Louise Tolton

Education and Learning team, Wellcome Trust

Louise Tolton

I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia aged 11. Through primary school, I had been struggling without anyone picking up on the fact that there might be a reason for it. When I fell off my chair during classes, teachers would tell me off for being disruptive. I even had teachers tell me that I would never achieve highly in life because I had a disorganised mind. Minor mistakes were considered the result of laziness, which I found extremely hurtful, considering the amount of work I had to put in to achieve each basic task.

Eventually, I was so outraged by jokes about my disorganisation that I decided to 'fix' it. By the time the diagnosis was made, I had gone from the being the messiest girl in school to the 'Tidying Monitor' (I was extremely proud of this fact!). I found ways to deal with my disabilities without ever realising what they were.

Everything made sense once the diagnosis was made; I finally understood why I had to put so much more effort into activities which everyone else found second nature.

By the time I left school, I was achieving straight A/A*s, but not without a great deal of effort on my part. Mental maths, writing, spelling and memorising data all had their own challenges, with which I had to learn to cope. I even learnt to play the piano and saxophone, which required accurate manual and mental dexterity.

From school, I went on to study and complete research in Biomedical Sciences, and worked as a laboratory assistant. This required developing coping mechanisms for a whole new set of skills!

For example, because of my motor skills, I knew I would be unable to hand-wash ELISA plates evenly, which I knew would affect the accuracy of my results. In order to ensure that my work was accurate, I taught myself to use the plate-washing machine, which had sat unused in the laboratory for the last 5-10 years. I had to 'de-gunk' the machine, but when I finally got it working, the entire laboratory wanted lessons in how to use it!

Ultimately, working in a laboratory required developing impeccable organisation. I learnt to set out my workbench so everything I needed would be in exactly the same place each time; I wouldn't knock anything over and could work much more quickly. I was meticulous in my record keeping, even more so than my colleagues, because if I was not overly attentive, everything would slip down in quality. Everything I did was to ensure that my results were as accurate as possible, despite my natural tendencies.

I now work for the Wellcome Trust in the Education and Learning team, where my work is more 'computer-based', providing new challenges once again.

I believe that when you have a learning disability you never stop discovering new ways in which it affects you and therefore you continually develop new ways to cope with it. However, you also never stop discovering which skills and areas you might excel at because of it. You think differently, which means you look at tasks and problems in different ways, and that can be incredibly useful, enabling you to provide solutions that others could not. My personal outlook on my learning disability has been to see it as a challenge to overcome, which can also provide me with great benefits!