Dyslexia still haunts me
When adults share the emotional pain caused by dyslexia, and how it continues to impact them even as adults, it will give you the anger and courage needed to fight hard for laws that require early screening and early intervention.
I’m 23 years old now, and I barely graduated from high school. My fiancee and I just watched your dyslexia video, and the story you told about your nephew Ben made me cry. It brought back many painful memories. I am like Ben, but unlike Ben, I never got the right help. I would like to tell you my story, and then I’d like to ask you a few questions.
In kindergarten, I had to walk home. It was only about three or four blocks, but I would often get lost. Also, I still remember getting criticized by my teachers, classmates, and even my own parents when I was falling behind in reciting my ABC’s, my 1-10’s, and even my phone number and address.
They almost retained me in Kindergarten, but my mother talked them out of it.
In first grade, I started to learn to read, but again, I was falling behind. All the way through school, I feared my turn to read in class. It’s funny how good memories are sometimes forgotten, but bad memories never go away. When I was trying to learn to read, I can still remember my father telling me that I was lazy, and I just wasn’t trying. I guess my tears and frustration weren’t enough proof for him to see how hard I really was trying.
When I finally got tested for dyslexia in 3rd grade, they put me into “Special Ed.” If you ask a child what Special Ed means, they will probably say “retarded.” That’s what my peers called me, and that’s what I thought I was.
My parents sent me to many programs, and spent a lot of money. Yet I’ve held a grudge against my parents for years; I felt they failed me and didn’t try hard enough to get the right type of help. That’s because after years of “help,” I was still the same.
I struggled all the way through high school and barely graduated. In my junior year, the state created a High School Graduation Exam. In order to graduate, you had to pass 3 tests: reading, writing, and math. You could take them 3 times, but if you don’t pass by the end of high school, you only got an “Attendance” certificate. The first time I took it, I somehow passed the reading test. But I failed math and writing.
To this day, I can’t do math. I still mess up on simple things such as adding and subtracting. I still don’t know my multiplication tables. I’ve tried to learn them for years, but I just can’t remember them. I’ll have all the fours mastered one night, but when I try them again the next day, I’ll only remember a few of them. By the following day, I won’t remember any of them.
So I switched to a vocational high school where you could take construction electricity to earn math credits. In that hands-on class, I was a super star.
But I still could not pass the math portion of the high school exit exam — or the writing part, which you had to do by hand and they graded it on spelling, punctuation, and neatness of handwriting.
Fortunately, many parents in the district (whose kids could not pass the test) fought the district and got them to withdraw the test. So I did graduate after all — with a D average.
After high school, I went from job to job, but I wasn’t happy. I needed a skill, so I turned to the military. I took the ASVAB for the Coast Guard, and once again, I almost failed it. But I scored just high enough to get into a mechanics position.
But Basic Training was a nightmare. I could not memorize and retain information, marching left versus right was almost impossible, and I still could not write down anything. In the end I had a mental breakdown, and got discharged.
That was two years ago, and since then, I’ve been going from one job I hated to the next.
But last January, my finance gave me an ultimatum. “Go back to school and try, or I’m going to leave you.”
So I’m back in school in the diesel mechanics program.
Although the Disabilities Office has provided some software, more time on tests, and a note taker for each of my classes, they are not teaching me how to overcome my dyslexia.
I still can’t spell, do multiplication (or most other math), memorize anything, tell my left from my right, or find my errors when I write. I even make mistakes when filling out a job application.
Yet there is so much I can do. Right now, I work as an assistant maintenance person at the fire department, and I’m good. Really good. I can fix just about anything.
Yet that’s not what this world wants.
I want help to overcome my dyslexia so badly. I will try anything. I just want to be like everyone around me.
If it’s too late for me, then I need to know what to do to help my children when I have them. I do not want them to feel like I do now.
Hopeless, helpless, and sad.
Unique Gifts of Dyslexics
The gifted areas that come with dyslexia show up very early in life — as this mother shares:
I have read Dr. Sally Shaywitz’s book and have reviewed your website and many of your videos. This has caused me to have a Eureka! moment regarding my son. I have known that something was wrong with my very bright child for quite a while, but couldn’t seem to figure out what it was or what to do about it.
In addition to having most of the classic weak areas, he has so many of the gifted areas — even though he is only 9 and in third grade.
He is incredibly mechanically inclined. He builds complicated lego robots that he programs himself.
He is extremely creative. I have crazy inventions all over my house.
He is artistic. He especially loves sculpture, but he is also good at painting and photography. In fact, he has gone on to the state level in the local PTA Reflections photography contest 2 years in a row.
He is musically inclined. He plays the piano — by ear.
Additionally, he has always been extremely sympathetic and compassionate with others — to the point where several friends and relatives have mentioned it to me.
He has a strong entrepreneurial spirit. He started a mulch spreading business at the age of 7, complete with marketing materials. He actually convinced a perfect stranger, a nice cashier at our local grocery store, to hire him (I went with him to the job for safety reasons of course). He has excellent sales skills. He has now extended his business (and customer base) to total yard care. This year, he made a company t-shirt and hat, as well as fliers and business cards, and a wooden sign for the front yard. The only thing my husband and I have done is given him encouragement and corrected his spelling!
Once he gets an idea in his head, it is like a dog on a bone — there is no distracting him from one of his projects (like figuring out which trees in our yard were maples last summer so that he could tap them and make maple syrup this spring. This project is, thankfully, complete). He works out all the steps to complete his project himself (including getting help from the librarian to find a book on the subject in the adult section) and he won’t stop pestering us if he needs help to reach his next goal (such as someone to use the power drill on the tree. He hammered the tap in himself).
I just wish he would be so focused on cleaning his room, which at times (if I don’t keep on top of him constantly) reaches fire hazard level.