My Dyslexia, Sydlexia, Xialdyia?
Dyslexia is defined in the Webster’s Dictionary as “: a variable often familial learning disability involving difficulties in acquiring and processing language that is typically manifested by a lack of proficiency in reading, spelling, and writing.” Kind of. Okay. I should tell you that it isn’t really a very descriptive definition, nor does it really cover it. Everyone I have ever met who has been told or discovered that they are dyslexic in some way defines it differently, though in many ways we are the same. Sometimes, we screw things up. You have no idea how long it takes me to type, for instance. And I have long since given up ever balancing my check book with my bank statement. I just have to take their word for it. But, I deal with it fine, and seldom think about it, unless I’m trying to follow directions and a map. Then, I know I’m screwed, and just follow the most likely car ahead of me. Or let my sister drive.
I’m thirty-seven years old. I went to grade school in Rural Nebraska in the seventies and eighties. I was in the ‘stupid’ reading group in second grade (yep, my teacher called it that). Honestly, the only reason I think I learned to read at all was because I had an older brother who liked to play school and one summer he just decided he was going to teach me to read. Well, that and he didn’t want the ‘stupid’ sister as well as the ‘weird’ sister. In my entire elementary, junior, and high school years I was never diagnosed with dyslexia, but with a lazy eye which I was given exercises for. I did actually have a lazy eye, and the exercises did help, not only with the lazy eye, but just with my focus in general.
I wasn’t given any extra help in school, but I did work extra hard. I didn’t want to be the ‘stupid’ sister anymore than my brother wanted me to be. Some things were never easy and I never knew why. I didn’t think I was really stupid, despite the second grade teacher who repeatedly told me I was. I had an excellent family and a mother who expected me to live up to a certain standard of academic expectation, even if it was hard.
Once I learned to read, training my mind to do the things it needed to do to compensate, I did better in school. I was never a fast reader, but my comprehension was good and I loved a good story. I could remember things that others missed, I think because I was really concentrating. Math though. Math never got easier. Still hasn’t. I struggled with teachers and peers who didn’t know why I didn’t ‘get it’. I would do the problems correctly, to my mind, but not come up with the right answer. I transposed numbers, missed pieces when copying, and wrote down answers wrong even when the work was correct. And it was worse under pressure. Still is. With all the woes my strange brain caused me as a child, I had a sense of humor and was well liked, so that might be why no one really noticed that I had any ‘problems’. My grades were good enough in many areas, excellent in some, and I was a good artist. Artists aren’t supposed to be academic, right?
Then there was the whole left/right thing. That still causes me to cringe in a minor fit of self-loathing. Left-right, North-South, East-West. You might as well be speaking Russian, which I also don’t ‘get’. My P.E. teacher in grade school was convinced I was the stupidest creature on the planet as I ran into my peers who were going right and I was going left because I guessed wrong, or was sure I was right and wasn’t. Sadly, the same man was my driver’s-ed teacher. Nightmarish. Yep, I still use the little L with your thumb and pointer finger and even then the backwards L kind of looks right to me too. Or left. I mix it up.
That’s the thing with dyslexia. Its not the same from day to day, or problem to problem. If six always looked like a nine, well there would be no problem. Sometimes I will walk into a room that I have been in a hundred times and I would swear to God that the lamp had been on the opposite side of that room. As well as the couch. Pretty sure I don’t have couch moving pixies. Pretty sure.
I didn’t find out I was dyslexic per-sea until college when I took a class about learning disabilities. The teacher of the class (okay, small aside. I just spelled ‘teacher’ wrong three times in a row. Yay, spell check and that squiggly red line! How funny is that?), after I asked many questions and referenced myself in some of them, he tested me and was surprised that I had never been tested before. Not that uncommon, and not that bad of a thing, really. I have sometimes wondered what my life would have been like if I had known. I don’t think it would necessarily have been better in 1978 if the staff at my elementary school labeled me ‘LD’ (learning disabled). Now-a-days it seems that every other child in my program has various letters associated with who they are.
In the world of public academia now, as opposed to 1978, the schools ‘look’ for disabilities at an early age, even at the pre-school level, labeling with dozens of letters in various ways, in order to ‘help’ that child. As a teacher, I don’t know that its all that helpful, certainly not all that helpful for the child. It’s helpful for the school, as the funding is increased when there are documented disabilities on the roles. The teachers are helped, as other instructors are brought in or the child who doesn’t ‘get it’ is brought out of the classroom. I have seen many kids come through my classroom who almost immediately, at the first sign of having difficulties will quietly tell me they ‘can’t’ and here’s why. I will quietly tell them that they ‘can’ and explain my own situation and talk to them about different ways of compensating for their own situation. I also tell them I expect them to. And they don’t get to use the word ‘can’t’. I don’t sugar coat it. I tell them they will have to work harder, but also tell them that not everyone will be good at sports, or art, or music, or math. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it. And then I sigh mentally and long for 1978 and that horrible second grade teacher who used to call me stupid. At least she was being honest as she saw it. I don’t want my son to happily accept a deficit as undefeatable and the perfect excuse for not doing something right, or at all, just because he has a few extra letters. That’s the way I see it, but I could be reading it backwards.