John McCaughtry

Former Engineer and Counsellor in Training

When did you first realise that you had a different way of thinking?
The earliest I can remember was when I was six years old. It was in the first few weeks of school and I remember being given some homework. We had to create a farmyard in a shoebox and take it to school the next day. I created something that had grass, a pond made out of glass, geese, ducks and branches for trees. I came top of the class for that.

From that, I thought I’d be top of the class at all the other things, and it came as a shock that I wasn’t. Spelling, reading and writing were really difficult. But it wasn’t until much later in life that I was actually officially diagnosed as dyslexic. 

What was your experience of school?
I became really frightened, scared of school. And by secondary school, I couldn’t do it at all as I’d had to contend with really big words. I’d get lines for missing homework, but I wouldn’t do the lines and I’d get more lines! I made a trip to see the headmaster almost every week. I eventually left school without any qualifications.

How did you get involved in engineering?
I’ve actually had a varied career. My mother actually got me into an apprenticeship in hairdressing. She thought that since I wasn’t good at school, something practical would suit me. I did that for eight years, and found that I really excelled at the business side of running a salon. I could open a salon and get it up and running no trouble.

I went into engineering, because similarly it was real hands on and practical. I sat my guilds for electric, gas and mig (metallic inert gas) welding, and excelled in the theory and practicals, but struggled in the writing components. I achieved a City & Guilds trade qualification as a fabricator/welder. My business skills also saw me run New Zealand’s first private home for the intellectually disabled, Pine Lodge in Christchurch. I’m now in training to be a counsellor.

What are the main work challenges that you have had to overcome?
I remember early on in my working life when I didn’t want to go for a job as a foreman because it involved reading technical drawings. I simply had no clue how to read them. I was unsure about applying for the job but I did. And I learnt from others. And eventually I learnt to break those technical drawings down into shapes, sizes and other ways in which I understood.

What do you think are some of the positives and negatives of dyslexia?
My experience has made me very practical. If someone says to me that’s impossible, I say nothing’s impossible. It’s just that no one’s found a way of going about it. Dyslexia also gives us an artistic ability. I’ve done artwork over the years, and most recently completed a mosaic that visitors to the house seem to really like. 

What advice would you give young New Zealanders who are dyslexic?
Dyslexia can’t be cured, but you can learn to live with it. Don’t be frightened if you’ve got it. It makes you who you are. 

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