To paraphrase a tumblr post I’ll likely never find again, “English is really three languages stacked on top of each other in a trench coat”. When you have a language based learning disability, it gets even harder to handle. However, as a writing tutor, my dyslexia has served as an unexpected advantage.
When I first started started this job, I hadn’t expected to work with quite so many people who are not native speakers. For many of these folks, English is a third or fourth language, but their primary languages are different enough that the rules are still foreign to them. In many ways, having a unique relationship with language has helped me assist these folks develop the proper skills needed for fluency.
One common example is the use of articles: “a”, “an”, and “the”. When we want to say someone is going down a specific hallway, we automatically say “They went down the hallway.” A native Arabic speaker who is not yet fluent in English may put instead, “They went down hallway”, because their language doesn’t have articles.
As a dyslexic, I still regularly leave words out while I’m writing. While I can usually avoid it when I’m awake and have enough energy, when I’m tired, that becomes one of my primary errors. In fact, even when I’m wide awake, I tend to leave out numbers like “1” and “0” when doing math. Yes, one of many reasons why I don’t do data entry or accounting for a living.
Being able to honestly share that with the students I help reassures them that their errors are perfectly normal. They can get past them. Having a native speaker share their shortcomings helps put them on more of an even emotional level. Once that static calms down, they can then focus on the work needed to obtain fluency.
My struggles with impatience towards myself have also taught me valuable coping mechanisms, which then transfer to assisting struggling students. When faced with a massive assignment, or a poorly organized class, I still feel a surge of frustrated panic. However, I’ve learned that the most effective way of coping with it is to look at the big picture first, and then take time to explore the problem in a methodical step-by-step way.
This is the type of technique those of us with learning disabilities use every day. Sometimes doing something as simple as the dishes can put a nasty strain on my executive function. If I can sort them out first, and then do one group at a time, I can finish more quickly. Then, I can move onto something I’d rather be doing. By applying that principle to school, it helps make the struggles the students I help a bit easier to face. That is a valuable lesson to all students, regardless of neurodiversity. Small steps are less intimidating than trying to get a massive assignment done all at once.
It’s a little funny thinking about this kind of stuff in relation to my brain. Generally speaking, when we think about strengths and weaknesses, our neurology doesn’t factor into it, but when your ability status is so enmeshed with your life experiences, it’s a natural step. After all, if how I think, perceive the world, and process information is the root of my weaknesses, why shouldn’t it be the root of my strengths, as well?