Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Dyslexic Engineer

I found out I was Dyslexic when I started secondary school at the age of 12. By the time I left I had poor grades and was told I would not amount to much. However Dyslexia is not a disability or have something missing in our brains, its just the way we are wired up. So how does someone with dyslexia get by in a world or words and what magic powers have some of us harnessed that has given us an advantage over others, like me in becoming an electronics design engineer.

At the beginning I can remember looking at black boards or pages of text having no idea what other kids around me were seeing. For me the pages may have well as been blank for all I could gleam from them. However I was lucky as when I started my secondary school my teacher spotted what I was having problems. I was tested for Dyslexia and found to have a mild form. The approach for me in my English lesions from my teacher was not to learn to read although that was a part of it, but more to focus on the things that dyslexics and autistic people have, the ability to see things differently. For me I was able to rotate images in my head and look at drawings and describe what could not be seen or how it would look form a different angle. I also found i could memorize chucks of maps, drawings etc in a almost photographic type way. My teacher encouraged these skills and gave me and others more confidence which lead us to start learning to read more and more. By the time I left school at 16 I had reading age of around 10.

Over the years I have slowly got better at reading and writing but its still painfully slow compared to the speed my brain wants to run at. Computers and PCs were just entering homes and when I started my ONC in electronics at collage I know I would have never finished it or my HNC without Word and a spell checker!

Since then I've relied heavily on computers to get by in my working day. Lists are important to me and where I work we have an internal wiki which I use to assemble ideas. Just more recently I have found which is a really nice little online tool for generating lists. I have also used a package called Bugzilla which is fab at tracking faults, bug or issues on software projects. Bugzilla however is quite flexible and can be used on hardware projects or even just you day to day life. Being dyslexic meant I had to be better at project managing my day at work - unfortunately I've never quite got it to work at home.!

Another really good tool I use is to block out my calender in Outlook using bright colours. each colour means a different type of task and allows me to look and see quickly what I've got planed. I also block out my whole day, not just for appointments or meeting, but anything I want to get done. This way I don't forget what I have planed and have already set aside time to do it.

Many of these things may look and sound like project management tools. In away I have stolen them from this area of business but you will find that these techniques are being taught to people today with dyslexia. these are methods of giving back Dyslexics some control.

There was recently a program on the BBC called "Don't Call Me Stupid" which follows the UK actress Kara Tointon who explain just what it like to be dyslexic and for anyone who watches it you will also see the emotional impact that it can have on a individual too. For me I forgot just how hard I found it to get though school and now having tools and work arounds I don't get those feelings of depression and frustration anymore.

For me I now find Dyslexia a gift. I do not think I could come up with design ideas and play around with stuff in my head if I was not like this. I now talk around with large chunks of circuits and software in my head that I can think over, try ideas and work stuff out. It’s like having a 3D whiteboard in my head. I still need pen and paper but in a funny way I like being dyslexic. I can get by with the reading and writing and getting my words mixed up, however I think I've come out better off in my career because of the way my head is wired up.

I would say to anyone who is dyslexia not to give up. The program link above has links to good sites that can help. Many are told that they will never come to much and give up too easy. I have always aspired to be more, maybe because I'm dyslexic,and so should others.

UPDATE March 2014 - Since writing this post I have become a Chartered Engineer. It was a big deal for me, to be seen by other engineers (The IET) as having what it takes to be a quality engineer. I feel that this shows that someone with dyslexia can achieve their dreams!


Bill said...

Good post. I think Dyslexia is common among engineers. I used to work with a talented engineer who was extremely Dyslexic. He'd flip multimeter readings around without fail. We eventually learned 5.2V was really 2.5V.

I think you are right in viewing it as a positive. I think a lot of engineers as well as other creative types such as musicians and artists benefit from being wired a little different. It's a good message for kids as well.

reyhan said...

Hey, this is really inspirational. I feel like I have a form of dyslexia and cannot comprehend things as fast as my brain does. My eye tracking gets a little weird for I tend to look above words when reading them, occasionally skipping over some. Also, im studying mechanical engineering so its nice to see other engineers who have dyslexia and boosts my confidence.

Anonymous said...

Love your post on dyslexia. I have a son with dyslexia. When he was in first grade, a teacher told us he'd be lucky to graduate from high school. He was determined to not only graduate but do so much more. He graduates from high school this year, still a slower reader, but #7 out of 250 kids after taking all advanced classes. He loves the sciences and math, and has thought about engineering. His mind sounds a lot like yours, and he's always amazing people by his out of the box thinking. Thanks for sharing your message and your inspiration to dyslexics on not giving up!

Anonymous said...

I am an aspiring engineer who is dyslexic and I can relate with a lot of things that you have said I would like to thank you so much for your words of encouragement

Lee said...

Firstly Congrats on gaining your charterhip! Great post, as an engineer I've been struggling/coping/living/utilizing my dyslexia for last 8 years. At uni I learned what it was I had and how it affected me; and its was like a new lease of life. Your points about project management particularly ring true with my everyday rituals. (I need to get better). Cheers

Diana Kennedy said...

I just found your blog and am printing it out as we speak to bring to a third grade student with dyslexia who is feeling very frustrated right now. He wants to be an engineer and an architect, so i am hoping your story will be just what he needs to hear right now. Thanks!

Shelly Flachs said...

My son is dyslexic and it is so frustrating that schools are still lagging behind times to address these issues and do not provide instruction that is beneficial to these students. It is not surprising that out children cannot compete with other countries. However, I am encouraged by your story. I continue to advocate for my son, but I feel as if I am advocating and paving the way for other students in this community. They have now put it in writing my son has dyslexia which is a huge thing, but we have a ways to go as they are saying LD, I say you learn differently, and I tell my son, don't let anyone tell you what you can't do because you can do anything, and to always dream big!

Shelly Flachs said...

My son has a diagnosis of dyslexia and he is 11 years old and wants to be an engineer. I tell him don't allow others to tell you what you can't do what you love and desire to do. This has been a long haul trying to get the right services for him, but we are making progress and paving the way for others in this community. We are pioneers getting help and getting the school system to put it in place. They are focused on placing him in LD Classes when he is very smart, and with accommodations can do above grade level work, my goal is help educators to look past Learning disabilities and say learning differences, it does not mean one is disabled because they can't learn like someone else. Those of you who are professionals think about mentoring these young people who have dreams of being like you, show them that dreams do come true, and that it not always going to be easy, and that it does take work.
Thank you for your inspiration!

Megan Cumberworth said...

I have dyslexia and working towards my BA of Nursing. My new favorite app is Flashcards by Chegg. It's a great tool for learning new vocabulary for my classes. When studying my vocabulary words I have the option of having the words and definitions read to me. Since I struggle with reading especially big medical words this app has been very helpful and I am no longer making up my own pronunciations.

I couldn't agree more about dyslexia being a gift. I tell people, when I was younger I use to think I was cursed, but now I accept my learning difference and find it to be a true gift. I love how my brain works!

Fifi said...

Thank you so much for the encouragement here, I came across your website when I googled 'engineering & dyslexia' for my daughter who was wondering if her dyslexia would hamper her ambition to study engineering.

My eldest son was diagnosed at 12 with dyslexia, one school told him 'you're just using that as an excuse'
Anyway now he reads book I can't even pronounce the names of, so I don't think you're stuck like a needle on a recond, the brain does alter, although he is still dyslexic.

When I had my daughter tested at the dyslexia society they suggested buying the software 'Dragon Naturally Speaking' to help her dictate homework which is then typed automatically. We haven't bought it so I can;t comment on its effectiveness yet but we will. The same company that produced Siri technology makes it, Nuance. Anyway I thought I'd share their tip as everyone here is so helpful and encouraging. Thanks!