Making Dyslexia Work for You

I recently had a conversation with friend of mine, Colm, who struggled with dyslexia for a number of years. Even through his struggle Colm achieved a fantastic 2:1 Degree in Accounting and is currently a successful Business Analyst with PWC in Belfast and Dublin.

It was noted even in Primary School that Colm had difficulty in picking up information. Due to this he was moved to a remedial class, and at the end of his Primary School days his parents were informed that he wouldn’t do well academically due to his learning difficulties – even though no difficulties were actually diagnosed at this stage.

Despite this, Colm achieved the top class once he moved to High School, but he asked to be moved to a lower class where the speed of teaching was marginally slower – he found it really difficult to read a book, but could absorb short concise sentences which went straight to the point. He noticed that he started to pick up information better, but still struggled with English and languages, however excelled at Maths and Science. Following High School where Colm by his own standards got “average” GCSE’s, he intentionally went to College much further away from home to commence a BTEC in Business Studies. Unlike “A” levels this was full time, more practical and more coursework based, which was much more suited to Colm’s ability hence he flourished!

At this stage he met a coach and friend called James (yours truly), and started to chat about careers and life aspirations which was leading him down the financial discipline route – but one yearning pulled Colm away from this…Australia, where he spent 2 years working as a personal trainer!

Once he returned home, Colm was drawn to a degree in Accounting  (after several discussions with his coach – again yours truly!) and got accepted to Napier University in Edinburgh. Initially Colm believed he made the wrong choice, as he dramatically failed a number of modules in his first semester, however he started to realise that leafing through large text books was more of a hindrance than a help! He enrolled the help of a friend in Edinburgh who discussed issues and topics with him which enabled him to muddle through first and second year of his degree, but at this stage dyslexia still wasn’t even mentioned. Colm got more and more worried about what was happening and in the start of his third year of his degree, he went to seek what he called “proper” help – his University Student Liaison Department where he was assessed and eventually dyslexia was diagnosed.

So what are the disadvantages of dyslexia according to Colm? For him, he had some of the “classic symptoms”:

  • Difficulty reading long passages – he read it but his brain did not “absorb” it
  • Found theory difficult
  • Short term memory
  • Difficulty writing
  • Difficulty with numbers (I know, he was doing an Accounting Degree!)
  • Bad handwriting
  • No concentration
  • Brain is constantly working – very draining
  • Fidgety
  • Perfectionist
  • “All or nothing” and intense personality
  • But being the “uncompromising and stubborn” (Colm’s description) character that he is, he set out in his mind to do one thing, by hook or by crook he was going to get a fantastic Accounting Degree!

He was given a laptop with proofreading software to double check his work, and was assigned an academic mentor/ coach. At this stage Colm was very tense and couldn’t work with a set structure, however worked on the “flow” of his written work, used mnemonics and watched YouTube videos on various topics. He is a huge advocate of past paper questions as by constantly attempting these and subsequent review of model answers gave him a “steady and fixed” approach in his mind. Armed with his steely determination his grades went through the roof with his overall average going from 55% to 64%, and getting 65% in his written dissertation – giving him a very strong 2:1 degree!

Admittedly, he initially had low self-esteem, however he worked on this and look at the advantages that dyslexia has given Colm:

  • Highly organised
  • Hard working
  • Abstract thinker – can see things “outside the box”
  • Highly intellectual and social
  • Lots of common sense
  • Sees the practical application in everything
  • Perfectionist
  • Thinks like a detective, “where are we actually going with this idea?” rather than “what is this?”
  • He learns by association which builds a mental picture and story in his head
  • Thinks like an engineer
  • Excellent with IT
  • Fantastic problem solver
  • Analytical & logical
  • Quick thinker & efficient
  • Craves self-development and learning
  • Doesn’t settle for being average
  • Can judge peoples personalities very accurately and quickly
  • Colm’s top tips for exam success with dyslexia

Get professional guidance

Get both an academic and corporate coach/ mentor to chat to
Understand what your best method of learning actually is e.g. Visual, Audio etc. – read my blog, Discover How You Learn Best, to assess your learning style
Use various techniques that work for you to learn – YouTube videos worked for him
Find a way to relax. The gym and meditation didn’t work for Colm, but watching movies and playing pool did
Be organised. Colm puts all his thoughts and plans into his phone in order to “create space” for more thoughts
Realise the bigger picture of your life
Focus on your own strengths and tailor your life choices to align with these
Colm is such as inspirational person and didn’t let what some people consider a setback deter him – so what is his plans for moving forward? Well, he is currently undertaking a prestigious Professional Accounting qualification. By knowing and speaking to him, he is a natural entrepreneur and I find him so inspirational that I borrowed a few of his mottos:

  • “I will only be happy when I work for myself.”
  • “When I become a CEO, I will be the best organised CEO in the world!”
  • “I balance risk and reward in most everyday decisions.”
  • “Money is a driver for me yes, but achievement is bigger.”
  • “My degree was a stepping stone in the bigger picture in my life, to own my own business and achieve.”
  • The moral of the story is that, like Colm, if you can assess where you currently are, adapt, take action and work on your weaknesses, be fully aware of strengths and be motivated. You can actually do what you want, with or without dyslexia!

Many thanks Colm!

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