All this means is that my brain doesn’t quite agree with how the world puts together these symbols we call words. Reading is a never ending puzzle and as a result, there are other things that I am much faster at doing, because I have had 30+ years of training.
The first time I knew I was different I was about 4 years old. My aunt had commented that I was behind because she was observing that her 3 year old daughter could read chapter books (now I think good for you and well my cousin is still one of the smartest humans I know}. At that moment, I knew that I was less than her and that I had a lot of compensating to do. I became a perfectionist in that moment. I didn’t want to show any of my differences to the world so I would continue to hide in my suffering for 30 years.
My parents were extremely supportive and pushed me to learn compensating methods. They spent hours every day reading with me, had me complete the Hooked on Phonics and hired a private tutor. I still know the English rules better than most, but the problem is not the knowledge, it is that my eyes/brain physically cannot see the mistakes I am making.
Early, in elementary school, the school administration system accused my parents of failing to work with me enough at home. The school pulled me from any elective class (gym, music and art) and sent me to the library during these times to sit in a glass room with large headphones on and read along with a book. I CLEARLY remember being humiliated and that all the people were watching me. I didn’t get to go to my first art class until we moved to Wisconsin. I also have a clear memory of Mrs. Bantz’s confusion that I had never been to an art class. She took me under her wing and let all of my creativity out.
After being tested, once we moved to Wisconsin, my parents decided to pull me out of the LD program at school because I “wasn’t far enough behind” (You have to be 2.5 years behind your reading level to qualify). We worked closely with my teachers.
Most people experience the phenomenon of reading a page and not knowing what you read. But there is a whole new level of frustration when this is 100% of the time. I could read, but the comprehension would not compute and nothing would process in my brain. I finally figured out that reading out loud helped me learn the information. The habits/systems and compensations I started.
- Reading all of my books out loud, in the bathroom. There I sit, in a cold dry bathtub and my pile of books sitting on the counter. This way I could see the material, hear the material and it would echo so I could hear it again. This cut down my reading time by a third. I continue this process through my college and now, occasionally, I will do the same thing in my graduate program.
- If I can’t read it out loud, I mouth everything. I was not aware that I did this until I shared an office with a supervisor and they made this observation of me, even when I am typing.
- Now, with technology, if I can have Siri read it to me, I use this feature almost 100% of the time.
- If an audio-book version is available or a lecture is an option. I will always opt for this version. I read along but having someone else read the book cuts down on my time again.
I never did get extended time for any of my tests and I knew that my ACT scores would be low because of it. I still got into the colleges I wanted to. I knew the hours of comprehension, studying and homework assignments would have to compensate for what I couldn’t produce in an exam. I sat myself in a corner or in the front row and would mouth all of the words to myself. I spent 12-16 hours on Sundays my entire school career on schoolwork. Anything I could do ahead of time helped. Most of this was just spent reading in the bathroom.
Other things I have found helpful
- Theater: The same summer I was diagnosed, my mom put me into theater camp. “If you’re not going to be able to read, you are going to be able to speak.” It was challenging and I had to conquer my fear of fumbling over words. I was given techniques to remember lines. She also took me to a memory seminar. This man showed us how to create an outline and to speak from the outline or cues that would allow you to flow through speaking vs. having to read from a page. At my high school graduation, I gave a speech flawlessly. Practice and persistence.
- Not writing after 3pm. Once my brain gets tired, my mistakes increase exponentially. If I need to write something then, I might not send it off until the following morning.
- Using talk to text when I need to write something, At one point I remember my dad being frustrated with me and saying, “ why cant you write the way you speak”. Finally the technology caught up with this feature. There are hours of me talking to myself in the car. And now, as an adult, I have no shame in talking-to-text in the middle of a grocery store, if I have a novel idea.
- I was deeply ashamed of dyslexia until I had a coach say to me, “Your brain doesn’t agree with the symbols that the people agreed upon. You are not broke, you are you.” This changed everything for me. I no longer have shame for my mistakes and I welcome people sending me corrections because I just physically am unable to see the edits.
- Writing centers- Colleges all have writing centers. This is where english majors and grammar “Nazis” live. They have a love-hate relationship with me.
- My dad- I am ultra blessed to have my dad. He has been editing my work my entire life. At his point I assume he knows what kinds of mistakes I am likely to make. Google Docs has made our lives a lot easier because we can share the same document and I can see the edits he makes. I am still learning to this day and am extremely appreciative of the time he spends in his retirement editing papers to this day. He may never understand why I am this way but he embraces me without question now.
Dyslexic, we are not broken, we just “see the world differently.R.Biagioli