Darcey Bussel shares her story about being at school with dyslexia.
One of the yearly traditions in my household is to watch Strictly Come Dancing on the BBC. Not being a dancer but having a daughter who is, it always seems like a good idea to follow the series and appreciate the creativity and skill of the professional dancers and listen to the insight from the judging panel.
Recently I came across a number of articles in the press about one of the judges, the beautiful Darcey Bussell, who recently contributed an insight into her life at school as a dyslexic and talks frankly about the challenges that she has experienced.
Her contribution is in the book, Creative, Successful, Dyslexic: 23 High Achievers Share Their Stories. By Margaret Rooke, forward by Mollie King.
Read an excerpt of the book about Darcey below;
Darcey Bussell CBE
Hiding in a cupboard was my way of avoiding the relentless struggle of lessons at primary school. I can still remember nestling among the exercise books and pencils with the teacher knocking on the door pleading, ‘Come on, Darcey. Come down to class.’
My primary school in west London was meant to be quite open to the idea of dyslexia and other learning conditions, but for many years the teachers thought I was being lazy. Then they realised that, when it came to subjects I thought I could handle, I worked very hard. My problem was when the lesson was on a subject I found difficult, such as reading or writing or maths. Then I would do anything to try to escape from it. Which is why, from when I was about eight, I would sneak into the cupboard and hope no one would spot me.
I had other ways of avoiding tasks that felt impossible to deal with. If we were asked to write a story about something and illustrate it with a picture, the writing part was the most horrible challenge for me. So I would work on the illustration for an hour and a half and then write three lines for the story, making sure there was ‘no time’ to finish it.
One old-fashioned class teacher had a grading system and I was on the bottom table. Everybody travelled up the tables as they progressed and I never did, which was the most humiliating thing. He made us stand on our chairs and recite our times tables and we weren’t allowed to get down until we had done them correctly. I was on that chair for a long time.
Luckily I only had this teacher for one year. All the other teachers were fabulous and I felt fortunate that I was at a school where they didn’t keep talking about who was at what level.
My mother always encouraged me by telling me everyone had different strengths – and it was true.
I loved gymnastics and was even in the boys’ football team. I was a child with a lot of energy and even sitting still was difficult. The teachers must have been exasperated with me.
I did want to impress them, though. I loved history and worked hard at it but when we had tests I knew I would fail because of my spelling.
My good friends at school didn’t bring up my difficulties and I would keep away from others who were cruel. I was bullied about being behind but, looking back, I don’t see this as a negative. Of course it was tough at the time, but if I hadn’t gone through that I wouldn’t have gained the strength to grit my teeth and get on with things. There are some children who can’t react like this, I know, but if you are being told at home, ‘You’re fine. Success will happen at a different time for you,’ and are encouraged in the way I was by my parents then you do develop an ability to cope.
I would advise any child with dyslexia that you can always surprise yourself and surprise others. It’s not going to matter nearly so much after school. You have to go through the grind and if anything it will make you a stronger person than the person who has all the reading skills. One of my philosophies of life is always to work difficulties into my favour and find a way round them.
For me, in my life, dyslexia has been a little bit of a blessing. It helped me find my strength and directed me towards what I really wanted to do. Work hard, be focused and you can always, always prove people wrong.