereotypical signs of dyslexia in my work… To this day I don’t have a clue what that means. So that was that, I wasn’t dyslexic, I really was just a bit ‘slow’.

The following year it was time to start thinking about what I wanted to do after school. This is when I spoke to the hugely encouraging careers adviser that basically told me not to bother looking at further education. I decided to do the opposite. I scraped into university by the absolute skin of my teeth. While there I actually started to do pretty well. Everything was now computer-based and I had found all different ways to hide and overcome my difficulties. My confidence started to grow and I really started to enjoy education. Then it came to my final year where I had to write a 7,000 word report. With increased scrutiny on my written work I couldn’t hide my issues. My supervisor said to me after I couldn’t find mistakes that he had pointed multiple times, “unless you are dyslexic or something this just isn’t good enough… no seriously you should get tested”. Two weeks later I was assessed by an educational psychologist who concluded that I was indeed quite clearly dyslexic. Today, I can proudly say that I passed that 7,000 word essay. Over the following 7 years, I went on to achieve a PhD (including a 126,000 word thesis) and publish research in world leading journals.

I don’t want this to seem negative because this is far from a sob story. Dyslexia has forced me to develop confidence in my own abilities and create my own strategies to overcome difficulties. I want this blog to be a gentle reminder to believe in yourself even when others doubt what you can do. I have come to realise that the issues we face because of our dyslexia can be overcome and we can do whatever we want. Education might not be for you, but whatever it is that you want to do, go for it. Despite almost 10 years of higher education I still can’t spell very well, I read really slowly, I avoid reading out loud like the plague, and if I need to pronounce a new word I will fail terribly and be hugely embarrassed. But you want to know what? That is perfectly okay.

Thank you for taking the time to read this short blog.

Dr. Kris McGill