I am dyslexic. I was only diagnosed as a mature adult when I came to the UK from Australia and had done my first dyslexia training course.  I always knew I was different from other people.  I was always an avid reader but my spelling was atrocious.  I was very fortunate to go to a selective high school but the spelling policy was rigorous.   In every examination (twice a year) you had to rule off five lines at the top of every question response before you started writing, and all errors were written there, correctly spelled, in red ink.  Half a mark was taken off for every spelling mistake, up to a total of five marks on each paper.  My exam papers came back covered in red with all the spelling mistakes listed.  Not only did this affect my grade point average but it also did nothing for my self-esteem.

I survived and finally my spelling improved.  How?  Certainly not by phonics instruction.  I am convinced that people who promote phonics instruction are not dyslexic and have no concept of what it is like to be dyslexic.  You can't teach people to do things they can't do by giving more of the same and making them feel worse by proving again and again they can't do it.  I did a BA and MA in English Literature, taught English in high schools, became an English headteacher and then trained secondary English teachers at Macquarie University.

Before we started teaching we had to do a spelling test (similar to the basic skills test in the UK).  I was petrified and I learnt all the irregularly spelled words (they were listed as demons) and learnt words by mnemonics and by word families (roots, prefixes and suffixes).  I had lists of word families, so I could connect them in my mind.  I also learnt spelling rules.  I passed this test.  Spelling has been the bugbear of my life as I will never write a word on the board I am unsure of, and always look things up.  It was a revelation to find out I was dyslexic after learning about the strengths and weaknesses involved.  It is a great relief not to have to cover my problem and to be able to admit it openly.  I have also become adept at finding errors, probably due to my earlier problems.  I can also rejoice in the fact that I have a very good long-term memory and am a lateral thinker, two strengths of many dyslexic people to balance to poor spelling and poor working memory.

People with dyslexia and other SpLDs suffer humiliation and sometimes bullying because they can’t do some things others can do.  Life is not easy for them.  It takes them longer to do tasks and they work very hard.  If reasonable adjustments are made and if they learn to maximise their strengths to overcome their difficulties, life becomes much easier.  They need to understand how they think and learn (metacognition).  Dyslexic students need to be taught in a way that recognises their strengths to overcome their weaknesses, at their point of need.  It’s the way they learn best.

Australia has not been a good place to be dyslexic.  It has lagged behind many other countries in recognising dyslexia and other SpLDs.  I had to go to the UK to have my revelation.  It is to be hoped that recognition of SpLDs will move forward and that those who have difficulties will be able to be assessed and be given reasonable adjustments to meet their needs.

Since coming to the UK I have worked as dyslexia co-ordinator in a further education college and two universities. I then worked as a senior lecturer training dyslexia tutors and assessors to work in higher and further education.  I have also edited a book ‘Study Skills for Students with Dyslexia: Help for Specific Learning Differences’, which is now in its third edition.  It contains strategies to help students with SpLDS cope with the rigours of academic life.  If you have a specific learning difficulty in the UK, there is provision under the Disability Act for reasonable adjustments to be put in place in both education and the workplace.  Students receive tutorial and IT support and extra time in examinations.  Everyone is different and everyone needs specific support and adjustments.  Specific Learning Difficulties need to be addressed.  It is to be hoped that many people in Australia will also have a revelation and not have to wait until they are old or emigrate.

Sandra Hargreaves AMBDA (FE/HE) BA Dip Ed MA MED ADS Cert

Read more on Spelling Strategies from Study Skills for Dyslexic Students written by Sandra.

Find out more about Sandra and her amazing work at Mind Aligned.

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