Opinion: Farming is waking up to the plight of dyslexics

I recently had a conversation with a local farmer on the subject of dyslexia. His story was a harrowing one.

He described the problems he has faced with officials, and associated form-filling, due to the fact that he has struggled with dyslexia all his life. His personal life and his business have both been affected very badly in recent years due to his difficulty with reading.

Thankfully, as a result of him being so open and frank with others about his condition, he has become a champion for the plight of dyslexic farmers everywhere. Real progress is now being made to help raise awareness of the condition.

As a result, NFU Scotland has set up a dyslexia working group that will help to ensure that Scottish farming stakeholders recognise the needs of dyslexic crofters and farmers.

I think this is great news as I also have a learning difficulty that is closely related to dyslexia. I’ve had personal experience of what it is like when no one seems to understand when you’re struggling to cope. My experience is nowhere near as bad as the challenges that severe dyslexics have to cope with, but it has definitely given me an insight into the frustration that comes with a lack of understanding by those around you.

I have what is known as Irlen Syndrome. Unlike dyslexia, it hadn’t been discovered when I went to secondary school in the 1970s. The condition makes reading text from a book very difficult. If I read for more than five minutes, the words start to move about on the page. That is exactly how I remember describing it to my parents and teachers when I was studying for my standard grades in 1975.

After several trips to the optician confirmed that my eyesight was perfect, I was told I that I needed to concentrate a bit better and work a bit harder. Lazy, in other words.

I cannot begin to tell you how angry and frustrated it makes you feel when you are working hard and concentrating like blazes but only making slow progress due to a limitation that you don’t even understand yourself. It makes matters worse still when the people you rely on for support have no understanding of your problem either. My parents and my teachers couldn’t possibly have understood what my problem was, as Irlen Syndrome was only discovered 10 years after I left school.

I only found out about it when my daughter was diagnosed as having it three years ago. My sister has since been for tests and she has it as well, so it’s evidently a heritable trait.

Although, my condition has not had a devastating effect on my life, it does take me a lot longer to read and understand anything.

My daughter now wears glasses with coloured lenses to help her read more easily, just as other people might wear a hearing aid if they have difficulty hearing. There’s no stigma attached to having problems with your eyesight or your hearing. But unfortunately, dyslexia is not that simple. There is nothing you can “put on” to help with the problem.

The challenge is to educate others – especially those in authority – to be more understanding and respectful towards individuals who have reading limitations that are beyond their control.

Farmers and crofters who are currently feeling unsupported by the system now have a chance to make things better. However, the success of the working group will only be assured if those same farmers come forward and give the group their full help and support.

Neale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in South West Scotland. He farms 365ha in partnership with his wife, Janet, much of which is under stewardship for wildlife.

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