5th October 2016 by Catia Neves
A personal story of dyslexia, the label and its associated perceptions
Time is elastic to me. I often bite off more than I can chew; conceptualising how long things actually take is virtually impossible for me. I often try to pack too many things in and periodically get ‘burnt out’ because of it- this is true of my work and social life. I’m often late and tend to leave things right til the last minute, something my friends and family berate me for. To counteract this, when it really matters, I’m either ridiculously over-prepared or stupidly early, to try and avoid the inevitable stress and anxiety that usually accompanies my lack of organisation. To many on the outside, I seem organised and calm, but they aren’t fully aware of the hard work and compensations I make to ensure I don’t put myself in those stressful situations.
It’s something I’ve always been conscious of, but just accepted as part of my being, not really questioning it beyond that- ‘It’s just not something I’m very good at, and that’s ok’, I would tell myself. It was only at the age of 20, when I went to see an Educational Psychologist at University after a friend mentioned it might be worth getting tested for Dyspraxia (having noticed I’m also pretty clumsy, with a rubbish sense of direction and spatial awareness… the list goes on). It was not a surprise when the results came back stating I’m Dyspraxic, but I was quite shocked that Dyslexia came up on my diagnosis too.
I am not your ‘typical dyslexic person’, in the respect that I do not find reading, spelling or writing an issue- asides from free-flow ideas becoming a terrible jumbled mess (I guarantee you, by the time I finish writing this I will have shifted these paragraphs around a million times!). Anyway, it was interesting to me that even within a ‘diagnosis’ category, no two people’s experience of it manifest in the same way, and that there can be huge cross-overs between various ‘learning differences’. Raising the questions, ‘what is typical?’ and ‘what is normal?’. Although I don’t fit neatly into a box (and indeed no-one really does!), it was fascinating to trace my learning/ behavioural patterns to those associated with dyslexia and dyspraxia.
As I’ve already mentioned, my challenges are not the obvious ones commonly associated with dyslexia, so more often than not, I feel completely fraudulent using the term. Similarly, I don’t feel like any of my challenges have been disabling to the point it feels necessary to label myself with a term that is far too often perceived as a negative deficit. I’ve got challenges, but then again, so does everyone else. They’re not barriers to me because I’ve figured out how to work around them. Everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses- people approach things differently, and that’s what makes us diverse.
That’s why I personally find the term ‘learning difficulty’ ridiculous- it doesn’t resonate with my experience of dyslexia, education or how I want to be perceived. I understand that labels serve a purpose, and wonderful things like access to support and useful strategies can come from it, but the language is often so loaded. That’s why ‘learning difference’ sits much better with me; I think re-framing labels in order to to open up a conversation that’s more about difference, and less about disability is 100% the only way forward and a much truer and more positive representation of diversity.