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Coping with the Dyslexic Brain

All dyslexics develop their own unique set of ‘life hacks’ and coping strategies. This ‘modus operandi’, or method of operation, is vital for individuals so they can lead a rewarding and fulfilling life. Writing this blog has provided me with the space, time and motivation to be honest and reflective about living with dyslexia. Therefore, one such topic I was interested to think about and share was coping strategies. I sat at home and asked myself; how do I actually cope and, equally as important, how do others cope? Upon asking myself this, a flood of thoughts rushed into my brain.

Initially I had many more negative ideas. This is because, so often it is far easier to focus purely on the negative side of something and totally neglect the positive. During this early phase, I mainly focused on the anxiety, paranoia and infuriation that dyslexia brings me. This can surround not being able to complete tasks, being worried over failing or doing something wrong and concerns over being judged by another person. These are coping strategies, but somewhat detrimental ones. Although having levels of worry, concern and anxiety are perfectly ‘normal’ and positive, as they show that one cares, excessive levels can be highly damaging; particularly to our self-esteem. Additionally, another more negative thought that came to mind was avoidance tactics where I hope that tasks will become easier and my performance will improve without me actively seeking new strategies. This includes avoiding, putting off or refusing to do tasks that I find particularly challenging, even if I do or have asked for help. Once again this is not the most beneficial way for a dyslexic to live and perceive the world. Subsequently I forced myself to reconsider. I made myself rethink in depth my own coping strategies. But on this occasion, to list the positive beneficial strategies I use in everyday life. In order to help me recognise these, I researched strategies that fellow dyslexics themselves use.

Within my search I found a fascinating article. The author, Neil Cottrell, gives an in depth and open account of his experiences of living with dyslexia. Crucially he homes in on the successfulness of his coping strategies and how these have helped him to succeed in life. Firstly, with his personal account the writer emphasises the importance of being open and honest about ones dyslexia. Although it is psychologically challenging and difficult to open up and tell new people about living with dyslexia, I am a strong believer that this is an excellent coping strategy. For me as an individual, explaining and outlining what I can and may find difficult is a major step to getting that help and support. If I don’t tell someone then they don’t know how to help me. At times is has been embarrassing and a bit, well, awkward, as it’s always tough to admit when ones struggles with something. But talking about dyslexia can help improve societal awareness and understanding, as stigma and misleading assumptions still linger around the world of neurodiversities. Moreover, this also includes being honest with yourself. I know I have poor memory. Thus, in order to combat this I actively seek ways to help me keep track in my daily life. To do lists, diaries, calendars and copious amounts of post-it notes are all of great use. As a second exemplar, within his article Neil outlined his strategy of coping with his difficulties with spelling. He describes that when he would type he would simply ignore all the errors and red lines. Most important of all, was getting the ideas, thoughts and points down. The editing, proofreading and ‘quality check’ can all be done later.

Connected and linked to this are support networks. So vital are those people who you can trust and rely on. I have written a whole post dedicated purely to this topic, as I see it as so bloody well important. These are a two way symbiotic relationship and, in ideal world, individuals belonging to our support network ought to be understanding, empathetic and non-judgemental. Crucially, this can be anybody. A family member, partner, friend, colleague, teacher or a study support mentor at school, university or college. Whether it be someone who actively and directly assists you in completing those difficult tasks or someone who can just sit and listen, both can be hugely beneficial to a dyslexic individual.

Opting for a more psychological stance, the powers of one’s mind can also prove to be a vital coping mechanism. For me most of the battle lies within the brain. I often worry about how ‘obvious’ my dyslexia is and if people are judging me for getting tasks wrong. Reassurance is another vital cog in this mechanism. Even if I’m 99% sure I know the answer or correct method of doing a task I will still ask. I will often seek reassurance and clarification in order to absolutely make sure everything is right. On the other hand, being dyslexic has helped me to develop inner resilience, determination and self-motivation. I continually strive to improve and to combat the mistakes I will inevitably make. Thus, although being dyslexic may appear negative at first glance, it provides me with an excellent method and reason to strive to improve. This ‘internal rift’ is somewhat confusing and complicated. It has at times been bruising and, be totally honest, overly harsh. Yet, nonetheless, it has helped me recognise my weaknesses and pinpoint where I can and need to develop in life.

Referring back to Cottrell’s article, the author emphasises the importance of ‘reasonable adjustments’ that can be implemented in the work place or educational setting. Whether it be extra time to complete jobs/tasks, being provided with assistive technology, talking through tasks, emails and reports or receiving extra guidance, all of these can be highly valuable. It is always worth asking and seeing what is available for a dyslexic. No matter how small or trivial an adjustment may me, if it helps a person to complete their job more effectively, efficiently and confidently than it is a more than worthwhile investment. As a personal exemplar, whist at university I received study support sessions where I worked with a mentor who helped me devise a method to write words I used frequently, yet struggled to spell. This really effective method, which I still use to this day, involved dividing words into smaller words/chunks. For example I would spilt the word definitely into def-in-it-ely. Not only has it helped me learn to spell tricky words, this method has helped me remember the spellings too.

To conclude, all neurodiverse individuals have their own unique and individualised coping strategies. These can developed and perfected over time via ‘trial and error learning’ where one tries out and explores different methods to see what works for them. Exchanging techniques and coping mechanisms with fellow dyslexics, or even non-dyslexics, can help in devising these individual tactics. Consequently, it can take time for a dyslexic person to find out and uncover ‘their’ coping strategies. But, regardless of how obscure or ‘random’ a coping tactic or mechanism might appear to be, if it is helpful and useful to that person then it is a meaningful and useful asset to have within your dyslexic arsenal. I am highly intrigued to hear and discover others coping strategies. Therefore, I present this space to you and invite you to share, outline and explain your own coping mechanisms. This sharing of tactics, tips, ‘life hacks’ and knowledge could prove to be a highly valuable platform for helping other fellow dyslexics within the neurodiverse community.

Useful links, accessed on 18th June 2019

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