19 October 2021

I recently came across my assessment for dyslexia from when I was 14. My mum had been fairly ruthless at decluttering, but she’d kept that, a source of vindication I think.

I thought I’d write a couple of notes about it - partly because misunderstandings about dyslexia abound (even from people whose job it is to communicate clearly), mostly as something to point people at to explain what it is like in my case.

My early 90’s assessment had three conclusions: problems with auditory sequencing (ability to remember what is heard and reproduce it), visual sequencing (to remember what you have seen, like a set of letters making up a word, for long enough to do something useful with it) and visual motor control (among other things, the ability to use a pencil to write words that can be easily understood).

I was lucky in that I got good support from then on, and those things didn’t really hinder my education going forwards. Practically, as an adult, they are not too big a deal. It turns out people with dyslexia tend to be good and a bunch of other things, which has turned out to be quite useful, plus I’ve got some strategies to deal with them. Still, it means a few things are harder than they should be.

Firstly, it means that holding a set of things in short-term memory when transposing them from one context to another is a right pain. That applies to simple strings of numbers and letters, so things like 2fa codes and reference numbers come with a high error rate, or I just plain forget them halfway through. “Enter the 5th, 9th and 15th letter from a password”? No chance without resorting to fingers or pen and paper.

A treacherous short-term memory stack can also be a pain in meetings. Maintaining a set of thoughts and planning ahead, while also actively listening can take a lot of concentration. Occasionally, it leads to things like saying I have 3 points to make and the third one having escaped by the time I get to it. Sometimes it’s interpreted as disengagement. Note-taking can help, and I take lots of notes these days, but the value of notes in the moment can be limited by 1) writing clear notes and 2) being able to scan them quickly, which is the second issue.

Anyone who has ever worked with me in person will know my handwriting is not the easiest to read. But to be honest, scanning even a neat set of text as a crib sheet can be hard (I think part of the reason I like working on whiteboards is it’s possible to use space to create meaning in a way that’s harder within the confines of written notes). It also means regularly missing mistakes in written work, regardless of how thorough the typo-hunting is.

Related to scanning is the third way that dyslexia still manifests itself for me (see: listing points is much easier in prose!). And that’s the focus it takes to read. (I’m not sure that ‘focus’ is the right word here, but let’s stick with it).

I am not a slow reader, but I generally say I am a slow reader. That’s really just short-hand, though. The issue is that parsing a sentence, within a page, within a chapter, and maintaining the eye position on a page takes a lot of focus to do at speed. That focus can come come crashing down (almost viscerally) with relatively little external stimulus and takes a long time to regain.

I realise I don’t have a neat way of wrapping this up and don’t have a particular point to make. Except maybe, if someone tells you they are dyslexic, try not to assume it’s directly about reading and spelling. And if someone could solve 2fa so there’s no numbers, that’d be lovely.