Experience: I couldn’t read until I was 34
I was the class jester at school in the 70s and 80s, because I wanted to be liked. The truth was that I was struggling.
I now know that I had a trio of conditions: dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Irlen Syndrome, a neurological condition that makes it hard to process visual information. Words swim on the page for me; it’s difficult to see them, let alone read them. When I started school 40 years ago, no one picked this up. I just thought it was normal to see words swirling in 3D. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t read or write like my friends, so I made a joke of it. But the joke carried on for too long.
At primary school, I created a persona: Josh. Johnny was the funny, good-looking guy whom everyone loved; Josh was the boy inside who wanted to learn, but couldn’t. When I started secondary school, a teacher made me stand on a chair and read. She wanted to show me I was stupid. It was so humiliating that I would shake, and I developed a bad stutter.
I continued to fall through the net, emotionally and educationally. Johnny the joker was doing fine – he wasn’t clever, but had lots of mates. Introvert Josh struggled. The only thing I loved was practical biology. I wanted to be a neurologist, but everyone laughed at that.
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