Photo Credit: Professional Cricketers’ Association
Worcestershire man discusses condition during Learning Disability Week.
Dillon Pennington is known for being one of the country’s brightest young fast bowling prospects, but few are aware that throughout his entire life he has lived with one of the most common learning difficulties found in the UK: dyslexia.
According to the NHS website, dyslexia is a lifelong problem that causes problems for certain abilities used for learning, including reading and writing, but it does not affect overall intelligence.
It is estimated that up to one in 10 people in the UK have some degree of dyslexia, presenting challenges on a daily basis including slow reading and writing, confusing the order of letters in words and struggling with planning and organisation.
Worcestershire and former England U19 man Pennington, 22, first realised he had the condition in primary school, and has since learned to live with dyslexia with support from family, friends and educational support staff.
During Learning Disability Week 2021, an annual event organised by the charity Mencap to raise awareness and knowledge around learning disabilities, Pennington spoke to the PCA about his early experiences with dyslexia and how he has coped with the condition ever since.
“I remember having an issue with spelling in primary school and the first half of secondary school. I had to spend a lot of extra time doing spelling and writing practice, and just going through little things like that.
“Throughout my primary school experience, I never did any of the afternoon lessons. I just did maths and english in the morning, and then I would spend the afternoons with a person who I would call my ‘dyslexic lady’ who would help me along the way. I would spend every afternoon with her, and that was the point where I realised that something was going on, and I also struggled to have time with friends which was hard.
“There’s loads of different types of dyslexia. In my case, it’s just all about muddling things up in your brain when you’re writing something. I’m always thinking two sentences ahead when writing that first sentence.
“When I was younger, I also always had an issue with spelling, and writing long essays and assignments. Misspelling words by replacing the end letter with the first letter and things like that. That’s the majority of what I struggled with.”
For Pennington, things improved when he reached secondary school age and began receiving specialist support at Wrekin College, where he was also allowed the time and space to pursue his passion for sport.
“It did bring some challenges in primary school around how the teachers managed me, but in secondary school I was lucky enough to go to Wrekin College where they managed it and I got through everything fairly normally.
“First of all, they recognised that sport was my main passion, and they allowed me to juggle that and my education.
“I also had one-to-one sessions with a member of support staff who I spent seven years with, and was amazing at supporting me with homework and preparation for exams. We would come up with techniques so it didn’t affect me too much.
“By secondary school, my spelling was getting better, just through repetition and practice. I would go through my work and look through what I had done, and then for the next piece of work I would be in better shape.”
From Wrekin College, Pennington has gone on to complete an undergraduate degree in Sports Studies from the University of Worcester, having recently submitted his final dissertation as part of the class of ‘21.
Having signed his first professional contract with Worcestershire in 2018, the fast bowler has faced the dual challenge of living with dyslexia and balancing his commitments as a full-time athlete whilst completing his studies.
“I’m proud that I have achieved a degree in combination with being a professional cricketer, and I am also grateful for all the support I have received from those who believed that I could achieve degree-level work.”
“With dyslexia comes a lot of time management problems, so I had extra support at university to make sure I was doing everything on time. I would have journal articles read to me so I could focus on taking notes, as quite often I find that I’ll read for about an hour before realising that I hadn’t taken in anything of what I’d read.
“The first year of university was a real eye-opener because of the amount of reading you have to do, so it was a real challenge during that first year working out how to get through it all.
“I also found the length of the assignments tough, getting the grammar and everything right to a university standard.
“It was good fun though – I loved it. It was a challenge juggling my studies with training and having to rush through assignments. When you’re rushing assignments with dyslexia, that’s just a recipe for disaster.”
Having impressively progressed through primary, secondary and tertiary education, all whilst suffering from dyslexia and also trying to make it as a professional cricketer, Pennington has set his sights even higher and hopes to get back into full or-part-time study in the near future.
“Now that I don’t have to write assignments or read long articles, dyslexia shouldn’t affect me too much unless I decide that I want to go on and do some further study. There’s an online nutrition course which I’ve done some research into and looks really good if you want to go into the nutrition side of things, which is something that I’m quite interested in.
“I’d like to have a year out and possibly go to Australia if Covid-19 will allow it, but after that I’d like to follow up on the nutrition stuff and potentially go into that after cricket, as I think it’s going to be a much bigger thing for the sport in the future.”
Summing up, Pennington is proud of what he has achieved in spite of the challenges posed by his dyslexia, and is grateful to those who have supported him along the way.
“Dyslexia is part of me – as I have matured I have learnt to use strategies to manage it. It was summed up to me when I received a final draft of my dissertation back: “Dillon, remember capitals and full stops, I am not going to remind you again!
“I’m proud that I have achieved a degree in combination with being a professional cricketer, and I am also grateful for all the support I have received from those who believed that I could achieve degree-level work.
“I’m not sure that at infant and junior level that it was felt that I would be able to succeed academically, so I think that persevering and working out ways to combat and manage your dyslexia is the way forward to succeed.”
Mencap’s Learning Disability Week 2021 took place from 14-20 June, and you can find out more here.