You can’t cure dyslexia – if you’re dyslexic then you’re dyslexic from birth and it’s one of those things you have to learn to cope with and live with. Basically it’s a learning disability – you don’t learn the same way other ‘normal’ people do. As Freddie’s story illustrates that means a lot of extra work. Now 20 and online for a good degree in Business Administration at Bath University, Freddie believes at the end of the day it’s worth it.
‘Being dyslexic is sort of like having to ‘learn how to learn’ before you can actually learn anything they’re trying to teach you,’ he says. ‘Other people are just instinctively able to learn stuff, but people like me have to start from scratch so that knowing what to do in lessons is a skill.’
Having this sort of learning support meant having to go out of normal classes, which then meant playing catch-up on what he’d missed. Being taken out of class also wasn’t good for his self-esteem and, as he was also one of the smallest guys in the class people tended to pick on him at first.
Luckily Freddie was good on the sports field and in the school teams for just about everything. He went on to play cricket and hockey for his junior county sides which got him some respect and made him ‘one of the guys’. But in class everything was still more of an effort.
Everybody knew Freddie was dyslexic but he wasn’t formally assessed until he was 12 – that way his assessment could be carried forward to GCSEs and, as it cost his parents a lot of money, only doing it once at this stage made sense (like all dyslexics or suspected dyslexics he had to have a second assessment before going to Uni).
Freddie wants to go into business and looks to a long line of famously successful dyslexics like Richard Branson and Lord Sugar. He also points to people like Tom Cruise, Einstein and Churchill as others who did badly at school but made their mark on the world.
‘Dyslexics see life and problems differently,’ he says. ‘Once you get to realise that, and get to the stage where thinking about real world stuff rather than answering exam questions counts, dyslexia can give you a definite advantage.’
The marathon isn’t over yet (actually Freddie ran the London Marathon when he was 18 for a dyslexia charity – and vows ‘never again’!) but the end is in sight. His view now:
‘When you realise you’re dyslexic you realise all the effort to learn stuff isn’t going to be easy. But when you get through it and out the other side you then realise it really was worth it!’
Actually we think that’s not a bad way to look at education dyslexic or not.
Like many dyslexics Freddie was summer born which always made him one of the youngest in his year. He struggled at school from the start, especially with reading and writing. Freddie says his first primary school teacher was so nasty too him, calling him stupid, that his parents moved schools.
Actually the one thing Freddie is not is stupid. Like many dyslexics he has an above average IQ but in school gave a very below average performance. Like many dyslexics he was vocally able in class, but simply couldn’t ‘get it’ when it came to learning stuff. From the age of 7 he started having extra support.
Being formally recognised as dyslexic gave Freddie extra time in exams:
‘Actually you never tend to use the extra time to answers the questions,’ he says, ‘you use it to read and understand the questions in the first place. If dyslexics were allowed to have someone read them the questions out loud and them answer them verbally we’d probably be able to complete exams in the same time as normal people.’
At first Freddie hated school but, over time, as his learning skills grew and his written work got better he started to like it more. Some of the staff were harder to like:
‘Some teachers just don’t get dyslexia,’ he claims. ‘if you can’t read or write well they think it’s a sign that you’re thick. They really should spend more time on dyslexia and special needs at teacher training college.’
When it came to GCSE at senior school his teachers predicted all B grades. Much to their surprise Freddie got a mixture of A and A* results.
‘I’d finally learned to cope and caught up,’ says Freddie, ‘but they simply hadn’t recognised it and thought my improved marks were flukey.
Sixth Form College showed it wasn’t a fluke. Once again Freddie got straight As and secured his place at Bath where, fingers crossed, he’s in good shape to get a 2:1. It’s been a long hard journey but now he finds his hard work and learning skills stand him in good stead:
‘When you’re dyslexic the one thing you learn about education is that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,’ he says wisely. ‘The only really important days are the ones you take GCSE and A Level on – they open the door to the next stage. Whilst you’re always dyslexic it becomes less and less of a problem as it’s what you write rather than your handwriting that starts to matter. What’s more the learning and study skills I picked up along the way come in really handy.’