I have a secret.
One that I was quite ashamed of for a long time and didn’t tell very many people about.
To most people this is probably a total anti-climax, but for me, genuinely, it has been a very big deal for most of my life.
So much so, that I very nearly didn’t write this column on this topic. Being totally honest, I thought people might think less of me. Think I’m less of a journalist, less of a writer, maybe even less of a person.
I’m not writing this looking for sympathy, praise or even approva
When I rationalised this – and thankfully I did rationalise this – I realised these are the very reasons why I have to write this column, because the above is untrue. Being dyslexic doesn’t make me less. At the very most it makes me different.
I’m not writing this looking for sympathy, praise or even approval. In fact, I’m inherently uncomfortable sharing anything personal about myself. I’m writing this because I feel a sense of responsibility to other people, to do what I can to normalise being dyslexic.
At the age of seven I couldn’t spell the word “it”. That’s no word of a lie. I can still remember the teacher hitting the roof when I asked her how to spell “it”. From then on I hated school and never tried very much at all. But that, my friends, is another story. One we won’t indulge here.
An educational psychologist told me later in life that this early intervention had a profound effect on literary ability
I was very lucky though, my mother sent me to the Fountain of Knowledge Learning Centre in Limerick (shout out to Ma, who no surprise, would go back and do her teaching a couple of years later). Saturday school, for all intents and purposes. An educational psychologist (EP) told me later in life that this early intervention had a profound effect on literary ability.
From there on in, I adored reading. As a child and a younger teenager I read literally for days at a time. Then I discovered socialising.
I was nearly 15 before I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of being labelled “dyslexic”. Actually, I was totally against it. However, I wanted an A in my Junior Cert English more, and so I went for the assessment in order to get a spelling and grammar exemption.
I thought my dyslexia might hold me back and maybe I should study law instead
I had an adult assessment at 18 before going to college. I asked the EP, Dr Andre van Rensberg, if I would be able to be a journalist. I thought my dyslexia might hold me back and maybe I should study law instead. He told me in no uncertain terms to go for it.
But still, when it came to getting work placement in college, I unregistered from the Disability Services Centre. Just to be on the safe side, in case any newspaper got a sniff that I was dyslexic.
I was self-conscious of my writing for a very long time. That self-doubt only faded away when I started working here. And no, I’m not being paid to say this.
I was just a month here when I overheard someone say that Justin McCarthy, editor of the Irish Farmers Journal, was dyslexic and he talks openly about it.
If my speaking about being dyslexic can help one other person to realise that it doesn’t have any bearing on their intelligence
This blew my mind. Looking back, I don’t think it’s coincidental that this incident and my career as a journalist finally taking off happened somewhat in tandem. And so here I am, telling you my story.
If my speaking about being dyslexic can help one other person to realise that it doesn’t have any bearing on their intelligence, that they wouldn’t have the hang ups I did, then I’ve achieved something.
PS If there’s a mistake in this piece, it’s for artistic effect!