Along with the assortment of physical ills I detailed in the post “In Search of Better Health”, I get to have dyslexia. My dyslexia is both a gift and a bane. Most often relegated to disability, dyslexia is one of the more positive examples of neurodiversity. Dyslexia is a reading difference; the brain processes letters, words, and numbers in a non-typical way.
Dyslexics are often late readers and when they do read they have usually taught themselves; our educational system does not teach to the non-typical learner. Despite the current “no child left behind” policy, 25% of the general American population who are dyslexic are left behind. Many are treated as mentally ill, retarded, stupid, or assigned behavior disorder labels. These children likely are having emotional issues: they are learning at a different rate than the typical learner and being blamed for their own difference because the education system does not know how to teach to the non-typical learner. In my school district the drop out rate is about 25%, about the same as the national average of dyslexics in the population. It’s pretty easy math to see which population is being left behind.
Recently I read “My Dyslexia” by Philip Schultz. He details the non-joy of being bullied, poorly treated by teachers and counselors, and his survival into the real world of reading and writing and helping his own son with his dyslexia. Good read and one more proof that dyslexics are as likely to succeed at any endeavor as any neurotypical person. Famous people of a wide variety of talents such as Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonardo da Vinci, George Washington, Agatha Christie, Ted Turner, Steven Spielberg and many others enjoy this brain difference. They have certainly achieved success by any measure.
Reading Schultz’s book I got to see how lucky I was with my own experience with dyslexia. I started first grade when I was five. Our school district didn’t have kindergarten back then, it was still a new idea and our district were late-comers to kindergarten. I was an early reader, I loved reading, and letters. Numbers? Not so much. My three younger siblings were daily subjected to my reading practice while I sat next to mom at her sewing machine, always making or remaking clothes for the six of us. Mom read whenever she could get a free moment and did every crossword puzzle in the daily paper, one of my family’s few forms of entertainment. When the Sunday paper arrived, we handed the crossword straight to mom while the competition for the comics section began. First come first served, no seniority. True democracy.
Still as much as I loved reading, schoolwork did not come easily. I had to re-read several times to get the meaning of the text. Writing took me a long time because my hand reversed letters so I had to re-copy. Typewriters were no help. Carbon paper was not even my friend. I worked hard to achieve an average grade.
As an adult I began to notice sentences of text would trade places with whole sentences either above or below that line. It was worse under fluorescent lights. When I got to go to college in my forties I finally learned there was a name for what I was experiencing. Assessors would probably call me “high functioning”: early reader, average learner, matriculated college at a non-traditional age and cum laude, late over-achiever, control freak. And with my dyslexia, I can read upside down. THAT’s cool!
People with dyslexia are CREATIVE. We have to be. We taught ourselves to READ. Dyslexics are the original auto-didacts, and most of us never stop learning or creating. Half the best seller list of current authors are dyslexic and with the advent of personal computers and word processors we can finally have our say.
My husband is also dyslexic so I was prepared to aid my son’s education. Our school district was not. In another post I will share the trials of trying to get the school district to do the job I expected from my tax dollars. Education + dyslexia = politics (bad math) divided by my expectations and what a mess that was. My son reads fine. He taught himself.