Over the past years, I have noticed while speaking to kids and adults with learning disabilities, parents of children with learning disabilities, and/or teachers who are working with these same types of students that there is a real need for others to understand what the Dyslexic or LD person is experiencing and feeling. I have found it to be very comforting to know that others have experienced the same problems, fears, and concerns that I have. I never fail to have people in my audience admit that they, too, have felt the way I've felt.
There is another reason I'm sharing this with you is because it is good therapy for me. It has helped me work through and overcome some of my problems and has helped me understand the cycles and patterns that are affecting my life. Most of this comes from my journal notes that I wrote as I worked through some of my problems during the past years of my life.
Being "learning different" and dyslexic does not mean that I am altogether different from what is considered the "normal person". What it means is that I do things a little differently. It means I work most effectively out of the right side of my brain, not the left, which is the preferred side for 70 to 80% of the people. It means I like to see the whole picture first. It means I want to spend time getting to experience the idea. I want to discover the parts of the idea or object for myself. It means I must discover in different ways the knowledge that others have learned through memorization.
This is a little piece out of a book that I am in the process of writing. It shares a little bit about the way I felt as a child with learning problems and one of the first ways I chose to cope with them.
"It Never really made any sense to me how everybody could look at a book and understand what it had to said, not that I couldn't say some of the words, but they just didn't make any sense. I remember hearing my teacher call on me and having trouble with words such as "the" and "man". She would tell me the word but the by the time I got to the next sentence I couldn't remember what it was . It was almost like it was a different word. I also remember Math and Social Studies, even the simple little songs they sang, were so complicated if I had to read them. I also had a real problem understanding directions, even oral directions. I bet my parents had to tell me everything 25 times. It wasn't that I was ignoring them and not paying attention, it was just that I couldn't go do it before I forgot what it was. The second time through 3rd grade wasn't any easier than the first. It seemed like it was all new material, however I know some of the sheets we had done were exactly the same material. This time too, I had already been labeled. You know how teachers sometimes label kids and I think I was labeled as lazy. I have to admit though there were times that I decided not to try; I mean why, I was going to fail anyway. At least if I didn't try, I just got into trouble for not working, not for being STUPID."
My personal story goes something
(This comes straight from my journal notes and contains some misspells and poor grammar)
When I first started realizing I had a problem was in 1985. I
had some problems in a business I owned a business that probably
grossed a quarter of a million a year. I was broke I never had any money.
At one time I run, I had 150 employees working with me and the company
I was working with, but when it got down to reading and writing, I struggled,
I lost a lot of money on income tax that I didn't get paid on time , reports,
contracts I didn't know how to understand or read and I ended up broke.
I sold out and I started trying to put in applications with other companies.
I went and picked up and application and I went home and sat down and I
thought, I'm not sure what this
says. As I tried to fill it out, I just wrote what I thought I could put on there and what they would understand and what I thought the application was asking for. Then I closed up the application. When I came back and sat down and opened it back up, I knew if I was hiring, I would not hire this person. NO way - It looked like a 3rd graders writing. and it wasn't legible and it wasn't understandable. So what was I going to do. I had been the boss most of my life. I mean since 18 yr. old, I was running somebody's business. Because I had good business sense. Most of it was in trucking or mechanics. Now I was forced to fill out a job application and get a job. Needless to say, I figured out a few ways to get some jobs, I would send someone to get a application for me, drop it off at my house, I would compose what I wanted to say and I would practice writing it until I could write it on that application. I would go back with my nice little folder and I would put my application on the inside and I would ask for a job application and a would sit down and scribble on it a little while and switch applications and turn it in. Get a job, 6 months later though, the writing and reading would catch up with me again. So I would hop to a different job somewhere else. After a few years of that, I realized there was a significant problem and I needed to overcome it and in that process.
I visited with one or two counselors and they suggested that I write down what I was thinking and feeling. Which turns out was one of the most beneficial things I have ever done, the writing is so beneficial to the soul and the understanding of the mind, the metacognitive processes. It allowed me to look inside my own life. Not only that, I started writing and the more I practiced, the better I got. Unfortunately I didn't do it very long with a pencil and piece of paper, I went to a computer. When I went to a computer, the whole world changed. Its amazing you know how they don't have all those little letters on the keyboard of a computer. A B looks like a B. It doesn't look like a P or a D. Needless to say I was able to write down some stuff that helped me understand a little about myself that I did not know.
I want to share just a glimpse of my life before I go any further. I think you have this on that handout. It never really made any sense to me how everybody could look at the books and understand what it said. I couldn't even say some of the words. I could say some of the words but they just didn't make any sense, I remember hearing my teacher call on me and having trouble with such words as the and Man. She would tell me the word but by the time I got to the next sentence I couldn't remember what the word was. It was almost like it was a different word. I also remember the simple little songs they sang in school. They were so complicated when I had to read them. I also had a real problem with understanding directions. Even oral directions, I bet my parents had to tell me everything 25 times. It wasn't that I was ignoring them, and not paying attention. It was just that I could not go do them, before I forgot what it was . The 2nd time through 3rd grade wasn't any easier than the first. It seemed like it was all new material, however I know some of the sheets we had done were exactly the same material. By this time, too I had already been labeled. You know how teachers sometimes label kids, I think I had been labeled as lazy. I have to admit though their were some times that I decided not to try. I mean why? I was going to fail anyway. At least if I didn't try, I got in trouble for not doing my work, I didn't get in trouble for being stupid.
My school work was always about half way complete. Somehow I just
never stood out
in the class, when you looked at me, I always looked as if I was working but the truth is I've
been caught more than once with a pencil in my hand and the book and paper down on
the desk, a sleep. There were other times I was flinging anything that could be
flung across the classroom. Paper wads, bouncing off the wall, starting arguments, You
name it, I did it.
But that was my way of coping with the things I did not understand.
It was a
mechanism I used and I used it effectively. I also found it really important to isolate
myself. If I had any friends, they would require me to try to perform as well as they did
or measure me up to their expectations. I couldn't take that chance to be measured. I
knew I couldn't do it. I didn't know I had a problem, I thought I was stupid. I accepted
the fact that I was less than what they were. For years, I accepted that, I will never do
this, why waste my time going to school. Why beat my brains out to learn this
information, I can't use it.
Mechanically, I can work on any kind of car you've got, I can
work on any kind
of computer system you've got, I don't have to be taught. I can look at the blueprints and
read them, I can read them like you read a book. I can run a cutting torch, Heating and
air conditioning, I never got trained. But I could get certified with it, all I would have to
do is go pass the written test. But that is because this stuff is natural to me.
Reading on the other hand was so confusing to me. Even when I was in college I struggled. There were times that I would take my book and I ask my wife, " will you read this to me"? I had read it 3 times and I still couldn't understand what it was saying. She would read it out loud and as she did I would try to visualize what was read.
It was the point - my Jr. year in college, after being on Natl.
Honor Society in Education, Freshman Honor Society at ASU and the Dean's
list several times that I came to the realization that I'm not stupid!
It was hard to accept. I was depressed for several months and I couldn't
figure out why? I went to a counselor because I like to talk to counselors.
They usually don't solve my issue, but they get me to thinking about things
that I have not seen. In the midst of talking to them, I stumbled
upon the fact that all my life if I couldn't do it, I would say well I
am stupid, I can't do that. That's something I can't do. And
all of a sudden I couldn't depend on that
anymore. It's was gone. You can't have a 3.5 GPA and be stupid. You may be learning different but you're not stupid. And I had to come to the realization that I was different. I learned differently than everyone else. Before I went to ASU, I was tested and I was labeling Learning Disabled, significantly Learning Disabled. My GRE scores were more than 2 standard deviations between my Math and Analytical and my Verbal reasoning. I mean I would be like working with a kid with a 60 I. Q. I can't read or write very well.
I still don't read or write adequately and sometimes I don't talk
very well either. I have to struggle with that every day. The
fact of the matter is, I just do it a little different than everybody else.
When I get ready to write something I have to get on my computer, I have
to use my dictionary, I have to use my word spell. I have to pre
write stuff. I have to really concentrate on what it is I'm going
to say, before I say it. If you want a fast response from me, you
are in trouble. I usually say - let me get back to you. So
I can go sit down and say O.K. What is it he is really asking for?
What question are we really trying to answer. And you have kids in
your classroom and I have them in mine, and I just struggle against that
- because they shut down. They've quit learning and they don't want
to learn because they know it causes pain. And I have teachers that
modify so that they make 100s every time.
When a person comes to me and tells me, " I have a child that has reading problems." I immediately tell them try to get that child to read something. If we have to start out with lower level books or picture books where the child writes their own words. If they are a teenager, get a newspaper or magazine and let them find something that is of interest to them. I even have tried the job want ads. This will help create motivation and limited success. Simultaneously, I would encourage the increase and development of sight based vocabulary. This is not the only way for these kids to learn as there are a lot of reading skills that need to be taught but, in my opinion the increase in sight based vocabulary would allow these students a better opportunity for limited initial success. What these kids really need is motivation followed by success. Once this child's self-esteem starts to increase, we have this child in the "Maybe I Can" range and we find that the child is more open to the learning process.
The next thing I would encourage teachers, parents and students to understand is that "You may never do it, like everybody else." That means they may never learn to spell phonetically, but we have computers that will help correct that problem. You may never learn to read well orally, but you can read well enough to comprehend and understand. You may never learn to do mathematics with a pencil and paper or learn your multiplication tables, but we have calculators to do that. But what I will say is that there are certain things that you do well, and what is important is that you find those things and build upon them for your future success.
Your comments are always welcome