Life Coach and TV Presenter
When did you first realise that you had a different way of thinking?
When I was 11 years of age and I went to boarding school in North Wales – I thought something was quite seriously wrong with my brain. I was diagnosed as a dyslexic at 13 by Professor Tim Miles at Bangor University, but of course at the time, nobody knew what to do. There was no teaching plan at the time. But my drama teacher took an interest in me, probably because she was fascinated by this child who had an eloquence with the spoken language, but simply couldn’t understand the gobbledygook of the written word.
From drama, I learnt to hone skills other than reading or writing. I learnt to listen to instruction. My drama exams were the first thing I ever passed in my life, and my confidence grew from that. I was 13 at the time. Until then, I very much embraced the fact that I was stupid, because I was told so often that I was before I was even 11.
What was your experience of school?
I’ve horrific lasting memories. I remember at 7 years of age, and a teacher asked me to read out a line in class. I couldn’t even say the first two words. I completely froze, and was so very significantly ridiculed by the teacher and my classmates that I wet myself. I remember it like yesterday - I was so terrified I couldn’t move for the day.
I felt really excluded - I felt like I was quite outside of everybody. Different.
How did you get involved in life coaching?
I went to drama college and worked in the performing arts for 16 years. But I had a passion for helping young people – driven from my own life experience – that got me into social work. Working for kids in care, I found that I just had the ability to have empathy and insight into what they were going through.
Dyslexia was a positive in my life. It gave me all sorts of different opportunities. I didn’t see it as a disability. My life purpose is about finding the gift that every child has. I wasn’t interested in the labels they were given.
What are the main work challenges that you have had to overcome?
Being dyslexic it had a profound effect on job opportunities – whether I could even take them. As I got more senior in social services, writing reports would be part of that working world. I wouldn’t apply for jobs unless it came with a personal assistant. I never shared this with my peers. I was terrified. I found systems that would enable me to cope – I would phone my husband and get him to check my spelling.
I’d also learnt to memorise blocks of information. If I had to work on whiteboards in front of people, I’d arrive early and write them down before anyone else got there. I still don’t write in public.
What do you think are some of the positives and negatives of dyslexia?
My dyslexia meant I learnt other skills – significant is the ability to listen, comprehend from the spoken word and memorise. Most importantly I learnt communication skills. It became my currency, I didn’t have anything else to fall back on.
I understand kids with behavioural problems – I understand what it felt like to be excluded. That’s balanced by own belief that having dyslexia is an opportunity, not a disability. Everybody‘s got issues, but it’s what you do with them that is the mark of who and what you are. But being dyslexic makes you look at your own fundamental self worth as a human being. I learnt to disassociate passing exams with your value and significance – there’s more to it than passing an exam.
What advice would you give young New Zealanders who are dyslexic?
Accept your limitations. Some people can paint brilliant pictures, some people can spell. Go and find where words can come to life for you. Embrace DVDs, listed to CDs, poems. It is your responsibility to do it – own your own space and ask for what you need and want. Prepare a little speech: “I am dyslexic, can you give me information like this?” But the biggest message – however grown up you are – is that being dyslexic is not an excuse to fail.