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Tonight I had a realisation, and consequently became really angry. It was like a bolt of lightning hit me and then I got my life in a flash!!!

Over the past two years, with the significant amount of research that I have been undertaking for my son’s dyslexia research, I have been finding out a lot about my own learning patterns and issues, including a recent diagnosis of ADHD via a QEEG brain scan and TOVA.

There are many things that I have never questioned about my learning, but just accepted that it was part of my makeup. I have always had working memory issues, but over recent years have been able to define more clearly where these issues reside in my brain. Having said this, these issues have not stopped me from succeeding and going on to study and obtain 4 degrees. However, it’s been a lot of hard work and I don’t feel the effort accurately reflects the achievement. It has also meant that I have given up a lot to put so much more focus on my studies in order to get through and consequently, my relationships have often suffered.

So, recently, I have been able to document some of the things that frustrate me, which I have lived with all my life including, but not limited to:

(1) Inability to hold onto a mental image and visualise. I have always wondered about this when doing guided meditations where you are supposed to see an ocean, and all I could see was a black background.  I just assumed everyone saw black??? There was one recent appointment I attended for a guided mediation where the instructor kept coaxing me to see colours, shapes and images and I found it extremely frustrating because I could not form the images.  I asked her if most people were able to see images and to my surprise, she said yes.  I walked away disappointed because the thought of it sounded enjoyable and it would have been a more relaxing experience if I could just close my eyes and switch off to a wonderful peaceful image.  Knowing that visual imagery can be used for stress reduction/relaxation, makes me very committed to researching this area in more depth as I want to be able to reverse this situation and start to get some images happening as I don’t want to be missing out on any blissful relaxation activities!!! Being a natural worrier & stress head, only accentuates my desire to understand this better.  It makes me wonder whether there is a connection here?! Although, I have improved my stress management over the past two years, if there was a way to access a state of nirvana naturally via meditation or other natural means, I definitely would want to tap into this!!!

(2) I can’t “visualize” how things work or fit together without physically manipulating them or following a directions/procedures list. So as a scientist, this wasn’t a problem as I was often following written experiments, but as an accountant, I found this extremely difficult because often there was no guidance or procedure manuals for the work I undertook.  One of the things I found was that I was constantly going into businesses that were a mess and cleaning them up by setting up structures and processes to document how things worked.  This was a coping mechanism for me but ended up being an employer’s dream employee!!!.

(3) I always scored poorly at geography at school and hated orientation days where you would have to go out in a field and use a compass. It would do my head in!!! As an adult, this is reflected in me not being able to read a map without reorienting it to how I am standing or facing. So often times, I may be using the Whereis directory and literally have to physically turn myself around to get a grasp of the direction.  There have been many an instance where I am trying to orientate myself with difficulty while I am walking and often run into a pole (!!!) or if driving, find it very dangerous as I am forever getting confused with my car satellite navigation system orientation and directions!!!

(4) I can’t remember faces, names, titles to songs, the words of songs, the names of actors (apart from the ones that I really really like), or fail to remember the plot of a movie even if I have seen it once or twice. I will often not recognise a person, even if I have met them once or twice, and always fumble my way through as I feel I come across rude if they understand that I totally don’t remember them. I have built accommodations around this to compensate. For instance, I recently met a lady called Nicole and to remember her name I automatically create an association with her and think of Nicole Kidman to help me remember her name. Or, I copy my son’s parent list into my phone so that I have the parent’s names at hand whenever I meet someone for the 3rd or 4th time and have to try to remember their name and their child’s name for fear they think that I am not paying attention!!! Mind you, I help out with the weekly spelling at school and interact with the kids every week and should remember their name when I have met them for the 10th or 15th time this year!!! It’s not that I am not paying attention, it’s just my brain and my dodgy working memory!!! I recall my dad could never recall my friend’s names from school, and my mum could, and I always thought he didn’t care and mum did. Now I think I have inherited his working memory!!!

(5) Reading a book has always been frustrating for me. I read for 5 minutes and then need to reread the pages that I just read as I realise that I have completely zoned out and not understood a thing in the pages that I read. Most frustrating is the fact that I will finish the book, but then struggle to remember more than a couple of key things about it. It’s like all the information I have taken in has evaporated into thin air!!! I recently learnt that some people make visual images as they read and this helps to promote understanding of the written word which makes sense as the old adage says, “a picture tells a thousand words”. I have never been able to “see” something in my mind’s eye and I just assumed everyone was the same. I recently learnt from my son, that he can see pictures in his head in colour and he sometimes has reruns of movies in his head!!!  This made me question things about my own mind’s eye further and has fuelled a desire to want to understand things better.

(6) Learning at school and university was always hard for me. I was always a very keen learner but would grow so frustrated that within 5 minutes of the lecture starting, I had lost the meaning of the sentence the lecturer had just spoken and lost the train of thought and could not make sense of any further logic. I would be constantly taking notes in vain to ensure that I could capture every word so that when I got home I had all the facts written down to revise to try to make sense of them. Losing the plot in the first 5 minutes of a lecture, meant that I would often sit for the remainder of the lecture totally lost but seek comfort in knowing that there was plenty of time to relearn the material when I got home. I would then pour over my books for hours and hours on end, trying to relearn what I had missed. Falling behind because I would go over old concepts again and again… Then there was, 3rd year in university where I realised that I could tape the lectures and I would tape them and then go home and listen to them again and again to try to understand the concepts.  There was so much double handling and brain inefficiency but I have not been able to see that until now.  It was all so hard but I just thought everyone was like this!!!

(7) Not being able to form mental images in my head has meant that I have missed out on jobs that I have applied for where they get you to do those crazy psychometric tests!!! I would always pass with flying colours on the psychological stuff but then would be faced with the mental images and spatial relations problems where I would have to manipulate the shapes and would become totally despondent and blind sighted. It made me feel stupid and in one particular case, the employer came back and queried it as they couldn’t understand how someone with 4 degrees could do so well and be so accomplished but fail the psychometric test. They hired me anyway but I recall that feeling of being less than adequate, quite vividly. It definitely affected my confidence and self-esteem. I tended to always bounce back fairly quickly though, so resilience was always on my side.

(8) My daily life is full of compensations which seem to become more and more exaggerated as I am getting older. It does seem that my working memory has been on a steep decline since my 30’s. I use a calendar and diarise everything, or I would never remember my day to day activities. Shopping lists are always written down. After years of going to the supermarket and coming back with 95% of the items missing, I soon realised that lists were my friend!!!

(9) I often struggle to come up with the right word in conversations. It’s like I have a brain lock. It can be quite embarrassing at times but generally I fluff my way through it. Now I realise that there is probably a relationship to my mental blindness? Typically, if you can hold an image of something in your head, then the words to describe that image by logic, should flow.

(10) I feel like I have been ripped off from a cognitive perspective. As you can imagine, the differences between someone that can hold mental images and one that can’t are significant. Someone reading a book and having the ability to hold a mental image, can extrapolate and have a completely different learning and comprehension experience to someone that can’t. Then there is the added cognitive bonus that you miss out on, with respect to that “AHA” moment where information comes in, gets processed and you get it. I often don’t get it. I often don’t get jokes but don’t say anything. I always just thought it was me! I want to be able to have more of those “AHA” moments. That deep cognitive satisfaction from understanding something so well and being able to tie the dots from A to B to C. Often this just doesn’t happen for me so I am left with a “mish mash” of understanding and left trying to fill in the gaps.

(11) Manipulating numbers in my head can be tricky even for me as a chartered accountant!!!  Trying to explain this has been interesting.  However, I have always compensated with my other skills.  Delegation has always been a key strength, and managing teams to get outcomes have been a life saving force for me.  I have always found that I get bored with the detail very quickly but have been lucky to have had staff that love the detail and so was well supported in some of my roles.

Now looking back I realised that these issues have severely impacted the way that I approached relationships, starting new jobs, problem solving or generally thinking about the world.  I think my view has been somewhat narrowed, as there is a whole entire existence and world in my head that I have not been able to experience and tap into.  Now that I have harnessed this knowledge, and realise that I actually have this working memory/visual blindness, I am better able to address unique situations where I may have reacted offensively, aggressively or despondently in the past. One example of this was starting a role as a Junior Scientist back when I was 20 and having to work with someone that was very dogmatic. I was always aware that it took me longer to learn things, so I would become super sensitive when someone would cast judgement on my performance because I didn’t get it straight up.  The anxiety would build up even before I started a new task and people could never understand why I always took such detailed training notes when starting a new job.  Or there were many occasions where I would be tutored by my dad who was a very impatient man and could not accommodate my learning needs and it would always end with me in tears.

So tonight, I grew angry. Angry for the child who had to struggle and angry for the adult who continues to struggle. Although, I am very grateful for all the learning opportunities that I have been afforded, I couldn’t help but think that even in today’s day and age, there doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement of this being a genuine condition.  No-one seems to be talking about these sort of issues.  Although, I have found ways around my issues, it has never really impacted my approach to problems as I have found workarounds, worked really hard and didn’t realise that there was any other way so thought nothing of it.  I must admit that many times throughout my career I thought I was not as smart as other people, but now looking back I can see a portfolio of strengths that I have that others don’t have.  I have grown to appreciate my own unique blissful self and NOT compare myself to others.  Now that I know with certainty that others experience a whole different kind of visual memory, I want to be able to work towards improving my brain connections to experience more and fill in the gaps of what others experience in this other very visual way of processing mental images. Being the same is just not going to cut it for me anymore. I couldn’t help but wonder, how many more people are out there that have these issues?

I google searched some forums and kept coming up with similar stories of people experiencing these working memory / visual blindness and also in combination with other psychological disorders like ADHD being a common one. I can’t help but feel there is a link.  We need to be doing more research into the connection between ADHD, working memory and visual blindness.

I look back now at the child I was then and I look at our children of today and I can’t help but think that not much has changed. So it is with a heavy heart that I feel we need to advocate for change as raising awareness to these sort of learning issues means more diagnostic work can be done to intervene early and form the brain connections that are needed to help our children learn and thrive.  If not, they just become adults that carry their learning difficulties into adulthood and live a life that they were not born to live.  Everyone deserve to live the best possible life and to tap into their unique gifts to live the life they were born to live!!!