It might sound counter-intuitive but learning to read and truly enjoy a good book with dyslexia is possible. I hope that by sharing my personal experience in this post, I can help encourage parents and younger readers battling dyslexia.
I didn’t know I was dyslexic until I was about 14-15 years old when my high school boyfriend first realized what all my teachers had missed. Instead, I knew was smart but a horrible speller. I knew that I would Always be the last person to turn in my classwork and exams, but I would also receive some of the highest marks in all my classes. I struggled, but with great effort, I was able to still be an honor-roll student.
As early as kindergarten, I was held back during recess because I still hadn’t finished my work. In about the 5th grade, I realized I read incredibly slow but felt reassured that my reading comprehension was spot on. As I moved into middle school and high school, I did become increasingly frustrated that my friends and classmates seemed to be able to wait until five minutes before class and still get their assignments done. Speed reading wasn’t an option for me. In fact, I was often left somewhere between marvel and disbelief that anyone could speed read and know what they had actually read. For me, reading and writing went at about the same pace as talking. In fact, I was actually lucky if I could maintain a steady talking pace. Considering I’m a Southern, the speed of talking isn’t exactly fast. In the long-run, this made it easier for someone to just tell me rather than make me read it.
So with all that in mind, how am I now a Ph.D. Candidate in the word intensive field of Anthropology?
Because despite my dyslexia or perhaps even because of it, I learned to love a good story. I learned to be really good at finding the meaning behind the words even when I could not keep up with the exact wording. Comprehension over speed. The importance of understanding the meaning over the adherence to literal and exact wording. My success is probably largely due to the ranking of Synthesis over Memorization in the hierarchy of learning techniques
But a big question, I’ve frequently asked myself over the past six years while working on my Ph.D. and working to obtain proficiency in a 2nd language, is how? How can I comprehend, interpret meaning, and synthesize new knowledge, if at 28 I still I can’t consistently giving you an accurate exact reading of the words on the page??
As a child, it was easier for me to tell you the whole story (my version) and give my insights into what was really going on than it would have been to read a single page out loud.
I don’t know if this is true for all people with dyslexia; dyslexia is itself an incredible complex diagnosis with a wide range of variation. But for me, I think the trick lays in the functionality of how I do read. To comprehend a single word, I really need the whole sentence, perhaps even the paragraph. Put one word on a BillBoard and I’m likely to come up with some pretty assuming alternatives to what the sign says. I read by context. A solitary p on a blank page would give me a lot of trouble. If I could nail down the orientation of the page and decide the curve of the letter was on the side closest to my right hand, then I could narrow it down to a p or b. If I could decide the line sticks down instead of up, then I could probably feel about 75% to 85% confident that I was looking at a p. But I think you’ll agree that took a lot more time and effort than it would the average person.
But I think that as context is so crucial to my ability to even identify a single letter, it is easy to see how context became a subject I was most devoted to. Developing an acute sensitivity to context and its implication on meaning and ‘what really matters’ or ‘what is really being said’, gave me a leg up when I finally got to the later parts of education which cared as much about how I got my answer as they did that my answer was ‘right’.
I think this advantage helped me survive the ever increasing challenge to ‘keep up’ with my classmates. I also had the advantage of having exemplary listening skills. I think I can probably blame my parents entire for that one as I was already getting top marks on listening before I began Kindergarten. My family loves to talk. We tell stories, sing songs, hold intense debates at the drop of the hat. All of this helped me develop skills that made it much easier to learn by listening. Lucky for me, even university professors in the States like to lecture. It wasn’t until graduate school that I faced my first exams that I couldn’t prepare myself for entire by listening to lectures, discussing the course with my classmates, Googling Youtube videos, and talking to the professor or teacher one-on-one.
All of this isn’t to say it has been easy, but focusing on the skills and learning techniques which came easier to me helped me face the challenges of dyslexia and academia. I couldn’t have gotten anywhere without the endless support of countless friends, teachers, and of course my parents. Hopefully, I will be able to repay the world someday by saying something worthwhile.
In my next post, I’ll share my understand of how despite my dyslexia, I learned to love to read.