How dyslexia and dyspraxia have impacted me, and why diagnosis is key

Tom Hunt

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt says there must be support for young people with dyspraxia and dyslexia to reach their full potential - Credit: House of Commons

This week I wanted to talk about something a bit different and a bit more personal in my weekly column.

While I often talk about special educational needs and disabilities in the Education Select Committee and in the chamber, I don’t often talk about the personal impact dyslexia and dyspraxia have had on my life. Earlier this week you may have seen me speak about my learning difficulties in an interview on GB news, and how these have affected me growing up, at school, and throughout my life. 

Schoolwork never came easy to me. When I was at school, I (like many kids), loved sport. When it came to schoolwork, I didn’t seem to ‘get it’, and I didn’t understand why. In primary school I loved playing football, and the reading and writing didn’t seem to matter so much. 

But when I was 12, my teachers sat me down for a much more serious conversation. They told me that I was really behind, and that if I didn’t make serious improvements then I was in danger of being taken out the school altogether. 

I was just used to being the kid at the back of the class with my eyes glazed over, not understanding why I couldn’t process the information in the same way as the rest of my classmates. I knew deep down that I wasn’t stupid, but for some reason I just didn’t learn or process things in the way that my classmates could. 

At the age of 12, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia. I had the reading and writing age of an 8-year-old.

Awareness and understanding of dyslexia is now quite common, and is much better than it used to be. Dyslexia affects the ability to read and write – any of my constituents who have received a letter from me will probably have noticed that my handwriting is particularly bad. This can be one of the ‘symptoms’ of dyslexia.  

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Dyspraxia, on the other hand, is still less understood. Dyspraxia is a learning disability which can affect processes, and cause immaturity of coordination and movement. It impacts organisation and planning, and means you process information differently.

Dyspraxic people are usually non-linear thinkers, which affects ability to follow sequences or steps in a process. I think this could have been one of the reasons why I was bad at maths at school, and why I couldn’t tie my shoelaces until I was 14.

I couldn’t do a tie until I was at university. I still don’t know the order of the alphabet, either, and I still struggle with things like using computers, which requires following steps, even now. 

A few months ago, I met the head boy and head girl from Moon Hall school, which specialises in provision for dyslexic students. Harry and Evie from Moon Hall told me about their own experiences with dyslexia – things like struggling in exam conditions, as well as with the difficult transition to online learning.

It was interesting to hear from these capable young students who have similar learning difficulties to myself - just as I can’t reel off the alphabet in order, Harry and Evie told me that they struggle with knowing the months of the year. However, things have definitely moved on since I was at school. 

My own experiences have showed me just how important having a diagnosis is. When I got diagnosed at the age of 12, it meant powerful interventions could be made – I was taken out of French lessons immediately, and the school was able to give me more personal help.

For me, it was touch and go from when I was diagnosed. With the support of the school and some exceptional specialists, I was able to get on and do quite well in my GCSEs and A-levels, and go on to university. My worry is for those who aren’t able to get diagnosed, and subsequently don’t get the help that they need.

I want to make sure that all young people with the kind of disabilities that I have receive the support that they need and deserve. That’s probably one of my main intentions when it comes to politics.

Dyslexia and dyspraxia mean having a different way of processing information: people with dyslexia and dyspraxia think and learn in different ways, which often means they can be exceptionally creative and good at problem-solving.

Having an education system which understands and embraces these differences is important. It’s not just important for the individuals, but for our society.  

Given the right support, these individuals can flourish and can be incredibly creative thinkers.

However, we also see individuals with dyslexia and dyspraxia unfortunately fall through the cracks.

This is incredibly significant in a report which the education select committee is currently looking at, in prison education. If you feel like the system is failing you, it is very tempting to turn against this system.

Therefore, I don’t find it surprising that there are so many people in the prison system who haven’t received the educational support that they needed.

I do think the tide is turning, especially when it comes to dyslexia. It is much better understood and accommodated in schools than when I was growing up. However, I still fear that there are children in the system who aren’t getting the right diagnosis, or the right support for their learning differences.

This is why I am so avidly supporting fellow Suffolk MP Matt Hancock’s bill to bring in universal screening for dyslexia in primary schools. While understanding and support for dyslexic pupils is improving, I think we still have a way to go.

I hope that I can go some way towards ensuring that all the other ‘Toms’ with learning difficulties have the support they deserve, and that they can fly in the system rather than fall through the cracks. 

- Tom Hunt is the Conservative MP for Ipswich.