Friday, June 22, 2012

Dyslexia Isn't the End of the World: An Insider's Perspective Part 1

Several weeks ago I had a mother come to the reference desk inquiring about literature for learning strategies for children with dyslexia. When I took her back into the stacks to show her what resources we had she started telling me about her young son who had recently been diagnosed as dyslexic. This mother was almost in tears over the revelation that her child had a learning disability, so I started talking to her about my own experiences as a dyslexic and a professional.

The Early Years

I have vivid memories of hating to read. I loved stories, but the process of reading was so hard and so frustrating that I often refused. Now, my parents are both voracious readers and they made a point of instilling a love of literature in me from the womb. Every night of my childhood (barring the occasional business trip) my father would read me to sleep. I grew up with images of Aslan and Mr. Tumnus, Frodo and Gandalph and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie running rampant through my imagination. And even though I hated reading I did love books and the stories contained within their pages. At my request, my father read the novelization of 'Return to Oz' to me so many times that I memorized it and could recite it back while turning pages at the appropriate time. (This technique later became a trick used at school to fool my teachers.)

But I would NOT read voluntarily.

At her wits end, my mother talked to my first grade teacher, a lovely woman named Mrs. John. Mrs. John told my mother to make sure I did my homework, but not to force reading upon me and not to use reading as a punishment. Mrs. John was a very wise lady. So my parents would set a timer for the fifteen minutes I was to read each night as part of my homework. My response? Wait until my parents left the room and alter the timer slightly. Looking back I have to wonder if my parents knew about this minor deception, but they never called me on the issue.

As I've grown older my mom has recounted countless stories of my intractability regarding reading in my early educational years. In second grade, the private school I was attending decided to give all second graders a test to evaluate the students' abilities and achievement. Since the class was made up of "advanced" students (myself included even though I hated reading) the administration decided to give us the third grade level test. Testing day arrived and my class was all set to begin testing, pencils sharp and erasers ready. Until I spoke up. About fifteen minutes into the test I decided that the test had more reading on it than a second grader should have to complete and announced that I would NOT be taking this test. My fellow classmates didn't think it was fair for them to have to take the test if I didn't, so they joined me in protest. Needless to say, my mother was called to the principal’s office and the test results for the entire class were scrapped.

My resistance to reading continued, though I did enjoy comics with their bright pictures and limited words. Garfield was, and still is, a favorite of mine. Comics, what have come to be known as graphic novels, were probably my first step to truly becoming a reader.

My journey to reading is not over - stay tuned.