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‘People with dyslexia are just as smart as anyone else’

According to the British Dyslexia Association, dyslexia affects 10 per cent of people in the UK but is still poorly understood. Healthcare student Layla Sbila explains how City and Islington College has helped her with the condition as the charity marks Dyslexia Week from 4-10 October.

‘People with dyslexia are just as smart as anyone else’

When I was five, I moved to Dubai with my mum and older sister having been diagnosed with dyslexia two years earlier. It’s a neurological condition that affects my reading, writing and spelling, which I will have to live with all my life.

I find it hard to read properly and tend to mix up words and stutter when I read long sentences or paragraphs. I often blank out words or skip one or two sentences without realising it. Sometimes I see different letters or a different word, so for example I will see and read important as informed. It’s the same for maths, the numbers jumble around and it’s hard for me to understand.

I started at a school in Dubai and my mum told them about my dyslexia. The teachers tried to help. They would get me to write down words and sentences multiple times and ask me to read more often, but what I really needed was more one-to-one support. The teacher would sometimes ask me to read in class, but I couldn’t do it. I would just sit there, my mind blank and I would be unable to speak. I was embarrassed and felt really low, like I couldn’t do anything.

In my mid-teens I changed school, but it was even worse. I didn’t get any support at all. My teachers told my mum there was something wrong with me. They thought my dyslexia was a disease and I was lying about not being able to read or spell. They thought I was lazy. When I put my hand up to ask for help, one of my teachers would make me stand up and read a whole chapter from a book. I would stutter through it all, and because I did not understand what I was reading, it made it even worse. She wouldn’t even explain afterwards and just told me to get on with my work. I felt very vulnerable and lost, and never thought I’d be able to go to college and stay in education.

All I needed was a teacher or teaching assistant to explain what I was reading because for a person with dyslexia it can be ten times harder to understand. People with dyslexia can also be distracted easily and work better in a quiet environment. If my school had provided a support teacher to work more one-to-one with me there wouldn’t have been an issue. I needed someone to understand and reassure me that I’m only telling myself I can’t do something, when actually I can. I left school with no qualifications because of the lack of support for my dyslexia. I felt the school had held me back, but not to the point where I was going to give up on myself. If nobody was going to give me help, I knew I would have to fight for it.

I returned to the UK when I was 16 to live with my maternal grandparents in Haringey and applied to study for a Health and Social Care diploma at City and Islington College (CANDI). I began at Level 1 and I’m now studying at Level 3 and hope to go to university and become a nurse. Last year I also took GCSE English and passed with a grade 4 and this year I’m doing GCSE Maths. At CANDI the teachers break things down, explain things multiple times and double-check to make sure you understand. The college has also given me a support teacher and everyone has gone out of their way to do the best for me. It makes me quite emotional when I look at myself and see how far I’ve come because of the way the teachers at CANDI have helped me. I feel like I’m doing something good for myself now.

It’s often wrongly assumed that dyslexic people are not very bright, or they use it as an excuse because they don’t want to read, learn or understand things. That needs to change. People need to listen and understand more about dyslexia whether that’s at home, in school or the workplace. If you have a child who finds it hard to spell or understand the meaning of easy words, get them tested. If it’s someone at work or school, make sure they take everything in and understand the job or task they are being asked to do. Above all, be patient and kind, and recognise people with dyslexia as individuals and their needs are different.

People with dyslexia are just as smart as anyone else. If you’ve got the right support, you can do anything in life. The support I’ve received at CANDI has turned my life around and made me the person I am today.

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