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Jonathan's Story: Dyslexia Does Not Define Success

Monday 9 August 2021

Jonathan McGloin shares his dyslexia story and gives our community some great advice with positive thinking.

“I proudly state on my email signature that I am dyslexic and give a brief overview of neurodiversity, which often leads to people questioning and discussing Dyslexia, which is great”

I was diagnosed with Dyslexia at the age of 28, after cruising through school and undergraduate studies. From a young age, I was always in extra booster classes in school, with before and after school classes as well. I struggled mostly with maths and reading, especially recalling information, dates, and most frustratingly times tables. My parents had flagged this at various times throughout my primary education years, however when I was ‘monitored’ or assessed, I always just scraped by and went under the radar.

During high school, I was able to do well in practical classes, however, still struggled with maths and more ‘academic’ classes. When deciding whether to take A-Levels or go down a more vocational route, I was told I wasn’t good enough to go to university. Thankfully, my parents fought on my behalf and I managed to once again scrape through my A-levels. In high school, no teachers noticed or saw signs of my dyslexia, it was often put down to bad behaviour or lack of interest or concentration.

It wasn’t until years later, I was in a research methods class during my master’s degree that the professor asked to speak with me after class. I met with her in her office, where she basically gave me the entire lesson again, through drawings, diagrams and a whole lot of patience from her. She then asked me if I had ever looked into the reasons behind why I found it hard to understand things, and recall information.

Following this conversation, I booked into the student disability office to have an assessment - where a few weeks later I was diagnosed with dyslexia, finally answering why I felt so different from my peers through various stages of my learning and development.

My parents who always knew “something was up”

It’s easy to talk about the challenges of dyslexia, not just for me but perhaps for my parents who always knew “something was up” and not being able to find out what it was. I think the later in life diagnosis was difficult for me, but it was equally difficult for my parents. I remember telling my parents, it was like confirmation for all the years of struggles, longer school days, extra tutoring and dare I say it, bad behaviour in class. I think this was sad for my parents as they perhaps felt like they had let me down or failed me during my school development years - however they would be completely wrong in thinking this way. I know now looking back just how much they tried and voiced their concerns at numerous parts of my childhood.

Since diagnosis, Dyslexia for me, has impacted my life positively through allowing me to take a step back and understand my needs, and the needs of others. I use my Dyslexia to teach others and bring about awareness within my circles and in particular the workplace. I proudly state on my email signature that I am dyslexic and give a brief overview of neurodiversity, which often leads to people questioning and discussing Dyslexia, which is great. I feel that awareness is key in changing misconceptions of dyslexia and in the past two years I have really championed this and shown other ways of working and thinking.

I would suggest that most people with dyslexia have horror stories from school, whether it was being laughed at for not being able to read, allowed or unable to finish those dreadful times table grids which still haunt me 29 years later. Following my diagnosis, I learnt a lot about myself. I was quite frustrated and angry. I was angry that I maybe hadn't reached my full potential through not receiving support or understanding why I wasn’t able to do certain things. I did, however, eventually, turn this around and reminded myself of all of the achievements I had made, without a diagnosis. I had still managed to pass school, achieve a BA (Hons) Degree and work towards my MSc Degree.

Yes, these experiences were not easy, yes I was still sitting in the library when my peers were getting ready to head out to the university bar, but for me, I had to spend this extra time to get the work done. I now realise that my dyslexia isn’t an enemy, it was actually the driving force to my learning, it strangely guided me to different areas of interests which I perhaps wouldn’t have found if I didn’t have Dyslexia. I feel my dyslexia has given me opportunities and skills which developed as a result of overcompensating for poor and slow writing, such as public speaking and strong social skills.

The importance of diversity in the workplace

Despite a late formal diagnosis, there were teachers and educators throughout my life that identified some additional needs that I needed help with. My parents also voiced concerns around dyslexia at various points in my life. As no formal diagnosis was ever made, my parents ensured that I had extra help where possible. This was in the form of before and after school classes, home tutoring and other ways of learning such as extracurricular activities like kayaking, sailing and music. I now work within Forestry in the Civil Service, where I highlighted my dyslexia and have been offered reasonable adjustments to help with my dyslexia and day to day work. I am fortunate to have an employer who values diversity within the workplace, I am however aware that this isn’t always the case.

Dyslexia does not define success

For me, many of my memories and stories about dyslexia come from looking back on my childhood and school days. Now, it is so clear to me that I had dyslexia, yet I somehow managed to slip through the cracks. When I was 16 I was told by my teacher that I would never be able to go to university because I wasn't good enough. This was heart breaking, I lost a lot of confidence in my academic abilities and it still saddens me to this day that an educator told me that at such a young age.

Now looking back, I have always wanted to write a letter to that teacher to let her know what I have achieved, including the fact that I did actually go to university and also obtain a masters degree. I am so proud of myself, but also grateful that my family supported me to pursue what I wanted to do, despite being advised and often prevented from doing so. I do believe that anything is possible if you work hard and want to do it. Dyslexia doesn’t define success, and I am proof of that - keep at it.

My advice for someone who has recently been diagnosed with dyslexia:

Firstly, welcome to the group! Whether you are still in school, a late diagnosis or haven’t even had a formal diagnosis - I am sure that you have thousands of questions and a variety of feelings and emotions. It’s OK, breathe. I felt that the diagnosis for me, just confirmed what I and my close ones already knew. This didn’t make it any easier to digest, but it did help steer conversations and later the different types of support which worked for me. Dyslexia is so personal, no one else is the same as you. Reach out to others, join forums, read the BDA website, google books on dyslexia or better yet watch videos and shows about it. I found that my diagnosis didn’t only impact me, it strangely impacted my parents too. I forgot that, for them who questioned and knew ‘something was up’ it confirmed what they had always thought, and that they perhaps let me down (which isn’t the case). The diagnosis helped steer these conversations and when reading over the ‘results’ of the diagnosis screening it really felt like an episode of this is your life’ from the 90’s - it was so thorough and everything they had written was so true and so, well, me!

The one thing I would like the world to know about dyslexia:

I guess I would say that everyone learns differently and that sometimes just because the education system is laid out in a certain way doesn’t mean that it's the right way. Sometimes, people with dyslexia just need that little extra ‘something’ to get us on the right track and on an equal playing field as our peers. I have always liked the idea of Dyslexia being a superpower, it sounds silly but if you think about it for a second… it is quite true. So, what is your superpower?