HomedyslexiaWe’ve Come a Long Way

In a lot of ways, I’m a pretty typical grocery shopper. I know how to spot good produce from stuff that’s going off, I read labels and I’m used to relatively high quality food. That said, I have been to farms, gone fruit picking, grown a little of my own food, and know what goes into meat processing.

Yesterday, I made apple crisp from apples my parents-in-law gave us. Since I don’t have an apple corer or peeler, I processed the fruit by hand. As I was peeling and cutting yesterday, it dawned on me why people in my grandparent’s generation ate their apples by cutting bits off at a time.

You can’t always tell if an apple is good just by looking at it. A few of those apples had worm trails in them, some still had the worm, while others were just rotten on the inside. Naturally, I cut out the parts that were bad from the fruit that was mostly good, and tossed the ones that weren’t salvageable.

It got me thinking about how much things change over the generations in the world of learning disabilities/differences.

My dyslexia is genetic. My paternal grandmother had it, my dad has it, my youngest sister has it, I have it, and if I have children, they might having it.

When my grandmother was young, she had an extremely hard time. She grew up in New York City with an aunt, because her widowed mother had to work. Back then, it was believed that only boys could have dyslexia, and girls were generally expected to become homemakers, so education wasn’t of the highest priority.

Between the cultural challenges, her less than opulent economic standing, and the fact she couldn’t keep up with her peers, she ended up facing a huge amount of cruelty. Of course, she survived, though she never really talked about her childhood. I don’t think she knew about her dyslexia until adulthood.

I haven’t really talked to my dad much about his experiences with dyslexia, but I do know a little about the period of time in which he went to school, which would be in the ’50s and ’60s. This was in the days before IDEA or the other laws stating public schools must provide a fair learning environment and education for all children. He was a teenager during the civil rights movements, though, and I’m sure that had an impact on his learning environment.

He, like many dyslexics in his generation, had to find ways around the challenges presented to him in school. They taught in one way, and if you didn’t keep up, you faced the consequences. That’s extremely hard for someone who’s not wired to learn in the way material was taught back then.

I’m sure many of the kids who fell too far behind were given up on. I don’t know if my dad graduated with any sort of honors, but he did make it through high school with a diploma, fought in a war and pursued higher education. I know for a fact that he struggled in some areas, but he made it through a stronger person, and he helped raise four amazing individuals (if you’ll pardon the bias).

As for me? I was in school during the late 1980s and most of the 1990s. Those are the post IDEA years, and when fMRI technology was first being used to chart how the brain works. At the time, I had no idea any of that was going on, but now, I can see that it was quite an exciting period of time.

I also realize that my classmates and I were sort of guinea pigs. Through sheer luck, I was enrolled in a benchmark school in New York. My school was one of the first to adopt things like block scheduling, and our special education classes had a few experimental methods.

One girl worked with color overlays, which were being researched at the time, and in my pre-teen school years, I was granted extra time with one-on-one attention. I vaguely remember a little color coding, and concentration on using context for word choice.

For me, those measures made a massive amount of difference, since I was able to keep up with the rest of the kids in my class on an academic level by the time I hit high school. I still don’t know how my teachers maintained the level of patience they did.

I had also been given some award for the huge amount of progress I’d made, though I can’t remember what it was now, and was invited to sit on a benchmark committee to come up with ideas of how to better the educational process. So, I guess that’s a few steps up from the little girl who scored 0/10 on too many spelling tests and lagged horrifically behind in math during elementary school.

Today, multi sensory education is available in some schools, tutors are out there, and technological accommodations are being created at an amazing rate. It’s now widely agreed upon that girls are just as likely to be dyslexic as boys are, and they’re just as worthy of getting an education. Dyslexia is also more widely known, and there’s a lot of work being done to change public perception of it for the better.

We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a huge amount of work to be done. Gender is still an issue, as is race and ignorance about all kinds of neurological differences. There are still countless people working hard to remedy those situations, though.

Change is slow, but the past tells us that it can happen. As hard as it is to keep up the good fight, taking a peek back at what generations before us have done to create our world today can offer us some hope for a better tomorrow.

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