Tuesday, Nov 30, 2021

Dyslexia Stories: Michael Taylor

My name is Michael Taylor and I have dyslexia. I am a lawyer, a PhD candidate (also in law) and the Director of Strategic Policy for the Chief..

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My name is Michael Taylor and I have dyslexia. I am a lawyer, a PhD candidate (also in law) and the Director of Strategic Policy for the Chief Information Officer of Canada (that means I give advice to the person in charge of government technology). I have also been a banker, a soldier and a teacher.

I am here to tell you about myself and leave you with two messages. The first is that even though someone has dyslexia they can and have a right to become anything they want. The second is that if you have dyslexia, it is something you will have to contend with, but it is also something you can learn to thrive with; and, in my opinion, may even give you some gifts that others may not have.


Dyslexia Stories - Meet Michael Taylor

I have dyseidetic dyslexia, which means that when I look at words they can jumble. So, I seldom spell words right, can’t break words apart when reading and have a terrible time seeing when I make mistakes in typing. At their root, things can be visually muddled. I also often see the whole of a thing, then must concentrate to see all the little pieces. Too much visual or auditory distraction or unnecessary detail and I can find it hard to concentrate.

My dyslexia has also left me with many gifts. Because I struggled to learn with text, I became a great speaker. I love talking, listening and engaging people with their ideas. I often see more than most people because I see all the various pieces at one time. I have an amazing sense of direction, visually mapping the world around me. I can now read faster than most people because I read the shape of words. I also learn by picturing individual pieces and have an almost photographic memory for visual things. I can take something apart  (like a clock) and put it back together perfectly. I am also stubborn and push back against anyone who tries to put limits on me because I have been pushing back my whole life.

This does not mean it has not been a struggle. In school, I was often made to feel lesser because at first, it took me longer to read and write, and later because I was never able to write without making little mistakes. (I did French immersion and the word for Spelling Test, “Dictee,” still gives me chills.) When you falter you are often made to feel stupid. This is a feeling that, especially as a child, can compound and create anxiety which makes it even harder to concentrate and keep trying. Even today, I will encounter people, who, because I make little mistakes, treat me poorly, assume I do not understand and talk down to me. I now have the confidence to be open about my dyslexia; however, not everyone understands my learning disability. This presents an opportunity for them to learn more about dyslexia and if they wish not to, I choose not to use my time and energy on them.

I was very lucky that my father was a doctor and I was tested for dyslexia when I was very young. I remember lots of tests where I matched words and shapes and a ridiculous set-up with headphones and listening to words over and over again. Unfortunately, at the time I was diagnosed there were few, if any resources, provided for children who had dyslexia to help them learn. My parents would try to treat me and a favourite trick was to have me listen to music with headphones while engaging in a very specific task. They also gave me lots of picture books and comics where I was drawn to the images and read them over and over until I started to recognize words. They did make me practice writing more than others but never made me feel bad about how long it took me to learn. Above all else, they taught me to be curious and to explore the world, which made me more curious and motivated me to learn. This created a positive feedback loop to counter the anxiety around learning to write in school. 


Michael Taylor as a child wearing headphones

School was still a big challenge. I excelled in some courses (science and math), but I completely bombed in writing courses. Teachers often made me feel less intelligent than my peers, and I often had to remind myself that I was curious, social and loved learning new things. I developed ways of learning that complemented the strict reading and writing tests, by visualizing things, moving beyond comics to reading books about adventure, and telling and eventually writing my own stories. In high school I was able to concentrate on courses I liked more and started to build a community by joining social clubs, getting involved in student politics and volunteering extensively outside of school. I created around me a positive peer group that reflected my interests and allowed me to create my own sense of self. I liked doing things, not just reading about them, so I went out into the world, experimented, met people and learned.

After school, I joined the military and was a specialist. It taught me to try as hard as I can. Learning and effort are something for you, not for other people. Starting university, I learned to deconstruct what I was taught in class into a form (often visual) that made sense to me. I remember drawing a very vivid diagram of the heart and visualizing how it all worked together. I came up with a few other hacks: I wore a baseball cap and listened to music when studying to reduce distractions. I gave myself fixed periods of time to complete work and often studied at times when few people are around (the hours between 5-8 pm are great). 

Law school was another challenge. Most of what is done there is reading, talking about what you read, and writing it out, over and over with 100% exams. Often, we were reading hundreds of pages a night. I did not tell people I had dyslexia, which was probably a mistake because at first, I struggled. I had a right to be there; as someone with a disability, it was important for me to be there so that people with dyslexia could be represented. I eventually reached out for help, and ultimately it was being stubborn and working hard that helped me get through. In fact, I thrived and did so well that I was asked back to do my Master’s degree and eventually a PhD in Law.

After law school, I went to work for a firm that did private banking. Banking allowed me to do lots of different and interesting things on my own. My sociality and adaptability, things I learned because of dyslexia, were assets and meant I could deal with clients well. I was quick to spot opportunities and risks so I could protect my clients’ money. I discovered that seeing the whole forest, rather than dwelling on the details of each tree, was what leadership was like. There would always be someone who wanted to spend days and days metaphorically staring at each tree in the forest.


Michael Taylor

At the same time as I was completing my graduate work, I began working for the federal government. This work has been rewarding and the government is a place that is open and accepting of difference. I have encountered discrimination, especially from those who like to criticize and focus on the wrong details, or who take pleasure in correcting others but overall, it has been a very understanding and good place to work. 

Dyslexia has made me who I am today. It has always been a struggle and I still make spelling mistakes every day. However, I have proven to myself that I can be anything that I would like to be and if you have dyslexia and you are struggling, I want you to know that you can be anything that you want to be too. You have a right for people to respect your dyslexia, make accommodations so that you can take part in learning, and remove barriers so you can be included. You also need to believe in yourself, be curious and remember that learning is more than just school. Surround yourself with friends who are also curious, try as hard as you can and adapt as well as you can. As you try, you will likely develop other skills (a friend called them superpowers) that may make you more attentive, better able to talk to others and make you smart in your own unique way.

When I was a kid my mother pointed out something to me. From the historical records, we know that Shakespeare, the person largely responsible for the modern English language, never signed his name the same way twice. He existed in a time where what you were saying was more important than the forms and conventions of how you wrote it down. Take that to heart. Your ideas are important, not the form of how you read or write them down.

Here is a list of some of the challenges and superpowers I feel every day

Challenges:

  1. I still struggle with spelling. (I always spell the as teh).

  2. Unless I have met someone, I forget their name easily.

  3. I have trouble telling the difference between my right and left, even when driving. (To remind me, I always mimic writing – which I do with my right hand).

  4. I always confuse PM and AM (I sometimes ask for things for 10PM in the morning which confuses people).

  5. It takes me a few seconds to tell time on a watch.

  6. I find it hard to concentrate on a computer if there are lots of things on the desktop, prompts going off or lots of documents open.

  7. People still make me feel small when I make small mistakes. (It means they are likely small people and should not be given your time).

  8. I can get distracted easily, like a puppy.

  9. I mix up the names of things and people all the time. I just accept it.

  10. When I was young, one mistake would lead to more mistakes if I became anxious. It still happens, but I take more time to breathe and recalibrate.

  11. People still will make you feel stupid by repeating basic details to you. It is their problem if they cannot understand that you are working with a disability.

  12. I can leave the stove on because I turn the knob the wrong way.

  13. If I am tired, or interrupted, it can be hard to concentrate and read.

  14. I can mix up times and dates (I once missed a flight because I changed the day and month). So, I have to double-check when I fill out forms and make payments online.

  15. If you spell out a word for me, I still find it hard to write it out correctly.

Superpowers:

  1. I have a perfect sense of direction. Blindfold me, leave me a few blocks from home and I will find my way back.

  2. It has taken years, but I can often read fast and write fast as well. I just ignore spelling.

  3. I can remember every face that I have ever met, and where I met them.

  4. I can pick out details from a crowd and notice all the little details of what people are doing and saying. 

  5. I am very social and like people, a consequence of me always reaching out for others when I struggled. 

  6. I have a super big imagination. Learning to create my own stories as a kid means I still can imagine all kinds of things.

  7. I am not fixed to the form of a thing (how it is written), I want to know its meaning.

  8. I like writing poetry because it is more about feelings than spelling and form.

  9. I can see the outcomes of a meeting very quickly. So, I can help bring people together, this helps when negotiating.

  10. I see the space and place of objects very well, which means I can move very fast. (Which helps with martial arts and dancing – ninja 😊). 

  11. I can spend time, a lot of time taking a complex thing apart, and putting it back together again. Which means I often understand it in much greater detail than anyone around me.

  12. I like to and have the ability to turn everything into a diagram if possible.


Michael's poetry

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By: Dyslexia Canada
Title: Dyslexia Stories: Michael Taylor
Sourced From: www.dyslexiacanada.org/en/blog/dyslexia-stories-michael-taylor
Published Date: Wed, 11 Aug 2021 23:51:58 +0000

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