For several years now, I have been meaning to put pen to paper, or I suppose finger to keyboard (I’ll expand on this later) to write about my experiences and life as a severe sufferer of dyslexia in the hope that it will give others an understanding of what sufferers go through every day. Why do so now I hear you ask… well the answer is simple, I see the need.
This week I was speaking to a parent who was describing the struggles which her child goes through every day because of dyslexia and how so few people understood her which finally triggered me in to writing a little piece on my life as a ‘hidden genius’.
Dyslexia affect my everyday life
In all honesty there are very few people who fully understand the extent to which my dyslexia can affect my everyday life, those who are closest to me really see me at my most vulnerable but likewise it is those closest to me that suffer the most as a result of my condition.
I’ll never forget when I was working for Games Workshop for a part time job and we had a visit from the area manager. My boss at the time and one of my closest friends to date, Martin, was having a discussion with the area manager. Afterwards Martin told me how the area manager had said I was a great little worker.
Martin had explained I was dyslexic to which the area manager responded by saying ‘you’d never guess looking at him’. Unfortunately still to this day far too few people really understand what it means to be truly dyslexic.
The amusing part of working for Games Workshop is I could never really get my head around or understand the games. Instead I would wing it and pretend I knew but when it came to painting the figurines I became obsessed.
Broad spectrum of “learning difficulties”
The hardest part of dyslexia, in my opinion, is that it covers such a broad spectrum of “learning difficulties. God how I hate that term, although if I’m honest there is no more suitable term I can find.
Most people think of how it affects people’s ability to read and spell with the jumbling of letters, but it covers a much wider range of issues sequencing to short and long-term memory loss and from focussing to hearing.
The other problem is so many sufferers also suffer with other related disorders such as Dyspraxia, ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) and APD (Audio Processing Disorder). In addition, these disorders can trigger a huge range of issues with an individual such as an extreme lack of self-esteem, confidence and anxiety issues.
Primary school … you lazy
So on to my experiences… Fortunately education has moved forwards from when I was a child and dyslexia is finally starting to be recognised more in mainstream education, however, this has not always been the case.
The first time anybody really acknowledged that I had an issue was in 1981 when I was in my last year at primary school, please bear in mind my memory of this is very vague and I’m largely recalling details from what I have been told by my mother since.
One teacher recognised my …
Halfway through the year we had a new teacher who had been teaching abroad. Although he never spoke to anyone about it my mum recognised that he had been changing the methods by which he was teaching me, and my work started to go from way below average to above average and eventually I graduated from primary school into one of the top bands in my year at Comprehensive.
Until this time I had always struggled academically, could never spell the simplest of words and had no concentration in any lessons. To the teachers and largely to my parents I was just considered lazy, but this one teacher recognised that I was not and nurtured me to do greater things.
You are thick and lazy
Unfortunately, once in Comprehensive education I no longer received the support needed and struggled to really reach my full achievement. I specifically remember one English tutor saying to my parents I was thick and Lazy because I couldn’t read or write to any reasonable standard and as such refusing to allow me to sit O’levels in English Language or Literature.
The following year I was to prove him wrong when I entered myself for English Language and gained a grade B. His response to my proud parents was that it must have been an easy exam paper.
Lazy a self-fulfilling prophecy
As a child many of my difficulties didn’t really impact my life drastically other than my education and even then, the labelling of being lazy or thick stuck with me and became a self-fulfilling prophecy in which I started believing it.
My own experiences of dyslexia go way back before all of this although it wasn’t until my final year at university that I realised that it was dyslexia. One of my few memories of the affect of dyslexia in child hood was my appalling balance and coordination.
My parents bought me my first bike when I was about 4 years old, but it wasn’t until I was 9 that I could ride it. My best friend at the time and possibly still now, Jamie, would come to our house every week and jump on my bike riding it around and around.
I’m told by my mum again how one day enough became enough and I climbed on the bike and spent the whole day falling off and trying again until I could finally ride it.
I had severe dyslexia
So what aspects from Dyslexia have I suffered with and do I still suffer with? In 1992 I was in my last year at University and one tutor advised I visited an afternoon group for dyslexics.
A month later I had a psychological assessment which established I had severe dyslexia and the educational psychologist was stunned that I’d ever got to university let alone was approaching completion of my studies.
I can read … but
The obvious issues I suffer with are those most common with dyslexia. The first thing anyone thinks of is reading ability. STOP THE PRESS, like most dyslexics I can read. In fact, give me any word and I have no issues but give me a page or a book and I start to struggle after a few sentences.
My ability to comprehend and remember anything I have read is non-existent. If you give me a small paper back book it will take me 6 months or more to read it but will remember nothing of it. I have a whole bookcase of books that I would love to read but have never been able to get in to them.
I have actually reached the point now that if people even ask what I read I just say I can’t read. I just can’t be bothered going through with an explanation any more. This is not only true of books but also films and TV shows.
Don’t get me wrong I love going to the cinema to see the excitement of an action movie, it’s just by the next day I’ll have forgotten most of it or got it muddled up with another similar film.
A bit of ADHD
This however, is not only due to my dyslexia but also because to a degree I suffer with ADHD and am unable to sit still and concentrate on anything for any length of time. This degree of hyperactivity means that I survive life on very little sleep.
Typically I will be up till 1 or 2 am going for a run, playing on the Xbox or looking at social media and then wake each day at 7am. I often joke saying life is too short and I’ll sleep when I’m dead. The reality is probably that my lack of sleep will be the death of me.
Short and long-term memory
Memory loss is a major issue in my life and one that infuriates not only me but those closest to me. I have issues with both my short and long-term memory. Not only do I forget people’s names, but I also forget faces, lists, instructions, events and situations.
My wife Elaine will send me to the shops and by the time I get there I’ll have forgotten what I went for, I could be at a bar or restaurant and I must write a list on my phone for the order.
Another situation that often arises with my memory is my need to express an idea as soon as it comes to my head before I forget it. I will often be mid conversation and think of something I need to say.
All conventions regarding verbal communication go out the window with me and I have a tendency to talk over people and butt into conversations when I have a thought I need to vocalise, whether it’s relevant to the conversation or not. This is not something I do intentionally or to be rude but it is more a need to express myself before I forget.
There are many lesser known issues I must deal with daily regarding my ability to communicate with others. I often struggle to put what I want to say in my mind into words which people will understand or won’t take the wrong way.
Likewise, I will often say and do things without fully thinking them through and understanding the consequences. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve hurt and upset through this.
Audio Processing Disorder
Also, when people speak to me I will often take them very literally and fail to understand their true intention. Another communication difficulty I suffer with which is very common among dyslexics is APD, Audio Processing Disorder.
This is one of the hardest things I must deal with. APD is the ability for your brain to separate out different sounds and to process them into understanding. I could be looking someone in the face and they could be talking clearly to me, but, if there is the slightest background noise then although I can hear them the chances are that I won’t be able to separate their voice from the other sounds to clearly process and understand what is said.
There have been many occasions where I’ve been talking to someone and after the 3rd or 4th time of asking them to repeat the question I’ve just given them an answer not even knowing what was asked.
Not always the smartest move when some has asked you to do something and you agree with no idea what it is you are supposed to be doing. APD also becomes a major issue if I go to seminars and presentations as I rarely get the full benefit of the presentation.
It amazes me that Elaine has stood by me at times as even with her I struggle to have a conversation with for any length of time. Car journeys are the best…NOT…I’m trapped with someone on a journey and I feel I’m expected to talk to them.
Worse still is when you are on a journey and your passenger is talking to you. In the back of my mind I’m panicking thinking they’re going to want a response in a minute and I’ve no idea what I’m going to say.
My poor memory also affects me on a far more emotional level. I have very few memories of my childhood and struggle to remember much from my past. Each year around the anniversary of my father’s death I try to remember things we did together or holidays we had as a family but struggle to do so. In fact, my memories of him are so poor at times I forget what he even looked like and this is true for so many people from my past.
Lack of confidence
If you had to contend with just one of these issues then you could probably cope however, to have to deal with them everyday is a continuous drain on the mind which has a major affect on your confidence. It is this lack of confidence which is my biggest drawback.
To many people I come across as a very confident individual, but the reality only seen by those to who I am closest there is a very reserved nervous and anxious side. Within my work and in areas related to work I am constantly on the go and buzzing.
This is because my work allows me to take on a different persona and indulge in my passion. Within my work I feel safe, but at the same time it means that I tend to throw myself in to work leaving me working up to 14 hours a day even when I don’t need to.
If you take me out of my safe zone then I struggle. If you were to ask me to take public transport from one place to another for example then I would be looking for a reason to take the car so I don’t have to communicate with someone and at a party with people I don’t know I would be the one sat in the corner keeping quiet.
Over the years Elaine has been my rock and done so much for me because I lack the confidence to do so myself. Even going to check in at a hotel I feel the nerves and muscles tighten and my heart starts beating faster.
This lack of confidence also affects my ability to make friendships. In my life I know so many people but in reality I have very few people I would consider close friends. If I ever get invited to parties it’s very rarely I would go and 9 times out of 10 will find an excuse to avoid it.
When I do form close friendships I tend to become almost obsessed, again this is largely because of my inability to communicate with others particularly well. Possibly because I have few close friends I subconsciously try as hard as I can to please them for fear of losing them and letting them down.
This in itself becomes a major issue not so much for me but for them as I become so intense in the relationships I build. A couple of friends who mean the absolute world to me often have to take me to one side and tell me to give them space and not be so needy.
Yet even with those close friends I rarely talk verbally but instead tend to hide behind texts and messages on social media. For me this is a much easier way to communicate and has become a coping mechanism as it allows me to try and get the wording right before sending or speaking.
Developed great coping strategies
Over the last 47 years of my life I’ve come a long way and I’ve developed some great coping strategies for my condition. Through grit and determination and with the help of martial arts I now have a good level of balance and coordination, I’m probably as fit if not fitter than almost every other 47 year old I know.
It’s almost like I’ve managed, through training, to rewire my neurons from the bumbling fool I was as a child to the adult I’ve become. When it comes to writing I only ever type as my handwriting is appalling.
If I do need to write by hand it will always be in upper case so that it can be read. If you give me almost any physical task then the chances are I can do it and in the same way if you ask me to try a sport then the chances are I could perform to a reasonably high standard.
The frustration is that if I can overcome the physical limitations then why can I not deal with the mental side? I long to have a meaningful conversation with someone.
Hurts me emotionally.
The thing that probably hurts me the most is with my condition is the perception that some people have of me as being a bit thick. I’ll often say something without thinking beforehand and people will look at me as if to say ‘are you really that stupid’.
The few close friends I have will now and again call me thick or call me dummy or say I’m being daft, not in a nasty vindictive way but as a flippant joke. They have no intention to hurt my feelings when they say these things but this probably hurts me more than anything else emotionally.
Every time I’m referred to as Lazy, thick or daft it takes me back to my English teacher and the way he spoke to my parents about me. Inside I know I’m clever but my intelligence is trapped in a body and mind that’s wired wrong and can’t express itself the way it should be able to.
A person in my lift … Elaine
In lots of respects I have been very fortunate in the success I have made of my life and if I’m entirely honest most of this is down to one person, my wife Elaine. But the price has been heavy on her.
She has had to be there every step of the way since we first got together and decided to make a go of it in 1988. But there is no denying the stresses have taken their toll on her health and wellbeing.
Run my own business and role model
Although she’ll never admit it I have held her back in life and she has made choices in her life based around my needs. For this I will always be grateful but with a feeling of guilt. Without her I would never have taken the steps to run my own business and strive to become a role model for so many, instead I would be working in retail or a factory somewhere with no aspirations or self-belief.
So many people suffering with this condition never receive the help and support I have been fortunate to have simply from one person believing in me. The largest issue is dyslexia covers such a wide range of disabilities.
I honestly believe that we all have some degree of dyslexia but in most you would never even know yourself yet others could be worse than me. There is still a real lack of understanding even amongst the so called specialists.
There is one statistic which always terrifies, yet doesn’t surprise me regarding dyslexia. Although less than 10% of the UK population are recognised as dyslexic it’s estimated that at least 36% of prisoners in the UK are dyslexic.
It always makes me wonder what would happen if more people were given the assistance they needed from a young age. I know from my own experience that had I not had such a strong guidance from my parents and support from Elaine I could easily have made some very poor decisions in my life and may well have ended up going the same way.
A list of achievements:
- Running my own successful martial arts academy with 200 students
- Earning black belts in multiple disciplines
- Winning an Educational Funding Council Instructor of the year award for 2017
- Becoming a mentor and role model for others
- Successfully completing 50miles at Worlds Toughest Mudder 24hr challenge
- Successfully completing Europe’s Toughest Mudder
- Completed 44 full Toughmudders
- Becoming a Toughmudder Ambassador
- Becoming a Wild West Races Ambassador
By James Latus