Whatever I want, I can do it. -Novalis
Nea Koivumaa is from Rovaniemi. As a child she was independent and carefree. After leaving for the summer camps, she didn't call home, nothing was heard from her, until someone at home phoned her. She just wanted to play and do new things. If she decided to do something, she did it - with or without permission. Nea was a kind but stubborn child.
Now Nea is studying leadership at the University of Lapland and is doing her master's thesis about equality in working life from the perspective of the dyslexics. She has dyslexia, and she wants to talk about it openly and raise awareness about dyslexia, especially in the corporate world.
Nea’s greatest strength is her determination. She also has good organizational skills. “I see the big picture very clearly and I’m able to make creative changes without losing the big picture, I’m also good at delegating tasks”, Nea describes herself.
It is sad that we don't talk about strengths and good sides of dyslexia
“Dyslexia, as a word, causes contradictory feelings, as dyslexia itself. At the same time, it explains why I learn, understand and read differently than others. It helps me to understand my own resources, strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, the stigma of dyslexia is very negative and merely shows the weaknesses that come from dyslexia. We don't talk about strengths and good sides of dyslexia, and it is sad”.
Although Nea was a determined and carefree child, she noticed early that she was different and not doing as good as the others at school. She couldn't keep up with them.
“I learned to read fluently not until the third grade. Until then, the class teacher used to skip me when we were reading aloud, or I had to learn to remember the text by heart beforehand so that I would be able to read it. This was terrible and humiliating. On some level, I knew this wasn’t normal, and I remember I was wondering why my classmates knew how to read so well so fast.”
In secondary school, applied exercises in math were a nightmare for Nea. The school principal, who was also the math teacher, realized that even though Nea did all her assignments and homework, the exams went badly. Fortunately, the principal understood the situation and made her do the dyslexia tests on the 8th grade. The result of the test was clear: she had dyslexia.
This was a huge relief, because before the diagnosis she had thought that she is stupid. Also, the others had thought that she is stupid and lazy. “I knew something was wrong, that I wasn’t the same as the other classmates around me. That diagnosis explained a lot. After that, I was able to do something about it and learn differently.”
Strong work ethic due to dyslexia
However, Nea didn’t want to be open about her dyslexia. She didn’t want to stand out and be stigmatized more stupid than she already felt. Her big sister had got to high school, and Nea wanted to get there too. So, she started to work hard for it. Later she wanted to go to university and again, started to work seriously to achieve that goal. Her strong work ethic had started to shape at secondary school when she realized that she had to work harder, and she was persistent. This is often common for people with dyslexia - they are used to work hard for things from an early age and therefore they do well in life.
TOP 3 most stressful things about school
1. Keeping up with others
“I had goals and I knew what others were capable of and how it would take them forward in their studies. So, I created pressure on myself to succeed. The closer the end of primary school was, the more important good degrees became, and the more stressed I was.”
2. Reading aloud
“Reading aloud in class is the most awful thing I know. I was slow and I often misread”.
“Doing exams made me panic. In secondary school, after the dyslexia diagnosis, I got the possibility to do exams in a separate room where was no clock. In addition, I was given one assignment at a time during the exam so that facing all the assignment at once wouldn’t make me panic.
“Later in high school, I did exams in the same room as the others, but I used to fold the exam paper so that I only saw one assignment at a time. Not all teachers liked it, but I stubbornly held my head and did this because it was the best way for me to do exams.”
Nea has been lucky for she has had good teachers, excluding a few exceptions. The biggest help was that she got to prepare for things in advance. On the 9th grade, she was given the material for the next lesson in advance so that she could go through the material independently before the lesson and thus be able to keep up with the classmates during the lesson. "It was useful, but on the other hand, it was extra work, and it also required more work from the teachers."
Until the last year in high school, Nea thought she couldn't graduate. For this reason, she did not talk about her dyslexia to others. She just worked hard, was persistent and tried to find ways to study that suited for her. The same technique continued in university, where she still didn't tell about her dyslexia. "So, I didn't even give the teachers a chance to react and help me. This was a conscious and stubborn choice I made.”
You can learn things in other ways than by reading, too
When Nea got the dyslexia diagnosis, she was told she should find her own way to learn. She was only 14 years old, and didn’t understand this, but tried to learn in different ways: she drew timelines and pictures and wrote stories, but nothing really helped.
“At this point, it would have been good, if I had been taught how to read and write in a way that helps me understand contents. I had to go all the way to university to realize that contents can be understood in other ways too than just reading the whole book and learning things by heart using the ‘pike is a fish, pike is a fish’ technique.”
Dyslexia has given me the ‘can do’ attitude
Nea says that if she didn’t have dyslexia, she would certainly have focused more on other things in her life than doing well in school, such as hobbies.
“I now think that all that stress caused by learning, tolerating and facing difficulties has given a lot and made me grow as a human being. Dyslexia has given me the ‘can do’ attitude and the ability to make creative decisions and solve problems. The fact that my brain works little differently has made me creative and given me ideas. It has given me a lot of strengths that I can use as an adult.”
Now Nea wants to learn how to bring out all her skills and potential. At times, she feels that her output does not match her entire potential capacity. She would like to study and understand more about people with dyslexia and neurological abnormalities in working life. She wants to speak for them, tell their stories and focus more on their strengths, so that the work environments and companies could see the dyslexics’ strengths as possibilities instead of weaknesses.
“Because she didn't know that it was impossible, she went and did it" - unknown
“Dyslexia gives and takes. Focusing on what it takes doesn’t add any value to life. Instead, if you are curious, try things out and get really interested about something, you can learn it easily without any obstacle dyslexia would normally put on your way. The most important thing is not to define your own ability according to other people's opinions, but to try and make your own conclusions about your own strengths”.
Be brave and ask for help. Be it for study, anxiety or proofreading.
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