Written Expression

Written expression is the hardest skill of all for people with dyslexia — as this engineer and inventor without a college degree remembers:

I am in one of those very old desks made out of metal with the wooden top and seat. It is hot. There is no AC in this small Central Texas school. The windows are open, but the chirping birds outside are interrupted by the chalk squeaks on the blackboard as the teacher spells out the writing assignment.


“One page before the bell.” I know the topic, but it doesn’t really matter. I know I won’t do well. My pencil has only been sharpened a couple of times, but the eraser is all but gone and the metal end has been squeezed together to force what little eraser that is left to bulge past the metal edge. I am concentrating hard — very hard. I start the first sentence but I know I can’t spell some of the words, even some simple ones. So I reword the sentence and try again several times, but I know some words are still wrong.

By now I have erased in some places to the point the paper is about to tear. I peel the metal edge back on my pencil with my teeth to expose more eraser. If I am careful, it may last through the class. I reword the sentence over and over in my mind. Somehow, I have to make this work. I bite the knuckle on my right hand hard because sometimes, the pain will make the confusion go away. The teeth marks will last for days. I concentrate even harder. As I do, I grip the pencil harder and harder till cramps fill my hand. Still I continue on…

The ringing bell does not bring the normal relief of the end of class. My hand is aching, yet I have less than half a page. I try to read it over quickly to look for mistakes. I know what I wanted to say, I know the subject probably better than the teacher, but I realize this paper makes no sense, not even to me. Head down, I turn in my paper, glancing up only to see the teacher frown in disgust at the look of the messy page. I want to scream and do, only it is a silent scream of anguish and despair…

Were it not for word processors with spell-checkers, I would never have been able to write the story above. Dyslexics — partly because of their intelligence — have found amazing ways of hiding their handicaps. You probably never guessed I was dyslexic. How could you, when I didn’t even know.

Even with these new technologies, stories like the one above that flash through my mind in a few seconds, can take hours to write. However, hours are so much better than never.

6 responses

  1. Martha Cisneros | Reply

    Thank you for sharing your experience and describing it so vividly. It helps me understand the struggle my 12-year old son faces with each writing assignment. I am looking into iPad apps that help with organizing ideas and planning one’s writing.

  2. Thomas Purcell | Reply

    This brings tears to my eyes I have lived t all my life —and then some

  3. Great story, today my son uses dragon dictation to write and it is tremendously helpful. He then takes his spoken/written work and type edits it to a presentable form. Voice dictation software is key to his success.

  4. Great story, tugs at the heart, thank you for sharing it.

  5. Hi, so nice to hear from you. I have bought all your books, read them many times and applied them many, many, many …….many times on behalf of all the children of functional diversity.

  6. This is both of my children. It breaks my heart and neither one of them have had any luck with dragon dictate. I don’t know what to do for them, especially since one of their schools MAKES them write – usually refusing any accommodations other than dragon dictate. My kids say dragon dictate doesn’t hear the words correctly and if while speaking they make any errors it picks them all up. They then struggle to go back and edit out what isn’t supposed to be there. I usually end up having the kids tell me what they want to say and then I just write it for them. Any suggestions on how to get dragon dictate or a similar program to work better for my kids?

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