Living with dyslexia


Vetlife President James Russell explores the diverse experiences of living with dyslexia and dysgraphia. Through personal stories and insights, James encourages understanding and support for everyone’s unique abilities, stressing the importance of embracing neurodiversity.

My experience of living with dyslexia is very different to my sister, who is also dyslexic, and my daughter who is dysgraphic. More about those in a moment, but my central theme is to recognise the phrase coined by esteemed teacher of psychology Richard Goss, that when you have met one dyslexic, you’ve met one dyslexic.

My spelling isn’t too bad, my handwriting is awful, my short term memory is a thing of such rare and vanishing beauty as to be declared extinct. My sister, a consultant neonatologist of some renown, at the age of 40 still cannot get the right there in their sentences when they’re writing. She will regularly refer to my brother and I as a right pear of fools. My daughter, a bright and sparky 12 year old, will produce creative writing of aching beauty in its vision and inspiration, and almost impenetrable in its diction, grammar and spelling.

So, those things are different about the three of us, but what is similar? How have we all thrived in our own field? We have found the tricks that work. For me, that is using a computer rather than a pen and paper – I find my mind free to think about what I am typing, but only able to focus on forming letters if I write.  My sister will speak a lot of their instructions. I can’t recall the last time I saw her write much at all, although I guess they must in their work-life. My daughter will have a choice to make with any piece of work – do you want lots, or do you want it legible? To have both is a no-go.

We also struggle to draw sense from long and convoluted sentences.

The fact that we’re asked how much fruit there was in total if Johnny had three pears before Linda arrived with four cherries and an apple which got eaten by a grey squirrel leaving two pieces of fruit each, is of such irrelevance to the answer ‘4’ and so frustrating for those of us who struggle to read, and process long sentences. Schools even today though, insist that this is the way to write questions.

We feel held back by unnecessarily complex queries, given quickly, and needing to be absorbed and acted on promptly.

I guess my question really, is – who doesn’t?

This then, leads me to my second theme. Improvements which benefit us dyslexics are likely to improve things for everybody.

A dyslexic friendly notice-board is a reading friendly notice-board. A dyslexic friendly PowerPoint presentation is a reading friendly PowerPoint. I am confident that there will be exceptions to the rule that this makes things easier for everybody. People with some neurodiversity’s might be further challenged by my dyslexic font I write in for example, but on the whole, we can stick with this being an overall improvement in our presented material.

The times I am most productive are when I have had time to:

  • Prepare
  • Work through the material at my own pace
  • Respond in a quiet, distraction free space (very different to one of my children who can only work with music in the background)
  • Present the material in a way that makes logical sense to me
  • Not be asked for too much detail, accepting that my brain is probably better geared for new ideas than fine detail

This doesn’t make me exclusive, so many others would say similar. So if I could ask just one thing of anybody working with people with a specific learning difference it would be this: Find out what works for them. It is highly unlikely that it will negatively affect your ability to engage with the work, but might just make the difference between somebody being able to contribute, or losing the value of their contribution.

One specific example would be to go back to my daughter. Dysgraphia wasn’t described when I was a school student, but the more I learn about it the more I recognise it in myself. It centres on processing speed, and ability to decode thoughts into text, it is a close relative of dyslexia. She also is affected by Irlens syndrome. This is the condition which sees people wearing coloured lenses to read. For her, when tested, she went from a ‘no lens’ reading speed of 58 words a minute with 75% comprehension, to 120 words a minute with over 95% comprehension. It took time to find the right colour, then the right hue of that colour to maximise the benefit, but she has never looked back. Her better teachers use paper of that colour to produce her school notes. She does best in those classes.

If I had collected 100 dyslexics here, we could have a real tangled web of ‘best top tips’ which would be the most convoluted Venn diagram ever seen. I hope I have shared a bit of an insight though into the opportunities to engage with the lived experience of your SLD colleagues, friends and relations and to see them blossom.


James Russell

Vetlife President



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