It is national Dyslexia awareness month. I would be doing a disservice to all my fellow dyslexia friends and followers if I kept my story to myself. I would not be a true advocate for change if I did not share the signs and symptoms my teachers should have realized in elementary school. I will not be using my story for good if I don’t share how dyslexia completely destroyed how I thought of myself.
In my own definition of dyslexia, it is when the brain is wired a little different therefore making tasks such as reading, writing, spelling and math harder to learn and remember.
Growing up I went to one of the poorest elementary schools in the state of Georgia. I remember there being so many discipline problems that made it hard for the teachers to teach. In elementary school I never brought home straight 100’s like my older brother did. Most of the time I would not fully understand what was being taught to me until I was taught in school, went home to struggle through the homework, then going over the homework assignment the next day in school. My teachers seemed to love giving crossword puzzles as extra credit and I would try so hard to finish them but they would give me anxiety before I know what anxiety was. Most of the time I had my mom finish them for me because she was good at them.
I would bring home spelling words and it would take me twice as long to get through them all without messing up. I would sit on my dad’s lap at our dining room table and go word for word. As I got a word wrong he would raise his voice asking if I was trying to be funny when I was really trying my best. This also happened with reading at an early age. I would read slow, couldn’t figure out how to pronounce words correctly. Writing was no better. Words would be spelled wrong and I had no idea what the difference from a noun, subject, adjective or a verb therefore putting together a proper sentence was rough.
Math class was no different. I could not do math quick enough in my head so I would always just count up or down on my fingers. Never being able to stick basic addition, subtracting or multiplication to memory. All of these small daily struggles caused me to think that I was stupid. Because I knew I needed extra help I naturally became the teacher’s pet trying to help the teachers out more so that if I needed help I didn’t feel bad asking.
Middle school was no better. I remember almost every year my friends were placed in the gifted classes but I was in ‘regular’ classes because of my test scores. I hated middle school so much that I asked to be homeschooled my 8th grade year. Middle school made me feel so stupid and like I was never going to be able to stay up to date with the lessons. The long tests that were given made my palms sweaty. I remember my teachers double checking my test handbook and my scantron because they knew it was so common for me to write the correct answer in my test booklet but fill in the wrong bubbles. (Also, pretty sure this was illegal!)
High School was the first time I ever recall hearing the word dyslexic. After struggling through three years of high school. My senior english teacher handed back a hand written, timed essay and told me see him after class. I looked at the paper. I failed and there was his red hand writing all over the paper. When I stayed after he asked me if I was dyslexic. I asked him why he thought that and what is was. He told me that I failed the paper because of horrible spelling, sentence structure and flipping letters around.
I went home and talked to my parents and told the teacher that I would like to be tested for whatever dyslexia was. After we looked into it, we found out that the school system would have tested me for free before the 5th grade. Since I was in highschool it would have cost my family about $2,000. At that time I did not want to go to college and my only goal was to get through my senior year.
A few months after the teacher telling me about dyslexia I was at a 4-H event and it came up again. I was on a leadership board and we were last minute putting together a presentation. I got handed a poem to read in front of the 75+ people crowded. I had to sight read it right there in front of my leadership team the the guy in charge before doing it in real time in front of the crowd. I could barely make it through the first line of the poem when he took the paper from my hands and looked me in the eyes and asked me if I was dyslexic. He could clearly see the worry in my eyes about reading in front of others. The pit of my stomach dropped as I heard the word ‘dyslexic’ again. He quickly gave me the task of leading everyone in the pledge of allegiance instead of reading a poem. Hearing the guy beside me sight read the poem perfectly made me destroy myself worth a little more that it already was. All I could think was how stupid I was and unable to do basic task.
All of these little signs that could have been caught made me feel dumb. These feelings made me feel as if I was not going to be able to go to college because I could not even do great in high school classes. I thought I was never going to be successful at anything because my reading level was still on a low grades scale. I thought that I was never going to be able to make money because I could not do math past a third grade level. I constantly compare myself to others who were learning quickly and easily. I felt like a burden to my parents who were trying to help and my teachers who were working hard. For so many years I felt so dumb. Dyslexia destroyed the way that I thought of myself. Dyslexia destroyed my ability to dream about the future. Dyslexia made me question my self worth. Dyslexia made me feel like an outsider. Dyslexia destroyed me from fully embracing who I was for the first 20 years of my life.
I share this story to bring awareness to dyslexia. I share this story to help educate you to know what signs to recognize dyslexia in your loved ones. You can be the change to help someone understand how their brain works before letting it destroy how they think of themselves and their own ability.
Luckily this is not the end of my story. Stay tuned!
Love, your dyslexic local blogger Colleen Howard.