Airyolland Farm

Farming With Dyslexia


Neale McQuistin

For Farmers Weekly September 2014


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 of 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 of this NFUS has set up a dyslexia working group that will help to ensure that Scottish farming stakeholders recognise the needs of dyslexic crofters and farmers in the future.


I think this 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 nearly 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 seventies.   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 eye sight 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 very hard and concentrating like blazes but only making slow progress due to a limitation that you don’t even understand yourself.  I can assure you it makes matters very much worse 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 ten years after I left school.


I only found out about Irlen Syndrome 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 impact 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.