The ups and downs of dyslexia


Arran Smith reflects, from personal experience, on the frustrations and positives experienced by those with dyslexia.

According to the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) there is an estimated 10% of the population that has some severity of dyslexia. This is 6.7 million people in the UK today, and on average three students in every class, allowing us to say that it is one of the biggest hidden disabilities in the UK today.

As a severely dyslexic adult, dyslexia affects my day to day life in many ways, as a difference, a disability, an annoyance. But also dyslexia is a strength, a positivity and a way of life for me.

Dyslexia is definitely a spectrum of difficulties and strengths. Over the past 15 years we’ve used many words in association with dyslexia; this includes comorbidity, co-occurring differences and more recently part of neurodiversity. When I look at dyslexia it is a difference in the brain that affects the way that I learn, and it affects the way that I access the world today.

We live in a world where literacy has been put on a very high pedestal, we communicate through words, letters and symbols. As a human race we naturally learn to listen and speak which is part of our genetic structure. When it comes to reading and writing these skills are taught. Now of course, when it comes to dyslexia we are not just talking about reading, writing and spelling.

When I listen to the definitions of dyslexia there are many words used to describe the differences and difficulties that puts a negative connotation on the way we view dyslexia.

“Primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.” BDA Rose Report 2009

When you look at what Rose wrote back in 2009, we can agree today that over the past 30 years of my life living with dyslexia that I do have all the difficulties listed above. Phonological awareness for me today is interesting as we teach phonics every day in school. As a father of an 8 year old daughter who spells out everything phonetically, it is very hard for me to ascertain what that spelling is, as I have been taught to know letter names rather than letter sounds.

When we look at the concept of verbal memory and verbal processing speed this to me is interesting. My verbal reasoning in everyday life (including the dictation of this article), is pretty good in my opinion. Often when I’m trying to communicate even with my family the concept of naming an item in the house, such as the dishwasher, and not being able to articulate that that’s the dishwasher, when I actually mean the tumble dryer because I can’t use that rapid naming skill, can be quite frustrating.

For me the term dyslexia has many connotations in the way that I relate to it. It is interesting for me that a high percentage of people that are dyslexic do not feel that they have a disability and in some cases I can believe this is true. Though when I look at my dyslexia, I do reference it as a disability, but also a strength. The reason for that is because in the world today literacy and the communication skill of reading and writing is used in everyday situations; from receiving a letter in the post, going to the supermarket, driving a car or surfing the internet. Therefore, society has actually implied a disability to those with dyslexia.

An everyday thing or activity we all do throughout our lives, and one of the hardest things for me, is an activity I have to do four times a year. That is to purchase Valentine’s Day, Birthday, Mother’s Day and Christmas cards for my wife. I have to go into a shop, read, decode and understand what the inside of a card says. Your body is under stress and anxiety with having to do a normal activity that you have to get right. You have to feel strong in your own understanding of your differences and your strengths. For me, when I bought a ‘I love my mummy’ mug for my daughter to give to my wife at Christmas, the wording at the bottom of the mug, that I did not read and did not decode, says ”even though she nags”. An embarrassing and difficult situation. Luckily for me I have an understanding family and I understand my differences are my strengths.

I definitely see my dyslexia as a strength. “It is important to remember that there are positives to thinking differently. Many dyslexic people show strengths in areas such as reasoning and in visual and creative fields.”

“Some also have strengths in other areas, such as design, problem solving, creative skills, interactive skills and oral skills.” BDA 2010

Understanding your differences and understanding your strengths is one of the most important areas that I recommend to parents and those with dyslexia today. Thinking and seeing things differently is one of the strengths that I put down to my dyslexia, solving a problem is a natural skill that I have. From finding ways to create an exhibition stand or find a way to
structure an order to sell something. We see a high percentage of entrepreneurs (an estimated 40%) with a dyslexic tendency. When we look at those in the public eye that have told us they are dyslexic, from actors, painters, poets, entrepreneurs and even racing car drivers, these people all have a skill that we can see fits into that dyslexic profile.

Dyslexia may be a difference in the brain of how we have that ability or that difference in the way that we access the literal way of learning, but when we look at the genetic profile it could be classed as a natural evolution in the concept that we all have strengths and weaknesses.

Supporting those with dyslexia to access the curriculum to understand their difficulties and differences, but also praise their abilities and strengths, is to ultimately empower anyone with dyslexia today to be an active and supportive member of society.

I know, even though I am a severely dyslexic adult, where dyslexia affects my day to day life. I have achieved and I am thriving in the world today.

Arran Smith
Author: Arran Smith

Arran Smith
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Arran is a dyslexic entrepreneur and now the MD of the SEND Group Ltd and Founder of the Dyslexia Show Ltd.
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