It wasn’t unusual for my mother to receive a note from one of my teachers when I was a child. The notes were filled with comments about me talking too much, interrupting the class, causing a disruption, not doing my homework/classwork, or picking on another kid. So, in 3rd grade, when my teacher handed me yet another note to take home to my mother, I wasn’t surprised. I spent the entire walk home that day thinking of new and creative excuses for whatever trouble was inside the sealed envelope.
I watched my mother intensely as she read the note, looking for clues as to what I got caught doing this time. But instead of a “disappointed” look, my mom’s face looked concerned. She asked how reading time went that day. I explained that we were all in a circle and were asked to read a paragraph. Instead of reading, I made a joke to lighten the mood. I could tell that my teacher was upset but didn’t think that justified a note being sent home.
“No,” my mom said, “that’s not it. What happened when you read?”
“I read it.”
“Did you miss some words,” my mom asked.
“No, I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Come here and sit down. Please read this paragraph out aloud,” my mom instructed. I did as she asked and then she looked at me strangely and said, “did you notice that you missed a few words?”
“No, it sounded funny, but I didn’t miss anything.”
“Yes, honey, you did,” my mom said. After that incident, my mom would ask me to read out loud every day. I didn’t know I was missing words, transposing letters or numbers, or skipping around a paragraph until I could hear it during our reading time. There was no diagnosis given to me and I didn’t even know what dyslexia was until I was almost an adult. But I had it and it made school very difficult for me.
Multiple choice test questions were nearly impossible for me to get a good grade or even pass. I would know that answer but would mark “d” instead of “b”. Classes like biology where the spelling of words like glycogenesis looks the same as glycogenolysis where frustrating. And the only way I passed a math class was to memorize out loud countless formulas. Unfortunately, I was accused of cheating numerous times for mouthing out words just so I could pass a test.
Looking back on those days it is apparent that my class disruptions were a cover for my dyslexia. Now, there is far more testing available for students who struggle, more accurate diagnoses, and better treatment plans. Yet the emotional and mental impact of dyslexia on a student remains. If you or someone you know struggles with it, here are lessons that I have learned.
- There is no correlation between dyslexia and intelligence. For many years, I thought that I wasn’t smart. But that was not true. While having dyslexia held me back from realizing my full potential at a young age, it did not hold me back as an adult. Instead, I found new and creative ways to overcome and manage it.
- My grades did not accurately reflect my abilities. I was a terrible test taker unless of course, it was oral. Even written tests were difficult because my spelling was so terrible. My grades in elementary, middle, high school and even college were average at best. And yet, now I have my master’s degree having graduated at the top of my class. I refused to let grades define me or tell me what I could and could not do.
- Make peace with the frustration of dyslexia. For many years I fought the disorder, minimized it, or denied having it. But it would circle back with a vengeance. Getting frustrated at me for seeing random things inaccurately on paper is a waste of energy. Rather I learned to accept that this will happen and not be mad when it does.
- Stress makes dyslexia worse. Time after time, the incidents where my dyslexia intensifies is when I am under stress. As soon as I have made a mistake, I take an inventory of whatever emotional stress might be occurring at the same time. Then I work to release that stress so the impact of dyslexia will be minimal.
- Dyslexia taught me creative solutions. To this day, I still read out loud or mouth the words of an important document to make sure that I’m reading it correctly. Spell check and grammar checks on all electronic devices have saved me numerous times. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fix misspellings in names, so that is still a shortcoming for me. The best invention yet is Audible where I can listen to a book. My comprehension is nearly double if I listen to a book over reading it. It is even better when I listen and then read the same book.
- Dyslexia has taught me to be humble. Making mistakes is a regular part of my life due to my dyslexia. I have learned to allow other people to double-check my work, cut and paste addresses or passwords instead of typing them in, and apologize when I make a mistake. I’m not surprised by my mistakes and will eat whatever humble pie is needed when I make an error.
- Dyslexia has taught me to work harder. I am a hard worker because of dyslexia. There are many times when I read and re-read the same paragraph numerous times before it makes sense. I double and triple-check phone numbers or bank numbers. I have learned to memorize numbers, passages, passwords, locations, and addresses because I can’t trust that I will read it accurately. My memory is excellent because dyslexia forced me to work that much harder.
- Having dyslexia is a blessing. This might sound like a strange statement to make after all the above remarks, but I really do believe this. It has made me a better person. I am more compassionate with others who have a disability or disorder, more patient as they work through the process, and more creative with solutions for everyday problems that a disability or disorder might pose. Dyslexia is part of my make-up and I’m comfortable with it.
There is more that I could write about dyslexia, more stories of frustration and agitation, and more tools for managing it. However, these 8 lessons are the ones that I return to when dyslexia gets the best of me. And then instead of becoming upset, I turn grateful.