Cliché as it may sound, the expression “broken crayons can still colour” is very applicable to many people’s lives everywhere. From a personal standpoint, let me elaborate on the applicability of the expression. As a child, and even as I grew into adulthood, I was always told that I was slow, which is why I did not understand “simple” things that others understand. I heard this so often, that it became a natural part of my existence, and I began to believe the narrative. For numerous years I clung to this and would tell myself that I could not do or achieve certain things because I was slow. I even made sure that I chose a career involving no numeric calculations and no complicated diagrams I may not understand. I became a dental nurse, and I absolutely loved my job. Thereafter, I progressed to an oral health educator and a dental radiographer. I struggled as I literally did not know my left from my right. I found coping mechanisms. For example, I had the letters L and R, which represent left and right, pasted on the X-ray machine. I always had to study longer than average to understand precisely what an author was trying to convey. I also had to read tiny portions at a time and take frequent breaks between reading and studying to stop the letters from jumping to the next line and getting jumbled.
I constantly craved to improve my knowledge base and educational qualifications, but I felt I needed to improve myself. I have always wanted to be a nurse. Well, actually, I was always a nurse, but I wanted to be a mental health nurse. My journey to studying mental health nursing was not linear. However, I had a long-term plan. I started my first degree in 2018. I did public health and health promotion. During this time, my mentor, Dr Josephine Bardi, took a keen interest in me and asked if I had a learning disability. I was not aware of the existing learning disabilities because where I grew up, it was either you were brilliant, or you were slow. When she mentioned dyslexia, I could not even spell the word to go and research about it. It was Google Assistant that helped me with it. While writing this entry, I had to use my dictionary to spell the word. My question is, who decided to spell that word like that? It’s hard enough using phonetics, but spelling it… Oh well… back to the story, I tend sometimes to wander off.
So, I went private. I was 35 years old when I was diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.
Let me explain what they are: Dyslexia is a learning disability that mainly impacts the abilities required for precise and fluid word reading and spelling. Dysgraphia, a component of a learning disability or a sign of a neurological illness, is the inability to write clearly. Dyscalculia is a specific and enduring problem with number comprehension that can cause a wide range of issues in mathematics.
After the diagnosis, I received help. My favourite type of assistance was a ruler that I moved line by line while reading. Also, using green paper to print my reading makes it easier on my brain: it calms the words.
I am now a second-year nursing student, and my diagnosis causes me to struggle with nursing. My weak points are anatomy, physiology, and drug calculation. It’s a struggle, but it does not deter my determination. I ensure that I use more time to plan ahead and more study time. Consistency is the key for me. Here is the other thing, though I struggle, I received 90% in anatomy and physiology, and I consistently scored 100% in my final drug calculation exam. I just need more time than an average person.
The big question is; what support exists for neurodivergent nurses in health care? I am anxious about it. Will I be given permission or help during the drug round, as the university gives me time to do my exam? Can I bring my software and install it on work computers? Will my other colleagues be in ignorance as I was when I heard about learning disabilities? Though these questions boggle my mind, I am just focusing on the plan to graduate for now.
If you’re a neurodivergent student on a nursing or any other educational journey, please don’t give up; seek help. Remember, even if you’re ‘broken’ by society’s standards, you are not useless. Like a broken crayon, you can still ‘colour’ and make a significant contribution to the world.
Soneika Atkinson is a first-year student mental health nurse at the University of Essex. You can connect with her on Twitter @sunnyandKK.