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'I found out I was dyslexic in the 90s. Deep down I knew I wasn’t as ‘stupid’ as I was made to feel in school'

‘My experience of being dyslexic in school gave me additional skills I didn’t realise I had, such as problem solving.’

Ross O'Neill

AS I WRITE this, my palms are sweating, my stomach is jumping with nerves and my head has drawn a complete blank, just like it does every time I need to write something.

Does that ever go away? Not in my case – but I’ve certainly learned how to deal with it!

Let me ramble a little about my experiences of being dyslexic, good and not so good. There is a lot of negativity linked to being dyslexic and I’d like to turn that on its head.

It was discovered that I was dyslexic while in school in the early 90′s and my experience was just like most kids with what is incorrectly called a ‘learning difficulty’.

I was the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. The complete focus was on my weaknesses – and none on my strengths. So naturally I left school completely deflated, feeling very insecure with no real understanding of what my strengths were.

To prove I could do it

Yet I had a fire in my belly that pushed me to prove to myself that I could do it. Deep down I knew I wasn’t as ‘stupid’ as I was made to feel in school. I secretly and subconsciously knew I was capable of more.

My first job was in a hotel not too far from where I live, where I stayed for nearly 6 years. Being an operational role, this gave me an opportunity to discover my strengths and little did I know how much that would benefit me in the future. It also helped me to discover and fine-tune the core skills that I was born with, such as creativity, intuitiveness, trouble-shooting, big picture thinking, and other skills typical of dyslexics.

I slowly started to realise that my experience of being dyslexic in school gave me additional skills I didn’t realise I had, such as problem solving. Being dyslexic in school you constantly need to figure out other ways of doing things, other ways to structure a sentence, other ways to learn your schoolwork and so on. This has led to my ability to think outside the box to find solutions – which is a great asset in business.

How to cope with difficult situations 

Being dyslexic taught me to battle through, how to be resilient and how to cope with difficult situations. I also realised how much I relied on my memory. My memory was exercised the whole way through school and I didn’t realise it. Even now if I come across a word I haven’t seen before, I’m like a young child trying to read it for the first time. I know for sure I read from memory.

I recognise a word as a symbol and read it that way.

But I think the most important asset I developed is the ability to empathise with others and connect with them. As we all know, good relationships are critical in life and particularly in business.

Furthermore, I think as humans we all have a thirst for knowledge. Being dyslexic, that thirst wasn’t quite quenched in classic school methods. So I went on a mission to learn as much general knowledge elsewhere as I possibly could.

Doing this I discovered my own style of learning and suddenly realised I don’t have a learning difficultly – I just learn differently.

Skills gap

So with my additional new found skills and a skip in my step, I left the hotel trade and set up a distribution business in the housewares industry. After a further six years, I set up a second company measuring employee and customer satisfaction for organisations. I found my niche!

Of course it has been challenging. But I don’t believe it has been any more challenging for me being dyslexic. I simply learned how to deal with it. I use my strengths and outsource my weaknesses. Since setting up my own business, I’ve been able to completely work in a way that works for me. I try to conduct most of my business face to face or over the phone and avoid emails and letters if possible. But when needs must, my secret weapon is technology.

I use my computer/phone constantly for spell checker and my iPhone and Mac also read out words for me that I’m struggling to read. Does this happen often? Hundreds of times a day! Honestly! I don’t know where I’d be without it. It’s most certainly my trusted companion with me everywhere I go. I’ve been known to use the speak-to-text feature on my phone even while walking down a busy street. It’s what works for me.

Technology has helped so much

I truly believe that having the tech support has stopped dyslexia being an issue for me and has allowed me to get on with it and concentrate on my strengths. The skills that really will help me in everyday business. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

I actually consider myself lucky that my weaknesses aren’t an issue thanks to technology. Not only that, I believe I’m extremely fortunate to be dyslexic. Despite the challenges that childhood and school presented – I wouldn’t trade my brain for any other.

My advice to any aspiring dyslexic entrepreneur out there is to embrace your difference. Focus on your strengths, forget your weaknesses and trust me when I tell you that being dyslexic won’t be a hazard – it will actually give you additional skills you might not know you have.

I’ve certainly found it enjoyable discovering what they are. For everything else – there’s tech!

Ross O’Neill is Managing Director of R-GON. Visit www.dyslexia.ie to learn more about dyslexia. October 5-11 is Dyslexia Awareness Week. 

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Ross O'Neill

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