My Life As a Dyslexic
New England Dyslexia Solutions has an article on their webpage called
"Dyslexia: 37 Common Characteristics."
It states that most dyslexic people will exhibit about 10 of these traits. I exhibit 31 traits, most of them daily.
Another site states, "The causes for dyslexia are neurobiological and genetic." How I acquired this condition doesn't really matter. I know I've been dyslexic from birth. Also, since I was born in 1957, eye testing didn't happen for me until Grade 4.
I've been told that there is technically nothing wrong with my eyes, but having a small head (I was 5 pounds at birth), the shape of my orbits is slightly skewed, causing my focus to be off center. My prescription has virtually not changed in all these years. It is a frustrating fact that has significantly added to my struggles as a dyslexic person.
I remember that particular day, copying a chalkboard full of notes in the morning. My new glasses arrived at noon. I returned to class and didn't recognize a thing on the board! Is it any surprise that on one of those Grade 4 spelling tests my mark was 4 correct words out of 100? If the word dyslexic existed at the time, it certainly hadn't reached our part of the world.
I believe that for the time, I was very blessed. I was in a country school with huge class sizes of 40 to 45 students. The class behind me was even larger. They couldn't afford to fail me. So I graduated!
Today, I consider myself a recovered dyslexic. This means that my dyslexia is no longer noticeable. I am happy to say that it's been a long yet rewarding journey.
I'm told that many famous people have suffered this dyslexia: George Washington, Albert Einstein, singer Cher, and actor Tom Cruise to name a few. The latter two are confusing to me. One of my great hurdles is to memorize lyrics and text of any kind. How singers and actors do this is a trick I'd love to know! Obviously, this is not one of the hurdles that these famous dyslexic people suffer.
Albert Einstein? Clearly he didn't suffer as I do with numbers. For me, mathematics on any level, counting money, reading numbers in the correct order, dialing telephones, or telling time are just a few of my daily dyslexic struggles.
Perceiving a timeline is equally as difficult. Take getting to an airport for instance: I need time to pack, time to shower, time to get dressed, time to drive to the airport, and time there for check-in. That's five time issues! I can't leave the organizing to someone else, so some interesting and complex anxiety levels can be reached. I'm ever thankful for the occasional delays suffered by airline companies!
I often wonder how I made it through life at all. I believe both luck and incredible blessings have been part of my success as a dyslexic person. Today I have two careers, Medical X-ray and Ultrasound Technology, and I'm working towards a third in the screenwriting realm. I have co-authored and published a children's book of epic poetry (which took ME three months to memorize, and don't ask me to spout it off right now. I can't!).
I have written and had published two full-length Science Fiction novels. Unfortunately, I lost my publishers to economic strife, thus the recent screenwriting which I LOVE. I have traveled and worked internationally. (I spent 5 years in Saudi Arabia, 1990-1995). Relationships have not been so easy. Remember that dyslexia and low self-esteem dance intimately together. As I recovered from one, I recovered from the other. Ten years of therapy also helped a great deal!
One can ask, how can someone who can't differentiate between left and right achieve such heights? First, I've worked at it every day since my diagnosis at the age of twenty-four. Also, I learned that I possess all three "Gifts of a Dyslexic," Intelligence, Intuition and Creativity. It has been these three gifts that have propelled me through life. That, and a bit of luck.
I was in Grade 7 when one of my sisters became a Medical X-ray Technologist. I was fascinated and knew immediately that I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I had no idea how; I just had this insatiable desire to have RT (Registered Technologist) tagged on to my name.
What I really wanted was to be a scientist, preferably a physicist or astronomer, but these were totally out of the question. I still can't divide more than one number and although much improved lately, the success of addition is still based on how many times I can go through my fingers. A calculator doesn't help much. The numbers in my head somehow flip on their journey to the ends of my fingers. In school, I achieved only a Grade 11 Business Math, and that only because I was gifted with a 51% mark, compliments of my frustrated teacher who wasn't allowed to fail me.
This meant taking a post-secondary, pre-technology math course at a college. My first two exams rendered me 0%. My wonderful teacher was baffled. He could see that I was trying very hard, but I'd reverse a number or two, and bingo, zero! He made me check everything twice and thrice, and I got a pass. Luck again. The course was either pass or fail, so it looked just fine on my resume.
With two languages (French being my first) also on my resume, I was accepted into the Medical X-Ray course which included a 3-month Lab Aid program. This was in the 70s, the good old days when one wasn't worked to death, and I was allotted plenty of time to study. Being socially about as adept as a rock, I used the time wisely.
The most puzzling aspect of this course was that all the "smart" students couldn't seem to understand the concept of radiation, or visualize the structure of an atom, or understand spatial dynamics. As a dyslexic, I had no problem. Those simply appear in my head in 3-D, along with bones, muscles and organs.
As for the four physics formulas, forget it! Here is where the others could understand mathematically while I was drawing a blank. To my great relief, these formulas were not that important. By studying three times harder than the others, I managed to pass with an 83% average.
In Lab Aid, students had trouble drawing blood while I could palpate a vein, visualize it, and rarely miss. My first job, two years in small rural town, was relatively easy. I didn't learn until years later that it took them five years to repair the damage I had done to their filing system! It was just after that job that someone suggested I should be tested for dyslexia. I'd never heard the word, but something clicked.
Meanwhile, I married and learned about low self-esteem, an inevitable side effect of being dyslexic, especially if undiagnosed.
It was during my first marriage (I was 24) that I was diagnosed. There was very little help at the time, but the few pointers I received from a gracious university student, along with the words, "You're not stupid, you're dyslexic," changed my life. My husband became instrumental in helping me see my patterns, especially with phone numbers and supposedly simple things like counting money and balancing my bank statement. I'm ever grateful for modern Internet banking. I can see my balance daily if I choose, and this lowers my anxiety levels quite a bit! Fortunately, my father had ingrained in me never to owe money. With "stupidity" such as mine, I always made sure I had extra cash in my account in case I screwed up, which back then, was pretty much every month. Due to this fear, I've always lived frugally so mistakes could, and were, absorbed by my cash buffer. (Benefit? I'm one of the few North Americans without debt).
After learning I was dyslexic, I took on a few challenges that I had previously avoided. One was a typing course where I learned the true nature of my dyslexia. I was shocked at how often I would transpose letters from one word to another, for example, "Th sune is sinhing." This was happening almost every word per line, and actually, still does. Copying from a text for practice made seeing and correcting my mistakes immediate. I still make many mistakes, but my visual and mental association now correct words as I go. (Thank God for the backspace key, which I just used three times in this parenthesis alone….okay, four!).
It's been only a few years since I've stopped experiencing anxiety attacks every time I type a number. With today's world full of numbers, I have daily opportunities to get it right! I've found I often make fewer mistakes than my peers simply because of the concentration and awareness I exhibit with almost everything I do.
Driving was a bit of a trick. Accurately reading road signs, which I didn't clearly understand in the first place, and gauging distances, were a problem. As a result, I caused three accidents (no deaths!) before moving to Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive. At that point, I happily let that pesky driver's license lapse. This was the best "mistake" I ever made. Upon my return to Canada, I had to re-test for a driver's license, using a standard transmission, no less. This experience gave me a whole new understanding of the road, and I have since been accident free. Note: I had no idea the yellow line had any meaning. Gee, nice color!
I often look back and marvel at my luck, or better, my blessings earlier in life. If it wasn't for X-ray (and how many people consider that as a career?) what could I have done? I couldn't be a secretary because, first off, computers and spell-check didn't exist until the 90s, and my studies were in the 70s and 80s. I couldn't dial a phone, especially the rotary dial. (Touchtone is better; the sounds and patterns help). I couldn't count money at all, so jobs like waitressing, being a store clerk, or even working at McDonalds were out of the question at the time. I probably would have ended up pushing a broom somewhere, not a bad option for one prone to daydreaming.
Ultrasound was again sheer luck. The idea was brought to my attention via a friend in career counseling. I had no desire to work in those dark rooms, having observed it during my X-ray years, but to appease my friend, I decided to apply. There were 160 applicants with 6 positions available. By this time, I had learned something about social behavior, and, to my complete amazement, I was often labeled "intelligent."
Three rounds of interviews later, the last in front of three different panels of radiologists, I was accepted. I was in shock, actually. As I thought about it, I realized I was still using the motto I'd found scribbled on the inside of a Grade 7 textbook: "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit." I didn't really expect it to work yet again, but it was another great lesson in what I could achieve. In retrospect, it's obvious that several professionals saw the brilliance that was oblivious to me.
Emotionally I floundered that year and my marriage ended. Academically, I soared. Ultrasound was again three dimensional, especially with its physics on a visual, rather than mathematical, level. I still marvel at this particular blessing. I would seriously fail both these courses today as they have made the physics very complex in the formula department. The visuals are still easy.
With a stable career, I pursued my wanderlust by taking a job in Saudi Arabia just prior to the First Gulf War! Those five years are a story unto themselves, so I'll stick to my progress as a dyslexic. One of the reasons I went to Saudi was to buy a computer, not very affordable on my wages in the late 1980s, especially if one wanted to travel as well. Saudi fulfilled both these needs.
My first computer was a pre-286 IBM (an 8086 for historians). It was so slow that it gave me plenty of time to clearly see my mistakes and learn from them. As I've said, I still make plenty of mistakes, but a new awareness/correction mentality coupled with spell check and a copious use of auto-correct, allows me to be nearly error-free in my final copy.
This work goes on constantly for me, often by the minute. Unless, for example, I'm watching TV or staring at a sunset, I'm overcoming dyslexia. Take courage in the fact that, as I write, I've corrected nearly every word in this document!
Once in Saudi, I immediately began to follow my foremost dream of writing a Science Fiction Romance novel. We dyslexics can be very prolific. My first draft was 230,000 words, or 720 single-space pages! This was before the Internet, so when I started sending drafts back to North American publishers, I was horrified to repeatedly hear, "Thanks, but no thanks, and by the way, we don't accept anything over 100,000 words from first-time authors." And so, after 17 full edits, sadly without grammar check, I was finally down to 130,000 words, something a publisher was willing to look at.
Unfortunately, there was no Kindergarten where I lived, but I can tell you that this first full-length writing experience was like taking my entire twelve years of school over again. I discovered through trial and error things I had missed as a dyslexic. I learned how sentences form. I learned just by writing what a clause meant, how paragraphs should be structured and what adverbs and adjectives were…and then I used them profusely! The wonder was that grammar had never made sense to me, and now the words were teaching me.
An on-line thesaurus and the likes of Wikipedia, continue to save me literally hundreds of hours. Being dyslexic makes me very inefficient with a dictionary so a click or two is like magic. The limited vocabulary I'd been so embarrassed about began to flourish. I also continue to write dozens of words and their meanings in a scribbler, which I regularly review, in order to use the tool of hand writing, effective for me, to further imprint this new knowledge in my head.
I began to understand how and why words are spelled the way they are. This was also aided by my medical background, a moderate knowledge of French and a smattering of Latin, compliments of my Catholic roots. I now understand the complexity of this often strange language, but I also condone my "New Language" friends who promote the idea that spelling needs to change, if not for the sake of ourselves, at least for the sake of all those not privy to extensive and often expensive education designed to uphold the privileged few. Simplified spelling would not only help dyslexics, but others with learning disabilities.
"We shud awl, blak, whyt, or wred, be abl to reed and rite, with eez, the langwije that now prezidz over the internashinal bizness wuld." Theo Halliday
A note to parents and teachers: Please do not give up. Do not judge or pressure a dyslexic child to achieve the same level of cognizance as the "normal group." If you can, give us space. We are not normal, and this is our blessing. We will achieve. Given just a little encouragement and the recovery tools available today, we will flourish beyond your hopes. It may not happen quickly, but it will happen.
To the students: (Note: it just took me four tries to get to with a capital, correct) To the student: if you are dyslexic, don't worry about high marks in school. Just get that diploma in your hands, no matter what it takes. You can achieve little in life without a piece of paper that says you have achieved, or can do something concrete.
Take heart in the fact that I was about 38 years old when I actually caught up to my "expected literary level." Yes, I was "lucky." And yes, I've had many blessings. Take a good look. I'll bet you're no less fortunate than myself.
Much courage to you, my friends,
© Revised 2012, Alice Taylor Used by permission
When Alice sent me her work, she didn't tell me she was dealing with dyslexia. When I finally learned that part of her story, I was inspired by her determination to write in spite of the difficulties. Since she wrote this story of her journey, she has begun to use a computer that recognizes voice. Now there's a blessing!
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