Dyslexia; Not a Definition
How a young woman turned her “disability” into a gift
Kenzie Browne, Contributor
“Please spell Wednesday,” my third grade teacher said as she handed me a small piece of chalk.
I repeat the word over and over in my head. Each time I change the accent for each syllable. “WED•nes•day,” “wed•NES•day,” “wed•nes•DAY.” With confidence, I slowly and carefully draw out the ‘w,’ then the ‘e.’ As I continue on with the rest of the word, I can see my teacher shaking her head. I step back away from the board to assess what I might have done wrong.
“Wed•nes•day,” I say out loud, handing the chalk back to my teacher. I can see in her face that I have made a mistake, but I’m not sure where. I can hear my classmates making giggling noises, and I do everything not to look at them.
“You spelled it ‘Webnesbay,’ ” the teacher informs me. This evokes a few more giggles from the class.
I just laugh it off, pretend it was a silly mistake and fix the spelling error.
Reading and writing has always been an issue for me. It’s not the public speaking part that gets in the way; it’s the words themselves. It’s almost like my brain doesn’t want to acknowledge their existence or the correct order of things.
I have dyslexia.
There are numerous types of dyslexia and no two cases are the same, but there are similarities. It is now recognized that dyslexia is a neurological disorder, is linked to genetic traits and is a lifelong condition. According to the video Dyslexia: Diagnosis and Treatment, dyslexia is the inability to read and write and these two almost always occur together. When a person with dyslexia is presented with something to read, they struggle because the brain has to decode each word before they can move on to the next, slowing down the processes. Often the context of the sentence is lost. For me, I have to read textbooks over and over before I completely understand them. I’m fine with novels because if I miss a word or mix up a word my brain can still comprehend the concept of the story.
Those with dyslexia do not think in linear, but in more holistic or spatial formation. Most often this causes an issue with their short-term memory and information recall. This happens because the brain is trying to do two different things at the same time. First, the brain is trying to work out what it is being told, and then the brain is trying to develop an image to associate with the words that were just spoken. If the image isn’t clear enough, the whole conversation can be lost and never stored in long-term memory.
I was diagnosed at a young age and my parents made sure that the schools I attended did their best to help me with my issues. It was when I left high school that I really started to notice my reading and writing problems. Somewhere along the road I had forgotten that I was tested for this “disability” and often just assumed I was a slow learner or had a lazy brain. So I geared my life towards art and anything creative, which, surprisingly enough, is what most people who have dyslexia end up doing. Alexander Graham Bell, Orlando Bloom, Jim Carrey, Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol, Cher, Richard Branson and Steven Spielberg have all been diagnosed with dyslexia.
I have enjoyed my creative life over the last 10 years, but I’ve always wanted something more. So I started to look into going back to school. I had originally dropped out of university after my first year because I wasn’t able to keep up with everything. Choosing to go back to school brought up a lot of emotional issues regarding the stresses I felt when I was 18. This time around I decided to prepare myself.
After being accepted at Mount Royal University, I looked into what was offered for those with disabilities. I had emailed a few people at the university, and I was told to look into Accessibility Services (AS). AS is not just for dyslexia but a variety of conditions including physical disabilities, mobility impairments, partial sight or blindness and learning disabilities. One of the key goals at AS is “creating an accessible, equitable, and inclusive learning environment.”
I contacted AS and made an appointment with an Access Advisor so we could discuss what I needed to do to acquire help. I still remember my advisor helping me get over my embarrassment of being dyslexic. She explained that being dyslexic is like being near sighted; It’s an issue that affects someone’s daily life but there’s help in the form of glasses. For those with dyslexia their version of help comes in many forms such as using a computer in class or for exams, meeting with a tutor as well as having audio textbooks.
With each student’s unique condition, different forms of help are used. For me, I meet with a Strategic Advisor once a week. She has about 13 different hats she wears, but she gears each meeting to what I need from her the most. The school has also provided me with a nice arsenal of support to help me with my school year. Starting this process required lots of paperwork, appointments and time, but it has been truly worth it.
I now see dyslexia not as something that has made my life difficult, but as a gift. In an online video by Professor John Stein, called Dyslexia as a Gift, he talks about the importance of seeing dyslexia as an advantage because it gives people talents that other of people don’t have. Just like the student sitting next to me in my English class is excellent at writing an essay, my creative talent is equally as important.
In an article by Emily Lapkin, she explains that studies show brain activity in people with dyslexia changes after they start to work on improving their reading and writing skills. The brain is able to change and it can rewire itself. There is no cure, but with the new advancements and understanding of what dyslexia is, there is now help. Over the years, I’ve been able to come up with creative ways to learn and each day I can see the improvement.
With the amount of support I have received from Mount Royal University, I have been able to push myself to try something I never thought I could. I’m getting my minor in English, and I don’t fear exams or essays the way I used to. Dyslexia doesn’t define who I am any more, it’s only a small portion of the greater me.