I’d always felt I’d had to work so much harder than all my friends (Picture: Amos Ogunkoya)
‘But I’m in my late 20s. I can read!’
That was my response when my younger sister – a teacher – sat me down and told me she thought I was dyslexic.
Although my immediate reaction was one of denial, her words rang true. I had always struggled.
‘Yes, but you can’t “read good”’, she’d replied. She was right, I couldn’t.
I’d always felt I’d had to work so much harder than all my friends. I knew I was naturally intelligent – I’d qualified to be a doctor and done well at university – but when it came to reading, there was something wrong.
Even in childhood, being confronted with a book made me feel like an idiot. While all my friends were reading Harry Potter, the gobbledygook words just made trying to comprehend what was in front of me even harder.
In school, when teachers got members of the class to read out loud, I hoped beyond hope that they wouldn’t call my name.
I am deadly serious when I say medical school textbooks caused me trauma.
When my sister sat me down, I was just about to begin my masters. She thought it was the perfect time to tell me her suspicions because I could get a free assessment through my university – something Oxford and Cambridge offer to their new students.
When undergoing the test, I remember the woman conducting it being shocked at how high my score was in intuitive language. This means that when I know what the subject of a paragraph is but I’m struggling to understand the words, I just guess – and I guess correctly.
I hadn’t realised that made me unique; I genuinely thought everyone did that. After the test came back showing I was dyslexic, I spoke to some friends.
A lot of my mates are doctors, and I asked: ‘When you do multiple choice questions, don’t you just read the answers and guess the question?’.
The resounding reply I got was, ‘No one does that, Amos’.
When my sister sat me down, I was just about to begin my masters (Picture: Amos Ogunkoya)
It really hit home that not only had I felt like I was working much harder than everyone else, I actually was; having the knowledge to answer the questions themselves wasn’t the hard bit – reading the exam was.
Even though I clearly needed support, I can see why I slipped through the cracks in the education system. I was really good at maths, and even in English, I appeared to do well. I got As simply because before any exam I memorised swathes of text.
If I had known how to actually approach exams I am confident I could have got top marks, but no one is too concerned about the kid getting an A and not an A*.
I spent months after my diagnosis wishing I’d had extra support and was taught ways to manage when it came to reading and tests.
Even as a high achiever, I had spent so much of my life thinking I was stupid. To reconcile that I wasn’t took time.
As a kid of immigrants, you’re often told by society that your grasp of English is going to be worse; your studying should be worse; and you just kind of think that’s how it is. I’d internalised all of this messaging for so long that I had to reconfigure how I thought about myself.
I wished I could go back and talk to 12-year-old me – the year I decided I wanted to be a doctor – to say, ‘you’re not an idiot – you just find it harder, and that’s OK’. Ultimately, all that negative self-talk took a toll on my mental health.
When you battle constantly to prove yourself, anything that doesn’t come naturally becomes a negative, vicious cycle in your mind. I just wanted to be like everyone else and so would constantly compare myself – especially when it came to my peers’ reading speeds.
Something I struggle to form a definite opinion on is a moment from my childhood that my parents revealed to me after I found out I was dyslexic.
The possibility that I might have a learning disorder is something that had been mentioned to them – I’m not sure by who – when I was a kid. My parents, however, didn’t tell me this as they thought if they did, I would have used it as an excuse and that I would never have become a doctor.
I was a young Black kid from a council estate who was initially put in the school’s bottom sets.
Even as a high achiever, I had spent so much of my life thinking I was stupid (Picture: BBC/Studio Lambert Associates/Mark Mainz)
My parents believed if I also had the dyslexic label people, due to inherent bias, would assume I wasn’t capable. I would assume, even more than I already did, that I couldn’t achieve anything.
As I said, I don’t know if I necessarily agree, but I do think their point is valid. There were lots of people from my medical school who found out in childhood that they were dyslexic and didn’t feel like it hindered them, but they were middle class and were from completely different backgrounds to me.
At school, I wanted to be like everybody else, so would finding out I was different have helped? Even though I felt like I wasn’t good enough on the inside, I did well and even became head boy.
Who knows if I would have thought that was possible had I known the truth – because there is so much stigma surrounding the disorder. It’s something I’m now trying to change.
I remember, in my role as a GP, a mother and daughter coming in for the 16-year-old to be assessed. They were clearly nervous and to put them at ease, I disclosed my diagnosis.
They were so shocked, with the mum saying, ‘so you can be a doctor and still be dyslexic?’. It opened the door for us to have a great and honest conversation. People think dyslexia is synonymous with lack of achievement but it’s not; so many high achievers have it.
Telling that mum and daughter that this wasn’t a bad label to have was a really nice moment.
With The Traitors, I knew my platform was going to grow, and with that I wanted to be able to help more people – especially young Black kids. Most people, when they imagine a doctor, aren’t picturing a 6ft 2 Black guy with dyslexia.
I now often go to schools – and back to my own – to chat to students to tell them that nothing should hold them back from aiming high.
You have to see it to believe it’s possible – I had that with my aunt in medicine – and I want to be that role model for those who need it.
I believe a good life is one that serves other people and knowing I can use my own experience of dyslexia to not only help others, but to make them feel seen, consoles me when I think about the difficulties I’ve faced in my own journey.
I’ve found mechanisms to help improve my reading, and although my friends and family still complain I text in gibberish, words no longer terrify me.
I’m forever thankful to my little sister for her honesty and care. Because of her, I know I’m smart, whether I can ‘read good’ or not.
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‘But I’m in my late 20s. I can read!’. That was my response when my younger sister – a teacher – sat me down and told me she thought I was dyslexic.