Discovering I’m Dyslexic
Oxford University Innovation’s Richard Auburn shares his experience of discovering he was dyslexic for World Dyslexia Day.
Harry Potter was fortunate to attend Hogwarts as his teachers were experts at developing his innate ability. For dyslexics in the real world, however, schools seem to have not learned this lesson.
Schools misunderstand how dyslexics interact with words and information, and seemingly do not appreciate how dyslexics learn. While in school, dyslexic children need to learn how to transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”. From my personal experience, I can assure you that dyslexic children would rather fight mountain trolls, death eaters and Voldemort.
I was very lucky at school as that’s where I managed to teach myself how I needed to learn. My schools all assumed that people learned by reading but I found learning easier when I converted my notes to diagrams and mind maps. By ignoring convention and working the extra hours that it took to rewrite my notes, I was able to complete my A-levels, an honours degree and a PhD with no support as nobody (including myself) knew that I was dyslexic.
Whilst I could always read age-appropriate material at school, as an adult I continue to find myself accidentally skipping words (or entire lines) and I often need to re-read paragraphs. When I’m being especially dyslexic, words can wobble and move toward the centre of the page. I only recently learnt this wasn’t supposed to happen as I was only told that I’m dyslexic six months ago. Until recently, my imperfect solution for words moving was to use my finger to mark where I was on the page and to concentrate a lot harder. I often found myself exhausted at the end of each working day.
Since learning that I’m dyslexic, I switched to using the “Open Dyslexic” font (https://opendyslexic.org/) as this helps to anchor my eyes on each word (comic sans is also good). My reading glasses have blue lenses and these seem to help me acquire/process movement (http://www.dyslexic.org.uk/). Whilst you’re reading this text, my words are moving to the left. Fortunately for me, these simple changes seemed to be sufficient as I’m now rarely exhausted after work. You may, however, see other dyslexics using glasses with orange lenses as these maximise contrast, and schools frequently provide coloured overlays. Firefox is my preferred browser as the Mobile Dyslexic add-on automatically switches web page fonts for a dyslexic-friendly variant (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/mobile-dyslexic/).
Schools also tend to forget how word processors are now widespread. I personally didn’t discover them until I was at university. Fortunately, as an adult, I’m free to use spellcheckers, thesauruses and web searches to correct my poor spelling. My e-mails will, however, always be concise as verbiage causes muddled thinking which then prompts unintelligible prose. Thankfully, perhaps sparked by social media and certainly due to people being busy at work, my colleagues appreciate brevity and are tolerant of a direct — albeit professional and oddly formal — writing style. I am still prone to missing the occasional word which means people sometimes need to check what I meant to write. I nevertheless hope that you can see that dyslexia shouldn’t be viewed as an impediment in the digital age. That’s why it’s such a travesty schools haven’t been able to ‘go digital’ as this switch would likely help every child.
I am now a Senior Licencing Ventures Manager in Oxford University Innovation and I help the University to translate its research into reality. I work toward this aim by negotiating licence deals and helping founders build tech companies. My job calls upon my innate skills as a dyslexic which I believe include delegation, problem solving, storytelling, empathy, attention to detail and (frequently in parallel) big picture thinking. Indeed, consultancy firm EY jointly published a report with ‘Made By Dyslexia’ that indicated dyslexics’ strengths are closely aligned to the skills required in the future workplace (http://www.madebydyslexia.org/assets/downloads/EY-the-value-of-dyslexia.pdf). Research from the Cass Business School also suggests that a disproportionate number of entrepreneurs and CEOs are dyslexic (https://www.theceomagazine.com/business/management-leadership/dyslexic-ceos/). It cannot be coincidental that so many dyslexics have migrated toward careers that have a strong creative element.
Harry Potter used his magic for good in a fictitious world. I continue to encounter days when writing is frustrating, but I happily leave the spelling to the computer and I’ve resolved the reading challenges. Resilience, combined with a lifetime of finding incremental (and almost entirely digital) solutions means that my dyslexia is an asset. The greatest untold secret that all dyslexic children must be taught is that their dyslexia will be as much of a benefit to them as an adult as it proved to be a challenge as a child. Dan Holloway, CEO and founder of the University of Oxford spin-out company Rogue Interrobang (https://rogueinterrobang.com/), recently tweeted “why ask a homogenous team to think outside the box when you can employ a diverse group and ask each person to think inside their box?”. Why indeed. Fortunately for me, my employer agrees with Dan Holloway.
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