• Onyinye Udokporo

Larry Owereh... A #NeurodiverseHero!

Growing up I always enjoyed reading books, writing stories and engaging in class. I was a bright kid who always wanted to excel in my academics. I knew I had issues with my spelling, grammar and handwriting but I always thought it was an issue all students faced and something I’d develop and eventually grow out of. I always made sure I spelt out my words phonetically, had a clear understanding of how to pronounce words before saying it out loud and concentrated when writing, being specific with the type of pen I wrote with because I thought certain pens made my handwriting look good.

Going to a good boarding school boosted my confidence even more as it showed that I was at a good academic standard and that I’d learn how to develop my spelling, grammar and handwriting but as the years went on I realised that I was still falling behind my peers despite being a hard worker and proactive learner. So I just put it down to to just not being a bright student.

All of my teachers (and I mean all) said and knew that I had a lot of potential to perform well and achieve great success but something was always missing or lacking when it came to actually performing as I almost always missed the mark. So I was just put down as a below average student when compared to my peers. Naturally my confidence dropped by the time I reached my A-Levels but I persevered through and remained optimistic for my end results.

Dyslexia was never brought up or something discussed despite the obvious failings. The stigma around it was that it was for “dumb” people or those who wanted to cheat the school system and get a laptop and extra time in exams to add the final touches. What was crazy was that those who had extra time and laptops in my year group were naturally intelligent and performed well outside of the exam room. Ironic.

I had one session with the schools’ [insert Mr Wilson’s pastoral care title] to discuss my issues around essay structure after underperforming in my AS History exams but that was it. I wasn’t referred to an academic specialist. I wasn’t followed up with. I was just glossed over and returned to my original place even though it was clear that I was struggling compared and not reaching my own potential. I remember when I was asked to read out loud in English class, and with my stammer and slow reading I was naturally shy but still proceeded and remember my friends in class laughing at the way I spoke. All of the signs were there but for some reason I wasn’t given the help I needed. I still kept quiet about possibly having dyslexia because:

(1) I was ignorant about even having it.

(2) I still thought that people with dyslexia were stupid and I just wasn’t one of them.

This mentality but also neglect by the education system carried on through to university and the first half of law school. It wasn’t until a friend I went to school with disclosed to me about their recent dyslexia diagnosis and how their symptoms were so similar to mine that I had to get checked!

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. The sigh of relief could be heard for days! Years and years of uncertainty, stress and the unknown were all answered after one assessment. It confirmed all that I already knew after 14+ years of education. My reading, spelling, grammar and handwriting were all delayed and had worsened over the years. I was then told that these issues were not connected with my intelligence. My psychologist’s analogy explanation as to why I was suddenly struggling even more now at 24 than at 14 was because “you are like a tractor who has been driving through tough mud for years with no support and now the tractor is getting too weak to manage on its own and needs assistance”. This all made perfect sense to me. Going through school without any academic assistance was making my brain become more tired and weak to manage on its own and now that I had reached law school it was becoming unbearable.

It was such a relief but also a sad shame that I had only found out in the last few weeks of law school because it meant that I went through my GCSEs, A Levels, 3 years of university and 1 year of law school without any computer assistance, extra time or academic support to help me reach my potential. I am clearly an intelligent individual but my real potential wasn’t realised where it really mattered.

Nonetheless, finding out that I have dyslexia has been an eye opener. I know where my strengths lie, I know what my weaknesses are and how to navigate around them and I also know how my brain works. I’m very process driven, formulaic in my thinking and great with computers. I ensure that I think proactively when tackling my weaknesses, such as reading out loud, grammar, spelling and punctuation, so that I’m aware of any mistakes I make. I still enjoy reading (even though it takes me a long time to read a single paragraph), I regularly write articles and beginning to work on writing my first book.

I have learnt that there should be no stigma around dyslexia as we are all different and learn differently. I don’t shy aware from it but highlight the strengths I’ve gained from it. The more we talk about it and explain the pros of having it, the less people will be ignorant about it.

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