Edwin Ugwuodo is a Nigerian graduate of the Nigerian Law School and is now a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He also has dyslexia. Edwin is passionate about raising awareness of dyslexia. He wants to show that dyslexia is not a bad thing – he is proud that he is dyslexic.
To quote Edwin, “dyslexia is neither a disease, infection, or an abnormality. It’s simply a specific pattern the brain processes information which has nothing to do with intelligence. It can either be acquired (damage done to the brain by accident) or hereditary (genetically passed from parents to their children). Neurodiversity is a part of normal variation in the human population and we all should be aware of it.” Dyslexia affects how the brain processes information and affects a person’s ability to read.
We spoke to Edwin about his work raising awareness of neurodiversity and dyslexia.
R:ED: COULD YOU TELL US, IN BRIEF, ABOUT YOUR STORY?
My dyslexia story started in the year 2015 when I learnt of the word for the very first time. I grew up struggling with a lot of academic activities. This negatively impacted on my desire to learn. Reading, writing and spelling were so difficult for me that I failed most of my subjects in school, despite putting in a lot of effort in my school work. Some of my teachers labeled me unintelligent and then told me that I wouldn’t do well in life because of my poor grades. Out of desperation, I began to research why I was different from other students in school. I questioned my abilities daily until I stumbled on the word dyslexia in my final year at university. This brain condition [dyslexia] which is unknown to many was the reason for my struggles. After my diagnosis in 2018, I began a campaign on dyslexia awareness in my country.
R:ED: YOU SEEM VERY AMBITIOUS. WHAT DRIVES YOU TO SUCCEED? HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN YOUR AMBITION AND HOPE FOR THE FUTURE?
I grew up in an environment where I was constantly reminded that “only the best is good enough.” My parents and my principal in secondary school never believed that there was any excuse for failure, no matter the circumstances. This helped me to always put in my best in all that I do. Whenever I’m faced with difficult challenges, instead of feeling handicapped, I make sure that I find a solution. To maintain such energy and also keep my ambition afloat, I constantly surround myself with ambitious friends.
R:ED: HOW HAS DYSLEXIA IMPACTED YOU THROUGHOUT YOUR LIFE? WERE THESE POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE IMPACTS?
Dyslexia affects me in several ways, positively and negatively. On the positive side, I always see the big picture of any task that’s given to me. I have this way of seeing things as a whole. The sad thing about this is that when I’m given a small, defined task, I tend not to produce the expected result. But when I’m given the opportunity to work based on the whole outcome, you would marvel at my ingenuity. I also think in pictures. When I’m given voluminous task that requires a lot of reading, my delivery on it may be delayed. I’m a slow reader and like taking my time to really understand what I’m reading. I also have sharper peripheral vision that makes me see a lot of things at the same time. I enjoy it a lot because it makes me get familiar with an environment before anyone else. But one of the challenges about this is that it causes a lot of distraction, making it difficult for me to concentrate most times.
R:ED: YOU BELIEVE THAT IT IS IMPORTANT TO CELEBRATE THE DIFFERENCES THAT PEOPLE HAVE. WHY?
It is very critical that we celebrate the difference in people. Just like the difference in race, gender, social status and religion, neurodiversity [dyslexia] is another form of difference that should be accepted. The beautiful thing about this is that when you celebrate the difference in people, you win their loyalty and they would remain truthful. They would be emotional, overwhelmed by feelings and passion for their ambitions and the things they believe in. They would spread more love and affection, things that all mankind craves. They would refuse to rest or to dim their light for the conservative individuals who aim to stifle their differences.
R:ED: WHY SHOULD WE ALL CARE ABOUT DYSLEXIA?
It is very important that we care about dyslexia because of the enormous social impacts. When you refuse to care about dyslexics, you constantly expose them to a variety of emotional traumas. This includes anxiety, anger, poor self-image, and depression. It also includes a loss of confidence, loss of interest or zeal for learning, low tolerance or patience with difficulty, family disarray. It can even lead to suicide. When we care about dyslexics, the difficulties that come with dyslexia decrease. This gives room for an inclusive environment where everyone enjoys equal learning opportunities.
R:ED: WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DIAGNOSE DYSLEXICS, RATHER THAN JUST IGNORE THEIR DYSLEXIA?
The need to diagnose people who have shown signs of dyslexia cannot be over emphasised. One of the vital benefits of a dyslexia diagnosis is that it allows people to become aware of who they are. It restores their self confidence and reminds them that there is nothing wrong in being “different.”
Diagnosis also helps to determine their dyslexic status – whether mild or severe. It also helps to determine the type of support that would be given to them to help their areas of weakness.
R:ED: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO RAISE AWARENESS ABOUT DYSLEXIA IN NIGERIA?
The inspiration came as a result of the painful challenges I faced in school because of dyslexia ignorance amongst our educators. I strongly believe that I am not the only one in this situation and that many people could be in worse situations. Lack of dyslexia consciousness has also created a vacuum in our education system. We need to fill it up. The only way to achieve the goal of closing up the gap is to start telling everyone what dyslexia is. That is what my awareness campaign is focused on.
R:ED: WHAT CHANGES RELATING TO DYSLEXIA AND NEURODIVERSITY WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN NIGERIA?
I want a country where parents, teachers, government – everyone – knows about the existence of dyslexia. Going forward, the government should make laws and policies that would help people with learning disabilities. Teachers should also be trained on how to identify and support people with dyslexia.
R:ED: WHAT IS ONE MESSAGE ABOUT DYSLEXIA THAT YOU WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW?
Dyslexia exists and we all should care about it
R:ED: MANY OF OUR READERS ARE AGED 18-24. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG PERSON WHO HAS AN IDEA ABOUT HOW TO IMPROVE THEIR COMMUNITY?
When you identify a need in your community that should be improved on, you go ahead and start working on it. It doesn’t matter how small your impact or resources are, just start, even if it is with only one person.
Edwin has also recently published a book, called ‘The Right Brain: My Dyslexia Story’ if you would like to read more about him.