Honiton artist confronts his dyslexia

John Snell was a successful businessman, but hid his dyslexia. Now he hopes to become a teacher.

A HONITON artist, who spent decades avoiding problems with reading, writing and spelling, despite owning a successful business, is confronting his dyslexia.

Mature student John Snell, 54, understands the meaning of Hidden Dyslexia, a theme of National Dyslexia Week.

With the help of learning support tutor Jane Wallien at Exeter College, John is learning to spell and write from scratch, as well as improve his reading to enable him to complete an FdA in Fine Art. He, one day, hopes to fulfill his ambition of being able to teach the subject.

For the first time in his life, he recently read a book cover to cover, The Life of Henry Moore.

“There seemed to be quite a few children like me, so my dyslexia wasn’t such an issue - because the education system was very different back then,” he said.

“There was no special group for us. Instead, we ended up at the lower end of the class, which also meant that we tended to be ignored and I found that very frustrating.”

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As an adult, John did not let his lack of reading and writing skills stand in the way of becoming a successful businessman. For many years, he ran his own chauffeur business and served the rich and famous. He says he is sworn to secrecy as to who his clients were.

After taking early retirement, John decided to pursue his lifetime love of art, joining art classes at Exeter College which he has now been attending for over 20 years.

“I would love to get a degree and teach, so my plan is to sign up for a Foundation Degree in Fine Art next year,” he said. “But, of course, the standard of my reading and writing has to improve in order to do this.

“In the past, I had always employed other people to look after that side of things while I did the driving. Then, I realised that, if I really wanted to do this, I was going to have to confront the problem.”

Already, he says the results have been worth every minute of effort put in.

John hopes others, who may have dyslexia which has remained hidden until now, will also consider seeking help and advice.

“When I read my first book this year and reached the last page, it did feel quite emotional, as coping with dyslexia is very much a personal thing,” he admits.

“But there comes a time when you will suddenly realise that, in order to do something you really want to in life, you are going to have to face it and deal with it. Learning to read and write has honestly changed my life and I couldn’t have done it without Jane’s support.”

And while John’s wife and children are proud of what he is doing, they are certainly not the only ones.

His tutor, Jane, said: “John left school in 1971, illiterate because of the little support or knowledge of dyslexia around at the time. Despite this, he used his strengths – good communication skills, business acumen, and being artistic – to establish his own chauffeur business and to become a successful artist.

“At no point has John become angry or given up on literacy. He is now enjoying both success and progress, and I think he is a real inspiration to others.”

The dyslexia team at Exeter College offer year-round advice and individual tutoring to students with dyslexia, and also encourage staff and students to explore the use of dyslexia-friendly software such as Texthelp Read And Write.

However, helping a student requires the problem to be identified in the first place.

Dyslexia/dyspraxia co-ordinator Claire Stavely says, even today, this is not always easy.

“Sometimes, individuals do not reveal their difficulties and dread them coming out into the open,” she said. “So a student needs a sensitive approach, and a chance to talk and to know they are being listened to and understood.

“Understanding a student’s dyslexia is likely to offer them the best way forward, but they may need help to do this, which is why they are directed towards a specialist dyslexia tutor such as those we have available here at the College to offer support.

“In other instances, someone may not actually know they are dyslexic, particularly those who are returning to education. So it’s equally important that staff discuss any concerns they have about a student with a specialist dyslexia tutor or someone within the Learning Support Centre at the College.”

For a copy of the BDA’s leaflet about dyslexia, which contains useful information, hints and tips about dyslexia, call 0845 251 9003.