January 1, 2014

Mindfully Accepting My Learning Disability.


“Recognizing and respecting differences in others, and treating everyone like you want them to treat you, will help make our world a better place for everyone. Care…be your best. You don’t have to be handicapped to be different. Everyone is different!”

~ Kimputer, Kim Peek, inspiration for Rain Man

I have a terrible case of dyslexia. I never understood what had been plaguing me until my college years—I finally figured it out while I was trying to do mass-balance problems. I would struggle terribly with remembering which side of the equation that I was working on at any given time. And no one else around me was having this issue.

Every time that I typed or wrote certain words, they would come out mangled. For example, the word ‘the’ for me has always been typed or written as ‘hte’. It has been a constant battle, but luckily, there are great auto-correct programs now, and I am sure that some of the features were made for people with dyslexia.

“I hated school…one of the reasons was a learning disability, dyslexia, which no one understood at the time. I still can’t spell… “

~ Loretta Young

I have always known that I did not intuitively know my right from my left, which makes for interesting political conversations—just kidding (about the political part). People who know me well understand that they are much better off pointing than giving me verbal right and left directions.

Luckily for me, reading has never posed any major problems that I am aware of. I can read quickly and without any difficulty. I guess dyslexia must come in many shades of grey.

Once I became aware of my dyslexia, I started noticing that other people in my college classes with the same problem got extra time to take their exams! I was even approached by a couple of compassionate professors and asked if I had taken the ‘dyslexia screening test’ so that I, too, could have more time during my exams. And my stubborn, ego-filled, teenage answer was: “Hell no.”

I felt strongly at the time that if I had been given extra time on my exams, and thus performed at a higher level, that it would falsely inflate my GPA. I thought that I owed it to my future employers to be graded in the same manner as anyone else who was normal that they might hire for any given position that I might seek out later on.

I thought to myself, “If I was working at a job, no one was going to give me two extra paid hours a day to do the same work as someone without this problem.” Thus, I never took that screening test. Instead, I decided to double down and work as hard and as smart as I was able to. I had something to prove now!

At the same time I grew increasingly hateful of the perceived ‘cheaters’ in my classes that were given the extra time to work on their exams. I really couldn’t stand those people who got all of this extra time, while I suffered in silence and dealt with the cards I had been given. At that time, I pretty much thought of them as big-ass, whining babies who were ruining the grading curve for everyone else—particularly me.

While I could get through half of the problems on an exam perfectly, I could never even reach the other half. I became a B student, and I deeply resented the people who I felt were capitalizing off of their afflictions. The same affliction that I had, but refused any help for!

Of course I believed that some disabilities needed to be addressed immediately. People who were in wheelchairs or who were blind or deaf had the right to all the help that they deserved to get around everywhere and to understand everything as well as the next person. I felt and still feel very strongly about this.

But, in my mind, at that time, ‘learning disabilities’ such as dyslexia were a different kind of problem that should be dealt with in a different kind of way. This was not a visible or a physically evident issue.

Why was I so hard on myself all those years ago? Getting no help? Struggling while others did not?

It all boiled down to one word: Pride.

Yes, it is true that at the time I was unable to publicly accept the shortcomings of my very learning disabled mind. The very problematic mind that had gone undetected all of those years while I struggled along without knowing what was wrong. I had determined on my own that I was not the brightest bulb and I was just going to have to work harder to appear ‘normal’ to others.

And I was pissed off and embarrassed when I was ‘found out’ by my teachers as having this abnormal affliction that they called dyslexia, but I guess I was in good company:

“My teachers say I’m addled,,,my father thought I was stupid, and I almost decided I must be a dunce.”

~ Thomas Edison

I now embrace what makes me unique, even if it labels me, and am much more easygoing about it. I no longer resent the ‘cheaters’ in my classes from way back when. I have realized that when you point your one finger at someone else, that you have three accusatory fingers pointing back towards yourself.

Today, it is a much different and more uplifting story for kids growing up with dyslexia. It is now a well known learning disability that teachers and parents watch for when a child is having difficulty with either reading or writing. And it is dealt with in a much more matter-a-fact kind of way then when I was growing up.

I am hopeful about the futures of others with this disorder as well as for myself, who I have finally learned to accept fully—dyslexia and all.

“Life is full of challenges. How you handle these challenges is what builds character. Never be afraid to be who you are.”

~ Erin Brockovich, activist, dyslexic


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: elephant archives

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