What It feels Like to Be Dyslexic (page 3)
Self-Realization of the Problem
Jill is a 45-year-old successful businesswoman who was a founding manager of a family business. Her expertise and business acumen have assisted her husband in increasing their small company's earnings forty-fold. As part of her responsibilities, Jill proofs many of the jobs in press. A few years ago, she had to approve the final copy of a booklet on dyslexia for a local college. In reading this booklet, Jill confirmed that she, too, was dyslexic. She describes experiencing "fear" and "excitement" as well as a "sense of relief" for she had in writing, "a description of me-that's the easiest way to put it."
Frequent Misinterpretations of Symptoms
Jill now could come to terms with her problem as she went through life unsure of why she encountered so many problems in learning how to read. She was frequently told as a child that she was "lazy," "stupid," "unmotivated," and that she "just didn't work hard enough."
Effects of Positive Reinforcement in Building Resiliency Jill vividly remembers being "super-good" in the classroom so that she could obtain an A in something- classroom behavior. She remembers little positive reinforcement and when praised "would hold on to the praise for dear life and not let go of it." Jill vividly recalls an incident in science class in the third grade that involved a teacher stating in front of the entire class, "Jill, you asked an excellent and intelligent question." Jill recalls that, "I was so thrilled to be called intelligent that I didn't shut up for the rest of the class- I remember that incident like it was yesterday."
The Heart of the Problem
According to Jill, reading problems were at the heart of her struggling school career.
I always remember having trouble with reading. I would have difficulty sounding out words- I couldn't sound out words- the words never fit together right. If I heard the word said first, then I could learn the words. I did best in classes like science when the material was presented verbally. I had a hard time comprehending because I had a hard time sounding out words. I remember making reversals like "96" for "69" and "dod for bob." Spelling was my best subject if I could memorize the words just before the test. Afterwards I would forget the spellings and start all over again. For years, I spelled, "those" as "thoughs" and anything with a "f" sound incorrectly, like "phone" as "fone." I remember never learning how to spell "spaghetti." I would have to use a dictionary to assist me in spelling "spaghetti" even today. I don't write anything without a dictionary next to me.
Peer Relations: A Few Close Friends
Lack of Confidence When under pressure, my spelling and reading abilities get much worse. I remember becoming frustrated when discussing test scores with my peers all through my school years. This is because I remember working harder than the other kids. So I withdrew from people because I was ashamed- I would try to hide my test scores. However, I was never teased by kids and I always had a few close friends. In my family, some family members didn't think I was intellectual enough. It was never anything verbal, but it was in the way they related to me.
Lowered Self-Esteem I remember being made fun of in a cute way in school at times. For example, I had trouble with the words "subscription" and "prescription." I made the comment one time that I had to go to the pharmacy and have a "subscription filled." They told me that you get a subscription for a magazine and a prescription for medicine. Boy, that dredged up memories.
Depressed School Performance I can remember in high school I paid a lot of attention in class. As long as it was presented verbally and placed on the chalkboard, I could get Cs. When I had to read and study without that verbal help, I was lost. It just didn't make any sense to me. I think that's why I had so much trouble in math, chemistry, English, term papers, and just about everything else. But I loved French and had a tutor in French. I couldn't get any higher than a C because I had so much trouble conjugating verbs and things like that. I did best in class when the teachers talked a lot and put work on the board and summarized our books. I had a lot of trouble with classes when we had to do the readings all on our own. I would panic and freeze up. My biggest frustration came with my greatest love- my figure skating.
Dyslexia Affects All Facets of Life
Outside Interests Figure skating was my love. I spent four to five hours every day skating- before school, after school, weekends- you name it, I was skating. But figure skating was an overwhelming frustration. I mean being left-handed and having problems with directions did it. (An aside: My Dad was left-handed but he didn't have any learning problems. He went to an Ivy League college.) When you learn how to skate you learn to jump and spin in the same direction because you should be spinning in the same direction whether you are on the ground or in the air.
Orientation and Directional Problems I never learned how to spin and jump in the same direction, which is alien to the nature of figure skating. I learned how to jump in what was alien to me- in the wrong direction. Although I learned how to spin turning to the right, which was normal for me, I was taught jumping rotating to the left. This caused problems as the jumps got more difficult because the rotation became confusing to me- rotating in the direction that was confusing to me, I became disorientated when landing. It wasn't until I was older that I could understand why I never became a good jumper. Looking back on that, anything more than 1.5 rotations in the air I couldn't do.
Building Resiliency through Individual Protective Factors
Developing Reading Strategies Boosts Self-Confidence I always thought there was something wrong with me. I didn't realize until I was about 40 years old that there was nothing wrong with me. In fact, I'm glad to know that the more I try to read and understand, the better I get. When I read, if I have to comprehend, I make sure there is complete silence and that I'm not too tired. There can't be any confusing things going on in the room. Then I look at each word- word for word. I'm proud of that. I'm working hard to force myself to do things right in reading like reading from left to right.
Persistence I wish I knew at 8 years old what I know now. I'm extremely proud of what I have done on my own. I hope people who are dyslexic reading this and don't know it will learn about their problem before the age of 40 like me. I've not given up and have taken the attitude: I can do it! I got this attitude from my parents. They always told me I could do it. I hope this helps someone else to become more confident. That's the reason I'm dredging up so many painful memories.
Empathy I hope people can relate to what I'm saying because there are a lot of people out there like me and they don't have to reach the age of 40 before understanding that they aren't stupid. It might not just be them. It could be another family member. My brother has reading and spelling problems like me and it took him six years to go through a two-year college. He is extremely successful now. I give him encouragement when needed.
Building Resiliency with Environmental Supports
Support Systems Some family members have been extremely supportive and they encouraged me to improve my reading. This kind of support is critical in order to go on. From the standpoint of someone else reading this, the most paralyzing thing for a dyslexic is to be handed something to read and then try to make sense of that in front of other people. I have learned that if I take this material on my own and then read and reread it and then share it with someone, I can be successful. Dyslexics need someone to lean on who understands them. I've also learned to say, "I'll get back to you." For the dyslexic, there is a lot of panic when confronted with something to read and possibly not knowing what's there- the fear, the anger.
But now I also have to look to my future. I would love a tutor to help me to read better. Dyslexics need to seek that help and not be ashamed. Do you know a tutor that can help me? I guess I can say that I love to read now because I know that I'm not stupid and I'm a successful businesswoman. If I can manage twenty people and a small business, I can learn how to read better.
Summing It Up
To summarize in Jill's words the personal experiences of dyslexia, "...I was so thrilled to be called intelligent that I didn't shut up.... I would hold on to praise for dear life and not let go...the most paralyzing thing for a dyslexic is to be handed something to read and then try to make sense of that in front of other people...dyslexics need someone to lean on- someone who understands them..." With a social-academic network of support, and the development of individual resiliency, individuals with dyslexia, as shown by Jill, can lead successful and fulfilling lives.
© ______ 2005, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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