I have often battled the inner struggles and feelings that accompany Dyslexia. One such a feeling was that I felt completely stupid and intelligent at the same time. Let me explain this paradox.
I’m sitting in class, my teacher announces that we are going to do an unprepared reading. Suddenly my stomach starts turning and my palms become sweaty. I dread reading in front of other people because my reading is terrible. My anxiety builds and it feels like the whole Sahara desert is in my mouth.
I quickly jump into problem-solving mode and calculate more or less which paragraph I will be reading. I seriously start practicing it again and again. By now I’m so stressed, that I don’t even hear the teacher calling my name. Jackson, the boy sitting behind me, taps me on the shoulder and says: “It is your turn to read”.
I push my chair out slowly and pray that the bell would ring. But no such luck. My voice cracks slightly as I start to read. My heart is racing like a thousand horses and I suddenly have difficulty seeing the words properly. I rub my eyes thinking that it would help, but it doesn't.
I get through the first few words but then I’m confronted by the dreaded feeling of confusion as I get to a word that does not make sense. There are too many letters in this word and I do not know how to pronounce it. Panic sets in and all my senses start failing me. My ears are ringing, my head is spinning and darkness befalls the whole classroom, making it even more difficult to see the words on the page.
I hear how some of the students start giggling. The teacher helps me with the word and I survive the sentence. Until I hit a wall again. I brave up and attempt to say the word. It is wrong! All the kids burst out laughing. The teacher tells me to sit down and as I sit, I hear Alison in the back saying “She does not even know how to read”. She must be retarded”.
Sitting in my chair, staring completely ashamed at my hands in my lap, I softly whisper to myself, I hate school, I hate reading and I hate feeling stupid”. The shame is too much to bear. At last, the bell rings and with my head hanging low, and my pride nowhere to be found, I leave my English class.
The next class is Science, a subject I love Mr. Barns, my Science teacher asks: “Who can tell me what condensation is?”
I quickly raise my hand and Mr. Barns picks me. I rattle off the whole explanation with such accuracy, that even Mr. Barns looks surprised. But he smiles and says: “That’s correct”.
Now, why can I answer this scientific question correctly but I cannot get through one little paragraph of unprepared reading?
You now understand my dilemma?
Well, it took me all of 39 years to figure this one out. It turns out I have a reading problem called Dyslexia.
I studied hours for exams and managed to find a few coping mechanisms to help me through the sea of complicated words.
Every day at school was a living nightmare. I had to work so hard just to keep up. It took so much out of me that I needed to take an hour nap every afternoon after school. And then I would diligently sit and do my homework. I studied hours for exams and managed to find a few coping mechanisms to help me through the sea of complicated words. I colour coded each section of work and made little rhymes or acronyms to remember facts. I also drew little pictures so I did not have to read so much. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
For me, studying was a tedious and laborious exercise. I would read a paragraph only to come to the end of it not knowing what I just read. So I decided to write everything out. If I could see it, create it by writing it and hear it by reading out loud, then I could get it into my head.
This was more or less how I managed to navigate my way through a very difficult school career.
I hid my shortcomings to the best of my ability and never told a soul of how difficult it was for me. Teachers did not pick it up and neither did my parents. In their defense, there was not much known about dyslexia 20 years ago.
Today we are lucky to have better diagnostic tools, better-trained teachers and very importantly, a better understanding of what Dyslexia is. It is not just a matter of not being able to read, write or spell. In fact, there are about 37 common traits of dyslexia. Furthermore, we are all created differently and each Dyslexic has his/her own challenges and talents.