Dyslexia from the Inside
Ever wonder what it is like to be called upon by a teacher to read in front of the class, in front of your peers, and you know that you will have trouble transitioning from word to word? Your mouth goes dry, making speaking difficult, your hands shake, sweat pops out on your brow, your ears begin to roar, and the hairs stand up on your arms and on the back of your neck. This is the onset of panic. You know you will pause, awkwardly in places where there is no comma or other punctuation that should cause a pause. You know you’ll have to sound out words you don’t know by sight and sometimes you get the sounds wrong. You know you’ll replace a word with “wrong” word while you’re reading and that you’ll not realize you’re doing it. But, the worst part of all this knowledge is not knowing why you are doing it and how to stop it. This is what it’s like living the nightmare that is Dyslexia.
I graduated from high school in 1978. My class standing was in the lower 13% of the class of over two hundred students. To my wonder, I found this out shortly after I went to the school to have my records sent to my college of choice. When I began to fall behind, quickly, in my college work, I was sent to remedial reading. Imagine my surprise when I was shown my school records, found my standing, but more surprising, I read a councilor’s note that said I was, “the classic underachiever, an intelligent student who just doesn’t try hard enough.”
“Doesn’t try hard enough,” stung me as surely as if someone had slapped me in the face. How could this woman know how hard I tried? She wasn’t with me as I spent hour after hour in my room trying to comprehend the text books. She didn’t know that my mother sat with me during many of those hours explaining what I didn’t understand, trying to add her knowledge go the subjects I was supposed to be learning. She didn’t know how I sat in the class, the test in front of me trying to comprehend the meaning of the questions and match them to the nearly impossible to recall information I had studied only the night before. She wasn’t sitting beside me when the time limit for each test ran out and I still had blank answers. She wasn’t with me as I looked with disgust at the poor grade I received on the material that I was nearly killing myself to learn. To say I didn’t try hard enough in school, and the to find out in my first semester in college that I had a learning disability through the entire twelve previous years of school was one of the most infuriating moments in my life.
But there is an added cruelty to Dyslexia, you can pass it on to your kids; and now imagine my shame as I have to live with the knowledge that my daughter will have to go trough all the pain, embarrassment, and frustration that I was forced to endure. Well, you may think, this is 2007, and the lessons learned since 1978 will make it easer on those who suffer (and I mean SUFFER) with Dyslexia. You might think this, and you would be wrong.
My daughter was diagnosed with ADHD in the latter part of third grade. Being Dyslexic, I noticed certain signs as early as the end of first grade, and all through second. I voiced my opinion as to my daughter’s “true” condition, and I was told that she was not Dyslexic. Still, ADHD got her in to the Special Education program, so I went along. At least with the “special” help they would see what I saw and devise a way to help her, right? Wrong.
I read in a medical journal that there was 12 symptoms for the diagnosis of ADHD, only 7 of them had to be present for a positive diagnosis, however, I also noticed that nine of those “symptoms” were also symptoms for dyslexics. Needless to say, I was immediately suspicious. If I used the criteria from that medical journal, and I honestly applied my daughters symptoms to that criteria, then I would have to say that 10 out of 12 applied to her. All nine that apply to Dyslexia, and the tenth being an unfortunate result of Dyslexia, poor self-esteem.
Third grade, fourth grade, and most of the fifth grade passed for my daughter. We were sent to a psychologist who began to work with her. After some time with the psychologist, and much testing for a variety of problems and disorders, the determination was made that my daughter was (finally) Dyslexic. At the time of this diagnosis, she was near the end of her fifth grade year and still reading at a second-third grade level.
She is now in the second semester of her sixth grade year. The special ed teachers are working on whole word reading with my daughter. “Whole word reading” made me laugh. You might as well ask a paraplegic to cast off the wheel chair and run a marathon on his own legs. Whole word reading is useless to someone who is still having trouble at the character level. The public school system in this country is ill equipped and under trained to handle the special needs of a Dyslexic. These incompetent teachers are still under the false belief that Dyslexia can be compensated for, that it will, “Go away.” It doesn’t! At age 46, I still have DAILY problems with Dyslexia. I have lost jobs for reasons I can trace to my inabilities as a Dyslexic (i.e. concentration, inability to see my own mistakes, making the same mistakes over and over again regardless of how many times they were pointed out to me).
What I have learned, from my own experience, and through hundreds of hours of research is that Dyslexia effects much more than just reading. Long term memory is effected; short term recall is effected; spelling (yes even at age 46) is effected; even consistent reasoning and planning is effected. What is now known is that Dyslexia is a wiring problem. Brain synopses that fire between the processing and reasoning centers of the brain don’t always fire. As an exercise, I kept track of the number of simple spelling errors I made while typing this article. Here I am, an intelligent male, supposedly with a recorded intelligence score of 135, with 46 years of experience of learning (and in 2007 will be finally getting that BS I started in 1978),I made 48 spelling errors while typing. Not typos, full fledged, unaware spelling errors.
I have learned to deal with my inability, notice I don’t call it a disability. No, I haven’t compensated for it, no I haven’t got over it, and yes, I have to still ask my wife how to spell words like achieve, receive, and intelligence, but I now know as a graduate from Indiana State University, with a BS in English and a creative writing minor, that I must throw away my pencil and paper, because if I use those cryptic tools I still will not know the difference between the letters b, d, p, g, or q. Yet, I can sit in front of my computer and type with some degree of confidence because if I unknowingly misspell something that spell check will tell me catch, it will show up on my screen. But even then, I have to use a live person to edit my writing for all those “other” mistakes that spell check doesn’t catch, like the unfinished thoughts or homonyms that askew my meaning. And as for my daughter? I am in the process of hiring a lawyer to protect my daughter’s right to a “fair” education.