The Sunflower Conversations

British Dyslexia Association with Helen Goodsall

October 02, 2022 Hidden Disabilities Sunflower
The Sunflower Conversations
British Dyslexia Association with Helen Goodsall
Show Notes Transcript

British Dyslexia Association with Helen Goodsall

Helen is the Knowledge & Information Manager at the British Dyslexia Association, an experienced workplace assessor and a parent of dyslexic children. She joins us to discuss the theme for Dyslexia Awareness week ‘Breaking through barriers’ which looks at how those living with dyslexia can overcome obstacles in their lives, this could be during education, work or general day-to-day living.

1 in 10 of the population has dyslexia, a processing disorder, but with the right support and reasonable adjustments barriers to education and employment can be removed. The campaign seeks to reframe the language and stigma attached to the condition, which simply put is a different way of learning.

In the conversation Helen shares with us ways society can ensure that no one is left behind due to their learning differences.

If you are experiencing any issues discussed in this podcast please contact your GP or healthcare practitioner.

For support

British Dyslexia Association
 
 
Hosted by Chantal Boyle, Hidden Disabilities Sunflower.

Want to share your story? email [email protected] 

Hidden Disabilities Sunflower

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Sunflower Conversations where we explore the hidden disability Sunflower and its role in supporting people with hidden disabilities.

Chantal Boyle:

Welcome to the Sunflower Conversations with Chantal. Joining me today is Helen. Helen is the knowledge and information manager at the British Dyslexia Association and an experienced workplace assessor. Also, a parent of dyslexic children. She joins us to discuss the theme for Dyslexia Awareness Week, Breaking Through Barriers. Hello, Helen how are you?

Helen Goodsall:

I'm good, thanks. Thanks for inviting me along.

Chantal Boyle:

Can you tell us a bit more about this year's theme and why it was chosen?

Helen Goodsall:

Yeah. So Breaking Through Barriers is acknowledging that people with dyslexia face obstacles in their everyday life. It might be at school, in the way that they're being taught, it might be things in the workplace, they might be working with systems or processes that don't work for them. Or it might just be an everyday life. I mean, removing far more to an automated society where it's quite difficult to speak to people by phone, people have to go through quite complicated systems. So it's acknowledging all of those kind of barriers and the obstacles that these people have faced often to overcome and be the successful people that most of them are. So I think it's important to say that sort of dyslexia is about processing information. It's often misunderstood and I think for that reason some people don't realize some of the challenges that people have. It's hidden so you can't necessarily see the difficulties somebody might be having. Just accessing the conversation, if you process information slower than as people normally expect somebody might ask you a question and you might kind of hesitate. People think oh you don't know the answer.

Helen Goodsall:

But it's not about that, it's about thinking differently and trying to retrieve that information and retrieving that information that's difficult for dyslexic people. It's not that they don't know the answer it's finding that answer and being able to communicate that back to people. So all of these things are kind of barriers that people face and Dyslexia Awareness Week is about giving people the opportunity to highlight some of the particular barriers that they may have experienced and make people aware of these things. Also, to talk about their successes and their strategies that they've put in place for them to over overcome that.

Chantal Boyle:

Thank you. When do people usually seek a diagnosis and how would you go about doing that?

Helen Goodsall:

Well, it's one of these interesting things because everybody thinks that everybody's diagnosed at school. Now, some children are picked up really young. The earliest really that you would be able to do a successful diagnosis on a child is probably about seven or eight years of age, although you may have noticed signs before that. I mean, if you kind of know what you're looking for you might have seen that even in young children because they might be delayed in speaking compared to other children of their age. Or they might not be interested in looking at books but they love hearing stories. So there can be signs but usually seven or eight years of age is the earliest, but people get diagnosed throughout life and it's usually something that triggers that. So it might be that somebody has coped really well and then suddenly gets to a stage where they're doing a new job for example, or a system or something is working that just doesn't match their way of thinking. That might lead them to think well I've always suspected that I'm dyslexic, I would like to get diagnosed.

Helen Goodsall:

So there's no kind of right or wrong age and everybody will be different. But obviously the earlier it does get diagnosed and people get support put in place and support's the important thing. The earlier people get that support the easier life is for them.

Chantal Boyle:

So your campaign seeks to remove the stigma and I'm interested to talk a bit more about that. Because everything you've told me so far is that it's about processing and that even a speech delay could be an indication of dyslexia. Is it a myth that it's all to do with letters dancing around on the page? It's not necessarily linked to reading, it can be audio processing as well then?

Helen Goodsall:

It can be all processing. Yeah. I mean, it's about the way people learn, process and remember information. So it's about how fast they process that information, how efficiently their brain works to retrieve that information and how much of it they can remember. Some people are really affected by processing things verbally. So even in conversation they may be slower to respond and other dyslexic people will be really fast and really strong verbally but it will take them long when they're reading. So everybody's different and I think that's the really important thing to say. Just because you've met one dyslexic person doesn't mean that everybody that you meet who's dyslexic is going to be the same. So if you are working with somebody and you think oh, they must be dyslexic because they look like somebody else in terms of what they do. That's not necessarily the case that's important about focusing on the individual.

Chantal Boyle:

I think-

Helen Goodsall:

But, yeah. Some of the stigma on the kind of... It is misunderstood, it is people think it's just about reading, writing and spelling. Actually, it's quite interesting you talked about words moving around on a page. Historically that was always thought to be dyslexia and it's now known that actually that's about visual processing and that's not actually a sign of dyslexia. So some people can have both. You can have difficulties with visual processing and you might find that text moves and some people use colored overlays and find those kind of things work for them. But that actually isn't dyslexia and the vast majority of dyslexic people don't actually have problems with how text looks on the page. It's actually kind of more about that speed of being able to read what's there and taking that information. But some dyslexic people have problems with kind of... We call it decoding, it's basically recognizing that word. It's not an automatic recognition of a word in the same way that everybody else could kind of read things. So you might look at it and think oh, I have to think about that word.

Helen Goodsall:

Of course, if you're having to think about what the word actually says you're not thinking about what's the meaning of that word. So that's kind of the processing, often people read things more than once. They read it through the first time, they work out what the words are, particular if it's kind of unfamiliar words and then the second time they read through for meaning.

Chantal Boyle:

I really feel like I'm getting a diagnosis here. Because that is me, at school it used to take me a long time so I used to skip the pages. Because when I was at school we did group reading and then you'd have to get to a certain page and then the teacher would select somebody to read out that page. So I used to skip forward because I was so slow and even now my way of how I digest information. If it's reading I have to generally read it a couple of times before it makes sense to me and then the recall of what I've read is really not very good. So I'm much better at talking to people and verbalizing.

Helen Goodsall:

That's really interesting. I think if you speak to a lot of dyslexic people who are diagnosed later in life that's what they would describe. But they just think that, that's normal because that's how they've grown up. It's maybe only when you get into a group and everybody else is reading faster that's you sort of think I read really slowly or how can they skip through? Stop, I need to go over that again. Well, I've read that whole page and I haven't understood anything from it. I need to go back.

Chantal Boyle:

So picking up on the word of stigma. When I was young and this... Actually, up until sort of adult working life. In the previous role I was a secretary and my boss used to of stand over my shoulder and say, "Read this and tell me what you think?" The older I got I developed the confidence to say, "Can you go away? Let me read it and then I'll come back to you because you standing there nothing is going to go in." So thinking back to when I was younger I probably would have felt like I wasn't very good at reading, I was embarrassed by it. So is that the stigma that is associated with dyslexia, do you feel? Or not?

Helen Goodsall:

Yes. I mean, some children actually do find that people call them slow or thick and even if it's not actually said it's kind of how children feel themselves. So it doesn't matter how encouraging people are and sort of say oh it doesn't matter, everybody picks up reading eventually. It's kind of how it makes you feel as a person. It's like well, I must be the stupid one because everybody else can get this why can't I? Without that kind of understanding that there's a reason why it happens and that lots of other people... 10% of the population's dyslexic, there are lots of other people. There were probably other people in your class, in your workplace who are exactly the same. But because it's kind of hidden you just feel that you're the stupid one and being able to read, it's not just something that we all have to do at school. It's basically a life skill, isn't it? You think about virtually everything you do in life needs you to be able to read something.

Helen Goodsall:

If you're trying to put a pizza in the oven, what temperature does it need to go out and how long does it need to cook for? If you're trying to catch a bus somewhere, what bus number do you need? What time does it come? What's the destination? Is that the right bus? All of those kind of things. Trying to buy a ticket somewhere. Mostly now you have to go and buy a ticket of a machine. You've got to select the right station, the right ticket type. So reading is a life skill and you can understand why if people find that difficult that they feel well embarrassed. A lot of people feel embarrassed, particularly into adulthood to kind of admit that those things are difficult. It's difficult to go into a station and say I can't use that machine, I can't read well enough. So there is still a huge stigma with not being able to kind of read to the expected level.

Chantal Boyle:

Yes. Yeah. So we were going to talk about language of how dyslexia is described and whether it's a disability or a learning difficulty. In your experience what have you found?

Helen Goodsall:

So most of the stuff that's grown up with dyslexia is quite negative in its use of language. So yes, it is described as a disability and obviously that's good from the fact that it gives people protection under the Equality Act. But most dyslexic people don't feel disabled and there is a stigma still particularly in this country with disability and it's seen as a negative thing for somebody to be disabled. So it's not kind of a label that anybody wants applied to them. Dyslexia is also talked about as a learning difficulty. Well, not everybody would say that it's a difficulty. They might just say well, actually it's not I just think differently. Also, then when we talk about getting people... Identifying that somebody is dyslexic we talk about it being a diagnosis. Well diagnosis is a medical term, it's not a medical condition, it's just a genetic difference and people talk about the symptoms. I've heard people sort of say oh I know so and so who suffers from dyslexia.

Helen Goodsall:

So kind of all of those things are really negative and kind of not surprising that people sort of think well it's not a great thing to have.

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah. I think that now would probably be a good time to share that the communications manager at British Dyslexia Association is dyslexic. So it's not a barrier to achieving a great job or being in a role which is all about communication.

Helen Goodsall:

That's right. I mean, she's a great writer. But as she will openly say sometimes it can be difficult to actually say to somebody that she's dyslexic. Although she's quite happy to talk about it herself she might hold back if she was applying for a job because people might wrongly think well I don't want a communications manager who can't write. But no, her writing's great and she uses a program called Grammarly. Which she just runs at the end of writing something and it checks through sort of spelling, punctuation and grammar and she can make changes to it. So yeah, I don't think really it's held her back at all and it certainly hasn't stopped her from pursuing the job that she's always been interested in and always wanted to do.

Chantal Boyle:

With regards to the Equalities Act and the language and all the things that you've just described, do you think that it needs to be updated?

Helen Goodsall:

I think the Equalities Act is fine, it's a legal document and obviously that protection needs to stay there for people. Because there are situations people get into at work where they need that legal protection for reasonable adjustments to be made. So I don't think so much it's the Equality Act but I think it's about how we as a society start to talk about dyslexia and kind of recognize that actually it's just a different way of thinking. While still acknowledging that people need support and things put in place to actually help them.

Chantal Boyle:

You are listening to the Sunflower Conversations with Chantal. To find out more about the topics discussed in this podcast details are in the show notes. So with regard to Grammarly I've heard of that program before when talking to other sunflower wearers who are dyslexic. Is that something that would be considered a reasonable adjustment that an employer could make?

Helen Goodsall:

Yes, it would do. I mean, actually Grammarly itself is just a free piece of software people can download. So there's no cost involved for an employer and I think that's really the important thing for employers to realize is that reasonable adjustments don't have to cost money. I mean, obviously some people need software programs and things and some of those do have a cost associated. But lots of the things we're using on a day to day basis now like Microsoft programs have got kind of a built in dictation software, the ability to read screens and things and lots of websites have free things on. So there's lots of tools out there that everybody can use anyway. Then there's lots of things that people can do in an organization just to kind of recognize that sort of diversity and a different way of thinking of people. Not everybody likes everything in writing, some people might prefer things verbally. But also some people need verbal and written instructions. Trying not to give people huge amount of information in one go, breaking it down into just chunks of information is easier.

Helen Goodsall:

Also, then doing things like making sure that if you're giving someone instructions you give them in a sequential order. So if somebody has to go back because they need to think oh, I've forgotten what step three was they don't have to read through everything. They know they've kind of got to step three and that the next one is step four. So lots of simple, really easy things that can be done

Chantal Boyle:

In schools and places of education. So for the younger children going up to college and universities, do they provide support in that way for their students learning?

Helen Goodsall:

All schools are supposed to provide support. But like lots of things it really depends on the individuals school and how much awareness and understanding there is of dyslexia. The fact that it's hidden it often doesn't get spotted in schools. But all children should be supported to achieve and I think those who are more severely affected by dyslexia will need support in school and they will be picked up and supported. Because they will need it to kind of achieve the age appropriate targets that the schools are monitoring. But there're really bright dyslexic children who still manage to read or spell within what's expected for somebody of their age may go right through school without any support that's available. So it is difficult to give a standard answer of what's there for everybody. But yeah, support should be there in school. There's ironically really great support at university in the form of something not particularly well titled because it's called Disabled Students Allowance.

Helen Goodsall:

But that gives people funding to get support both in perhaps a one to one support tutor to develop study skills, help kind of break down how do you approach a piece of work. Also, gives people software like screen reading software or dictation software or mind mapping to help you plan out essays and things. So if you can get yourself through school sometimes without a huge amount of support then university at the moment is really well supported.

Chantal Boyle:

That's fantastic. It would be great if it was there for the younger years so we could get more people going on that pathway to university if they want to. I know that I didn't even consider it because of the type of learner I am. I just thought I can't sit there and read all these books, this is not going to happen.

Helen Goodsall:

Yeah.

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah.

Helen Goodsall:

That's the thing for a lot of people, isn't it? I think what would be really great in schools is actually if they recognize with everybody that everybody learns differently. If you think about some of the wonderful things we've got now like YouTube, so many people can learn so much really useful stuff by watching things. Like audiobooks, you don't have to have actually read that book and sat and read the words on the page. You can get just as much enjoyment and you can learn just as much by listening to an audio book. That really helps kids grow their vocabulary and their imagination and everything if they have access to that book. But sitting and reading it isn't for everybody.

Chantal Boyle:

That is such a good point and something I was talking about recently with a friend. The exact same thing and I was saying we went to school, we were considered dinosaurs. Now, if they weren't accessing it in encyclopedia it was like oh, you're cheating you can't go on the computer. But my son recently started reading Jane Eyre for school and he was having a walk and I said, "How can you be reading the book while you're walking?" He's like, "It's audio book. The teacher said we're allowed to do that if that works for us." So it's just so good because it just is giving more children access to learning rather than like well you can't read, these doors are shut I'm afraid.

Helen Goodsall:

Yeah. It's like being able to use laptops and things, isn't it? To write things. If you're really struggling to think of the ideas, but you can start to get them down on a laptop and it corrects your spelling and things automatically for you. Then you can focus on what you want to say and the silly thing is actually when we all leave school and we're going to work we're all using laptops now, aren't we?

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah.

Helen Goodsall:

Yet at school, we're still focusing on children writing stories and things.

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah.

Helen Goodsall:

Surely it's about the creative side of producing that story. It's not really about the way in which you've done it and what about videos? Why can't children make a little video of something they want to say? These are all the things that I hope are going to come into schools more and more. Some schools are already incorporating them but bringing those kind of things in would make such a difference to children who really don't want to sit and write things. It would just make them feel included-

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah. I think-

Helen Goodsall:

Hey, they may be really fantastic at making a video.

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah. I think that those are superb ideas and it's about inclusion isn't it?

Helen Goodsall:

Yeah.

Chantal Boyle:

Incorporating all of those ideas just levels up the playing field and you get this diversity of thinking. You mentioned a different way of learning but a diversity of thinking as well.

Helen Goodsall:

Yeah. When you come back to those things we talk about the breaking through barriers. If the barrier is actually sitting and reading a book and it's the reading of it off a page, then let's find a different way. Let's break through that barrier and find a way so that child can still take part in reading that story. Because children in the playground need to have common ground to be able to talk about. If everyone in your class has read a book and you couldn't because it was too difficult to read the words on the page, you are immediately excluded from that conversation. But if you've been able to listen to it in headphones and you know what happens and who the characters are and everything you can join in that conversation. Nobody actually really cares when you listen to it or whether you've read the words off the page. It's kind of what works for you, isn't it? To get that information.

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah, like the comprehension of the story.

Helen Goodsall:

Yeah.

Chantal Boyle:

Because the teacher will be chatting to all the children about it in the class anyway. So I read that Keira Knightley and Tom Cruise have dyslexia and both of whom are successful actors. To the points that you were just saying, different learning styles. Dyslexia shouldn't be a barrier to achievement and or career. Do you have any other examples of people who are achieving their goals?

Helen Goodsall:

I mean, I think there's a huge amount of quite famous people. I mean, if you go back as far as Einstein I think we believe that he was dyslexic.

Chantal Boyle:

Oh, okay.

Helen Goodsall:

Then there's big figures and pretty much in every walk of life there's people like Richard Branson that started Virgin. There's people on the television and then Holly Willoughby said that she's dyslexic and Matt Baker formally from The One Show said that he's dyslexic.

Chantal Boyle:

Right.

Helen Goodsall:

So there're people and actually if you speak to them they'll tell you how they've coped and put in their own strategies and become very successful at what they do. So much so that nobody watching any of them in front of the camera would have any concept that they might be finding it quite difficult to do what they're doing or to get to where they've got to.

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah.

Helen Goodsall:

I mean, one of the things that we really love to do as part of Dyslexia Awareness Week is to get people to share their own stories. Because some people don't relate to celebrities because it's easy to sort of think oh well, it's fine for them they're a celebrity. They've done well, they've got where they have, that's never going to happen to me. So it's about sharing the stories and lots of people do send in their stories to us or share things on our social pages just to sort of say I'm a teacher or I'm an engineer or I'm a whatever and this is what dyslexia means to me. This is what I found works for me and this is what I still find difficult and this is what I do about it. So it's kind of getting all of those personal stories and they're great because they're sort of everyday people that we can all relate to. Pretty much they show that there are dyslexic people in everything, every kind of occupation you can think of.

Helen Goodsall:

Some of them may have had to work harder to get there because some things would've required far more maybe academic study. Sitting reading through textbooks and things which might not be their strength. But people who want to do something will find a way of doing it.

Chantal Boyle:

I think that, that's really important isn't it? To make these stories and examples relatable.

Helen Goodsall:

Yeah.

Chantal Boyle:

Like you say, in every walk of life there will be somebody who's dyslexic and if you're able to have the support and develop strategies then there's nothing to stop you from achieving what you want to achieve.

Helen Goodsall:

That's right. No, I'd agree with that.

Chantal Boyle:

So for anyone who is listening who feels that they may have dyslexia but isn't sure, what would you advise them to do in the first instance?

Helen Goodsall:

I'd say find out some more information about it. There are things on YouTube if that's how people want to access it. There are websites, there are kind of checklists that you can go through online. So it sort of would say, give you a kind of probability that you might be dyslexic. Because the thing about getting a formal diagnosis is that they have to be paid for privately and they're quite expensive, kind of upwards of £500. So they're not within everybody's grasp, they're not necessary for everybody to kind of get support. I mean, if you're a parent listening and you've got concerns about a child then talk to the school. Let's start with a class teacher. Maybe talk to the special educational needs coordinator in the school. If you're an older child talk to your teachers yourself and if you're at university or in the workplace find somebody to actually speak to if you've got concerns. Because it's about getting the adjustments and support in place to help you.

Chantal Boyle:

That's fantastic and presumably people can go to your website for the checklist and-

Helen Goodsall:

That's right. There's lots of information on our website and we also operate a helpline service. So if you've got specific question you can pick up the phone or email or go via WhatsApp or one of our social pages and pose that question and somebody can come back with a specific response.

Chantal Boyle:

What is the website called?

Helen Goodsall:

It's bdadyslexia.org.uk.

Chantal Boyle:

Thank you. I'll include that in the show notes so people can just click straight through if they want to. Well, this has been so interesting. I thought I understood about dyslexia but I clearly didn't. There's lots of different elements to the processing which can affect it. So this is going to be so helpful to so many people and I think let's break through those barriers and normalize it. Remove the stigma to ensure that nobody feels stupid or not able to achieve what they want to achieve.

Helen Goodsall:

That's right. We don't want people to continue to feel misunderstood which I think now a lot of dyslexic people tell us that, that's how they've grown up.

Chantal Boyle:

Thank you so much Helen.

Helen Goodsall:

Thank you.

Chantal Boyle:

If you are interested in any of the advice discussed in this podcast please follow up with your GP or healthcare practitioner. You are listening to the Sunflower Conversations with Chantal. To learn more about the Sunflower visit our website details are in the show notes.

Speaker 1:

If you'd like to share your Sunflower story or conversation please email [email protected] Find out more about us or listen to this recording again by checking out our insights page @hiddendisabilitystore.com. You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Please help, have patience and show kindness to others and join us again soon. Making the invisible visible with the hidden disability Sunflower.