My first action after receiving my diagnosis of dyslexia in the third grade was to go home and hold up a piece of paper in front of the mirror in an attempt to read backwards. To my astonishment, the doctors were right. I could indeed read backwards. As my eight-year-old self felt wonderfully proud of my newfound disability–no, skill–my older sister decided to burst my bubble and show me how she, a sixth grader with no learning disabilities, could read backwards even better than I could. Her victory disappointed me because I was no longer special, but also overwhelmed me with confusion. If being dyslexic does not mean I read backwards any better than a “normal” person, then what does it mean? I have come a long way in my understanding of dyslexia since the third grade, but what baffles me is that many of my peers are no better informed than my eight-year-old self.
During my time in college, the ignorance regarding learning disabilities and the misconceptions of what it means to be dyslexic has become apparent to me. If I had a dime for every time someone has asked me if I read backwards, then I would be sitting on my privately owned island right now. The answer is no; I do not read backwards. Nor do I always switch the letters “b” and “d” or read at an elementary school level. In fact, my reading and writing skills are about to earn me a BA in English,writing track, from Towson University. People are often surprised to learn that I am a dyslexic English major. They praise me and tell me how wonderful it is that I overcame this roadblock. All things considered, dyslexia definitely poses a challenge to my academics, but in no way prevents me from getting an education. Before I can discuss my method to school, I must make sure you have an accurate understanding of dyslexia.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words.” When toddlers are taught the ABC’s, the first step is to identify speech sounds of the individual letters. “A” is for apple because the letter “A” makes the sound “ah.” Once the children are able to accurately identify the sound of each letter, the next step is to arrange the letters to form a word. Take the letters “b”-“a”-“t.” Understand the sounds are “buh”-“ah”-“tuh.” Together, the sounds form the word “bat,” an object used in the game of baseball to hit the ball. A five-year-old must undergo this process every time they attempt to read, but as we age and continue through school, letter recognition becomes instantaneous and develops into immediate word recognition.
The process of recognizing and translating the sequence of letters into a word, aforementioned, is exactly where the life changing difference between a dyslexic mind and a “normal” mind occurs. No matter the age or level of education, a dyslexic mind cannot identify the sounds of letters and form the letters into words as quickly as the average person. For this reason, a dyslexic person reads slower as they must decipher each letter to understand the meaning of every word, sentence, and paragraph. Letter reversal and word confusion occur when the brain unconsciously does not allow for the necessary time it takes to read. A dyslexic brain that sees the word “bat” but reads “rat" results from the delay of communication between the eyes and the brain. In this case, the communication process occurred too quickly, and the person incorrectly assumed the sound associated with the first letter was “rrr.”
So now you see that dyslexia is not reading backwards or a life-sentence of illiteracy. Dyslexia, along with many other learning disabilities, slows the process of perceiving and understanding. Thankfully, Towson has a wonderful Disability Support Services (DSS). I can truly credit my academic success to the help of my accommodations through DSS. My accommodations do not get me special treatment or privileges; they supply me tools to help my studies when dyslexia limits my abilities. I have extra time to take my exams and a computer accommodation for my essays. Towson supplied me with a software on my computer that reads uploaded documents aloud. I have a note taker for my lectures so I do not need to worry about missing something in class. I have found ways to deal with my dyslexia and work around it when it becomes a problem. People wonder if being dyslexic is discouraging. I tell them that if anything, I have used my dyslexia as a source of motivation. My parents used to worry that I would never learn to read and now I write essays on three hundred page novels. I’m pretty sure that I can do whatever I set my mind to.
Grub Street Non-Fiction Team Member
For more information on dyslexia, check out this link: http://therapytoronto.ca/news/tag/dyslexia/
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