Homeadults with learning disabilitiesA Brief Personal History of Dyslexia and School

(This entry is available as a podcast.)

Today, I came across the below video in which a professional musician shared her experience with dyslexia and education in the UK. She struggled for quite a few years in an environment which refused to understand or help her in any meaningful way. It wasn’t until a family friend brought up the fact she probably has dyslexia that things turned around for her. This friend was trained in the Davis method of teaching, which The Gift of Dyslexia talks about, and she was able to help this young woman for free.

It got me thinking about my experience in elementary, middle and high school. Looking back, I realize that I was learning how to read and do math during a period of time when dyslexia was only starting to be seriously researched. The Gift of Dyslexia wasn’t published until I was a freshman in high school, and people weren’t officially trained in the Davis Method until my junior year.

I actually started my education out in Kentucky, at a school I loathed because it was filled with children and adults who didn’t seem to care a whole for me or others like me. Because I’ve always been a junkie for stories, I gravitated towards reading. Since I enjoyed stories so much, I ended up in advanced reading. Writing and math, however, I flagged behind in horribly.

I can vividly remember being put out in the hallway with three or four other kids who weren’t “smart enough”, and told to quietly watch a video while the rest of the kids went through the regular class. It felt like a dismissal and punishment. Just shove the trash aside so the worthy could get attention.

Fortunately, we moved to New York halfway through that year, and the adjustment to a new school started all over again. I remember the re-evaluation I was put through when we got there. The teachers were extremely kind, and my parents gentle, but the fact that I couldn’t remember what I was told or do some of the tasks put in front of me felt like crushing blows. I knew they were simple, so why couldn’t I do them? I don’t know if I cried, but I remember wanting to.

In the end, they added a “short term memory problem” and “gate/balance problem” to my diagnosis of dyslexia, and put me in a special education program for part of the day called Resource. It wasn’t until adulthood that I learned many dyslexics have working memory issues and tend to have a naturally lower core muscle strength.

A young man, Nels Jensen, tries out different colors
for a new pair of Irlen Lenses.
by NicoleKlauss, [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

To be honest, I don’t remember any big interventions by anyone else from there. I was given extra time to work and words were broken down for me, but I don’t remember any other special measures being taken. One of my classmates used colored sheets of plastic to read, which I later learned was an experimental precursor to Irlen Lenses. Of course there was still bullying, plus quite a bit of frustration, heart break and anger on my part.

Although I still don’t know my times tables, math is a complete nightmare for me and spellcheck is my bestest friend in the world, I got good enough to be mainstreamed by the time high school came. I was finally allowed to take a second language, which I had been told wasn’t an option before, and I could choose whatever electives I wanted.

I chose Latin, because I had a fascination with science, and I’d wanted to go into the medical field. I passed three years of the class by the skin of my teeth, thanks in huge part to our awesome teacher. Otherwise, I loaded up on science classes, like genetics, botany, physics and zoology, plus drama and, I believe, an extra English course or two. I also began writing in my spare time, first long hand, and then on an old computer that my mom gave me when she upgraded. Those old daisy wheel printers were loud. I’ve never had a huge amount of self esteem, but the early high school days did give me a glimmer of hope.

In any case, towards the end of high school, my emotional state took another huge downturn. Still, I graduated with a Regents Diploma, and I think I’d even made Honor Role a couple of times.

From there, I went to massage school for a while, which I’d failed one class because their special

My wonderful hubby and I, nearly
10 years ago on the day of our wedding.
Next Friday is our anniversary.

education allowances were so pathetic. They wanted us to pay the entire cost of the program again, instead of for that one class, so I didn’t go back to that school.

Eventually, I ended up moving cross country, enrolling in a community college, and from there suffered extreme depression for a while. Over time, and with the help of some wonderful people, one of whom I’m now married to, I managed to get on my feet. I worked quite a few different jobs, and managed to save up enough to take the dive into professional writing.

Now, obviously I’m a blogger, but I also write copy, web content and am working on a number of fictional ventures which I hope to get published within the next year or two. I also run a tiny little shop on Etsy called Snow Shine Gifts.

Dyslexia plays a role in my life, but it’s no longer negative. It helps me figure out relationships, fuels creativity and allows me to see how to put something together without a pattern to work off of. Of course, I still face challenges relating to organization, time management and word recall, but it’s no longer disabling, as it was in school and some of the jobs I felt I had to take.

To be honest, I’m grateful to be dyslexic. I no longer feel the need to hide it, as I had in the past, but I don’t walk up to a random stranger and spout “Hey, I’m dyslexic!” If it comes up in conversation, I refuse to shy away from it. If the person I’m speaking with decides to judge me on the diagnosis and refuses to listen to reason, I consider them not worth my time and move on.

I’m not here to force people to learn what they don’t want to. I’m here to live my life and if I can help some people along the way, that’s a great thing.

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