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“My experiences of living with dyslexia” – Malcolm Thomson

Posted on: 23 November 2022

As part of the GP Care Group's ongoing work for better inclusion and understanding of ‘differences’ within the organisation, and coinciding with UK Disability History Month (16 November – 16 December), our Chief Operating Officer, Malcolm Thomson has written a moving personal blog about his experience of having dyslexia. 


Malcolm’s blog

Do any of you remember struggling to read the story in junior school, being labelled as slow, stupid, or silly by your peers, and being described as difficult by teachers – this was my experience as a child. 

I now know that this was because I have dyslexia, [more recently known as being neurodivergent]. It is a condition which was regularly under-diagnosed in the 60s and 70s, right up to today, leaving children feeling lost as they couldn’t understand the written word or the world around them, unlike our friends. Even when we did receive a formal diagnosis, it was easier to find ways to hide it, not wishing to be different or singled out or ridiculed. 

A neurodivergent person has one or more ways their brain functions outside the “typical” way. For example, neurodivergent people may be diagnosed with autism, ADHD, OCD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, or Tourette's. At one time, these conditions were treated as problems.

Today we better understand this condition; as a result, diagnoses can be reached earlier, with schools and colleges being more aware and better equipped to support people with dyslexia from an early age. However, there is still under-diagnosis, with many people not being diagnosed until they are much older, often in the workplace. 

I am pleased to be supporting efforts to raise awareness of the condition by promoting and celebrating neurodivergence within the GP Care Group by. It’s important to me to use this opportunity to reflect on my experiences of living with dyslexia. 

Today I am very proud to be the Chief Operating Officer at the GP Care Group. I qualified as a Registered General Nurse (RGN) in 1988, gained a teaching qualification in 1996 and obtained my master’s degree in healthcare commissioning in 2014.  None of this was easy, but I can see, with hindsight, the various methods I used to manage my difference – especially given that I was not diagnosed until my thirties. 

I was a disaster at school; I was put in the “special” English class, always compared to my intelligent baby sister (who is a partner in an international law firm – so there is no chance of competing) and told I would get nowhere.  But I was stubborn, really stubborn! 

As a teenager, I worked with a charity to support children with learning disabilities, and I saw myself gain confidence in this caring environment. 

I was lucky to do my nurse training, and I made a great nurse (I still am).  I am caring and compassionate when dealing with people – I watch my colleagues have high levels of emotional intelligence, which is often the case with neurodivergent people.

But I am ambitious! I built on my clinical qualifications and showed a willingness to undertake further learning.  I took on various short courses (a diploma, my teaching cert, etc.) and then the big one – a master’s degree – it took a long time, and I missed a lot of family time locked away in the study (the box room) reading – constantly reading. I loved it, hated it and wanted it to end, but I did it!  I had lots of help from colleagues, tutors and family, but I DID IT! The feeling of accomplishment was amazing.

At work, I have bad days - don’t we all. Mine are often due to the pressure I put upon myself to improve, achieve, and overcome. I have great colleagues who are learning to support me and my dyslexia to ensure I do the best job possible.  I am intelligent, see the bigger picture and will not let my dyslexia limit me.

Approximately one in 10 people have dyslexia (which is recognised as a disability). Look around your team, a couple of your colleagues are dyslexic, but you can’t tell – it’s not written across our foreheads; if it was, would it look like this? “I am dyslectic”! 

In truth, it’s different for everyone. There may be a member of the team struggling, embarrassed, using coping methods to avoid doing things they struggle with, report writing, reading aloud, numerical equations, etc.; we all cope in different ways using different strategies.  Sometimes we need more time to assimilate information. Frequently, we are aural and visual learners. We learn through listening and looking, and we interpret things differently from our peers. But dyslexia does not equate to stupid or wrong, more often than not, it is the opposite, as we are gifted, creative, productive, have deep empathy, can see the big picture and have a fantastic sense of humour.  Well, in my case, it’s a bit warped.

Think about your colleagues. Is there someone with dyslexia or you believe might have a neurodivergence? Instead of thinking of this condition as a learning disability or a “problem”, see it as an “ability”.  People with neurodivergence, such as dyslexic colleagues, flourish when they are trusted, given the time we need, and are encouraged and treated as equal team members, empowering us to be the best version of ourselves. Give us this support, and your team will reap the benefits tenfold.  Support and advice, and an ear to listen is out there.