Inspire! Award-winner’s second chance at education helped him learn to read at 34

John Spence

A medic who was diagnosed with severe dyslexia at the age of 34 has won an award for learning.

John Spence, was bullied at school because he couldn’t read. By the time he left, his confidence was so shattered he’d developed a stammer.

He joined the Army, serving as a medic in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was only when he left the Army and began a course in pre-hospital emergency medicine anyone discovered he couldn’t read or write.

John’s instructor encouraged him to re-join education as an adult to achieve his dream of working in medicine. He signed up to the Open University and was diagnosed with severe dyslexia, ADHD, and Meares-Irlen syndrome.

Now, after getting a second chance at education, he has a medical science degree and runs his own company training doctors all over the world. This year, John won the year’s Life Change and Overall Winner of the Year awards at the Inspire! Awards.

Overcoming obstacles

“In school I was made to stand on a chair to read in class while the others laughed. Teachers told me I was a waste of space and didn’t deserve to be taught with the others. The military is very physical so it was easy to hide, but I always knew I’d be terrible in an exam.

“When my secret was discovered it felt like everything was unravelling, but The Open University became the family I never had. They helped me at every step - arranging a computer and software for me, and the books I needed.

“They couldn’t believe I’d got as far as I had. I’d grown up thinking everyone saw words spiraling and jumping over the page when they read. Every time I rang the Cardiff office, I could feel the excitement. Everyone was rooting for me. I’d never had that in my life.”

A second chance at education

John completed a certificate of education, then a diploma, and eight years after returning to education, he completed a BSC honours degree. Last year, he graduated with a 2:1 in Medical Health Science at the age of 46.

“Education has changed my life completely. If only my teachers had believed in me and not dismissed me as a ‘naughty’ child. I now realise the power of education and how one person noticing your strengths can change your life.

“I never imagined life could be like this. I was failed by education the first time, but I’m so glad I was given a second chance.”

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