Recent advances into dyslexia have made it easier for educators to identify dyslexia earlier and provide more intensive support early on. Us children who were born before the days of early intervention are left wondering what it would mean if we were given the label.
I was never diagnosed with dyslexia. I didn’t even know what dyslexia was until I read about it in college. Reading about the symptoms made my early learning problems that I mostly blacked out from my memory come pouring back to me. Like confusing b’s, d’s, and p’s up until middle school. And writing letters upside down and backwards. I remember going to see a special teacher a couple times when I was young, getting extra help learning letters. Flashcards. But mostly I remember being in class with everyone else, feeling behind.
One of my first memories of true panic was when the teacher asked us to partner up for a learning game on the order of the months and days of the week. February, Sunday, December, January, Wednesday, September. They all melted into one another, a glob of -uaries, -days, and -embers. For me, decoding their order was like learning morse code. A secret language everyone else in the class was in on.
My slowness made me the subject of the “get rid of it” game–that game where a cool kid accidentally brushes up against an untouchable kid and has to “get rid of it” by tapping another acceptable kid, passing off the untouchableness to another person worthy of touching.
So I became an expert at pneumonic devices. I created a personality for every letter, month, and day I couldn’t remember. “J” is risky– it decides to stand on it’s curve, even though it might fall over. “E” is forward thinking, it’s always pointing towards what’s next. “p” is low-key while “b” is uptight. Tuesday is taunted by not being first. Sunday is the sun setting on the week. Personifying letters and sounds is how I learned how to write.
Part of me wishes I had been diagnosed. Maybe if I had felt like it wasn’t just me, that I was actually part of a class of people who learn differently, I wouldn’t have felt so subordinate. Maybe if I wasn’t made to feel so stupid it wouldn’t have taken me so long to work up my self-esteem.
At the same time, I’m glad I never felt quintessentially different than my peers, that I always felt like I could be as good as them by working harder and focusing more. Being slow when I was young was the most powerful motivation I had to be better than the kids who played “get rid of it.” By high school I was in mostly honors and AP classes, graduating in the top 10% of my class. I worry that if I was told I had this learning disability I would have treated it as an excuse.
I like that “it”, whatever it is, has always been just another part of me. Luckily the parts of it that still are a part of me are easy to deal with. There are little things, like I have never been able to tell my left from my right. I don’t use the make an L with your fingers trick because that requires movement and always reminds me of “Loser.” Instead, I identified a dark freckle at the top of the middle finger on my right hand. Centered. Being centered is right. Central freckle means right. An easy cue to glance down on when I’m driving.
Spelling is also still an issue, but I was lucky enough to be born when spell check exists. Since I’ve found audiobooks I’ve been able to consume literature much faster. The only other issue I have is transcribing the spelling of a name or the order of a phone number when I’m talking to someone on the phone. Before asking them to recite, I tell them I need to grab a pen even though the pen is in my hand. This gives me as much time as I need to get myself into the zen state of mind required to fully concentrate on transcribing the symbols they have for me.
If I had been in 2nd grade in 2013 instead of 1996, maybe I would have carried the label of dyslexia with me my entire life. Maybe I would have been more self-confident because of it. But it was no disaster not having that label and not being closely monitored. It’s the kind of learning difference that is highly self-adaptable.
I actually really treasure that part of me, and that it was never pulled apart from me and put in a category.