Have you ever responded to one of those social media challenges to tell some obscure fact about you or answer the question, I wish I could go back to when I was younger and tell myself… I have a response that straddles both criteria. I have dyslexia and if I could go back to when I was a bashful, stammering five-year-old I’d let me know that it’s okay.
There’s an advantage to perceiving things in ways others don’t, can’t or won’t. It’s just my mind is wired differently and because of that I think outside of the box – really I live outside of the box. I won’t often fit in, but again that’s fine because, in the words of the great Groucho Marx, I’ve never wanted to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member.
Here’s the deal. I have a disability. If most people were honest they would admit to having a disability too. Sometimes I wonder if everyone doesn’t have something going on and perhaps the disabilities, challenges of whatever you want to term them are really gifts in a way. You see, being different and accepting who and what you are liberates you from ever having to conform to being like everyone else in their miserable lots.
My dyslexia went undiagnosed largely because of the rural area where I grew up. Maybe it wasn’t a well-known disability back in the late 50’s and early 60’s – when I was a little kid. Because of it I struggled with reading in the conventional way it was taught. In fact reading in class when I was first grader was a painful experience in public ridicule as I stammered and stalled trying to make it to the end of a sentence – let along a paragraph. With no positive reinforcement I considered reading torment and prayed the teacher would not call on me to read aloud. To this day, over fifty years later, I struggle when called upon to read aloud.
You might think it funny or ironic that a published author suffered from what is now considered a learning disability, albeit it a mild one if identified early on. When I tell people I hated reading it surprises them because, after all, authors write books and promote literacy and all that. The key is I hated reading, not that I hate it now.
What turned the tables for me was a second grade teacher who chose to read a story to the class. In anticipation of Christmas she read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And over the course of her daily reads to the class I got it. I understood the magic contained in words. A story well told can conjure images in the mind and, if hearing read words can do that so can learning to read them myself. I was determined to learn how to read even if I couldn’t do it the way they were teaching me in school.
I figured I needed to learn words at a glance. That would speed up the process of reading them if I didn’t have to sound them out. So, in effect, I taught myself how to read silently – meaning i didn’t sound out the world in my head. The benefit of immediately recognizing and knowing the meaning of a word without sounding it out was that I could read considerably faster than my peers who were using a traditional approach. Still, I struggled whenever called upon to read aloud in class. Over time, from memorizing words, I got better at making the connection between my eyes and mouth but it took years and, as i have said already, I still struggle with it.
By the time I reached the 6th grade I could read at a rate of 400 words per minute. I know that because my sixth grade teacher called me out, thinking that anyone who struggled as much as I did with reading aloud – and was officially branded a slow reader – could not possibly be on the same reading level as the best reader in the class on the self paced Science Reacher Associates modules. In fact I was actually a little ahead of her.
My integrity was questioned and my mother got directly in the middle between my teacher and the principal, the latter administering a simple test. He gave me an adult reading level novel, one that he had read, and started me out on a random page and told me to read for one minute. After turning several pages the time limit expired. He asked me what I’d just read. Although there were a few words I didn’t know, I got the gist of the story well enough that he was convinced I read it. Then he asked me what page I was on at the end. He made a simple word per page calculation and arrived at the conclusion that I was reading at 400 to 450 words per minute.
Despite overcoming the disability I still really didn’t enjoy reading, not until high school. By then I had discovered science fiction and fantasy and had begun to have favorite authors whose every book I read.
It was in college that I became an avid reader, out of necessity as I challenged myself to take literature courses. One year I read over 400 books, not counting the text books for my other classes.
I don’t think I have ever felt like I am a strong reader but learning to read was essential to my growth as a person and my adventure in becoming a writer. Sometime you have to take your problems as challenges and figure out how to become the master of your situation.
#Reading #Dyslexia #Disability #Overcoming #Writing #Author #GrouchoMarx