I am about to articulate my personal experience living with a condition nestled under the umbrella of dyslexia. While I lack a formal psychological confirmation of dyslexia (or Legasthenia, as it was antiquatedly referred to), it’s far from challenging to recognise my unique characteristics and differences. To begin with, what is dyslexia?
“Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects the ability to read or comprehend the written word, while sensory and general capabilities remain intact. It is a disorder of reading and writing skills, often with a tendency to interchange or overlook letters or words during reading or writing. A person with dyslexia solves problems differently from others, as they think with the right hemisphere of the brain.”Wikipedia.
In layman’s terms, dyslexia is often associated with an individual’s inability to distinguish between letters. It is connected with someone facing hurdles while reading. It’s linked with instances where an individual confuses letters during writing – this can extend to numbers too (dyscalculia). Personally, I’ve noticed none of these typical traits in myself. Dyslexia is far more encompassing than just these standard deficiencies. It includes traits such as omission of letters, improper word usage, sentence formation in an incorrect sequence, utilisation of a noun in the nominative case (instead of the appropriate case), usage of a verb in the infinitive (instead of the appropriate verbal form), and difficulties in recalling the right word… I see a stark reflection of myself in these latter “characteristics”. All the enumerated traits, and many more, are consequent to a unique/different functioning of the brain.
And so, here is my tale. Even before I turned four, I had mastered the art of reading, albeit in a somewhat robotic manner. I was always partial to drawing, writing, concocting creatures, and weaving tales. From a tender age, I was acquainted with the notion of being different, although ‘being eccentric’ might be a more accurate descriptor of my self-perception during my childhood years. This feeling was triggered early on by the prophetic words of a speech therapist, who asserted that “I would never complete primary school” (due to a speech impediment in my youth), but perhaps I’ll delve deeper into that story at another time. What I aim to convey is that I grew accustomed to wearing the label of ‘imperfection’.
As I stepped into the realm of primary school, I was introduced to dictations, essays, and compositions. When teachers turned their red pens on my work, it was invariably peppered with corrections: missing letters, missing words, incorrect word order, and the use of archaic language. A ceaseless sea of red. How many red pens were sacrificed in the course of correcting my work? 🙂
Dyslexia remained a shrouded mystery, undetected by all. My mother dutifully attended every parent-teacher meeting, frequently receiving feedback that I was rushing, lacking focus, or merely being careless – or, to be more blunt, that I was simply ‘lazy and scatterbrained’, since I did not take the time to identify and rectify all my mistakes. You know how it is when you read your own work – it all seems logical and understandable. Yet, my mother refused to accept the notion that I was merely a ‘scatterbrained’ child. Instead, she invested her efforts in me and never gave up. I still have vivid memories of having to write narrative essays titled ‘What I Experienced During the Holidays’ every vacation. My mother would then correct these essays. As holidays rolled around, I already knew what I would be writing on the last Saturday of the week, be it summer, autumn, New Year’s, winter, or May Day holidays. Over and over again, almost until the end of primary school.
In my third year of school, a window of opportunity arose, affording me the chance to polish my grades in Slovenian language (my grades for the remaining subjects were already impeccable). Each time you narrated or read out a book for the reading badge, you were allowed to proceed with your reading spree. Every time you successfully accomplished the feat of reading and narrating five books, the teacher would adorn your report card with the highest grade. Quite an excellent motivational tool to encourage reading, wouldn’t you agree? I narrated exactly 75 books – not an exaggeration by any stretch of imagination. The count of books is etched indelibly in my memory. The teacher was compelled to draft a new report card exclusively for me. She even had to allocate a special space to accommodate the sea of top grades I had earned. Doing some quick math, I was the proud recipient of a whopping 15 top grades. It was not a Herculean task for me as I was rather fond of reading – and faced no hiccups with it. Up until the final school day, my teacher was caught in a predicament – whether to conclude my grade as 4 or 5. Up until the very last day. On the ultimate day (24th of June), I discovered that my Slovenian language grade was finalized as 4. The effort and fervour of a student had not been recognized – shortcomings tipped the scale. I was nevertheless exceptional, but my interest in fiction books seemed to wane a tad.
As I climbed higher up the academic ladder, my shortcomings softened, yet problems persisted with Slovenian language. Imaginative essays during holidays also stayed on. My mother would make it a point to meet my Slovenian language teachers who simply opined that I couldn’t be more than excellent and talented. Given the fact that from the fifth grade all the way to the last (eighth) grade, I always had all subjects concluded with the top grade, my disorder was overlooked. But my mother was fully aware of it, she was persistent, she encouraged me and selflessly assisted me. I know there were numerous times when I found it challenging. I remember shedding tears more than once – because I had to “again” write essays. Her persistence bore fruit – my shortcomings were mitigated to an extent where I started to enjoy jotting down my thoughts.
High school ushered in a change – essays replaced compositions. I was always anxious before each essay. The anxiety intensified when I received my graded essays back. Once again, marked in red were old (already known) mistakes: missing words, incorrect use of case, inappropriate word order, improper use of a word. Nothing new. I was perceived as a diligent, conscientious, and creative student. Of course, there were teachers who stumbled over my expression – but what’s most important, Slovenian language teacher Marina Knific (now retired) accepted me for who I was. In the fourth grade, I was the only one in my class to conclude Slovenian language with a top grade. A dyslexic, who was listened to. Although she never explicitly stated that she noticed my disorder, her positive and constructive comments alongside my grade encouraged me to refine and perfect myself – for which I am eternally grateful. I also lost my fear of expression and performance, as I often prepared, presented, recorded a video, or somehow made the Slovenian language class more interesting.
One day, when I had already embarked on my journey as a student, a relative was diagnosed with dyslexia (also known as specific reading disability). This sparked my curiosity. I dived into the academic literature and found answers for my “mistakes”. I understood the origin. When I decided to become a teacher, I consciously committed to aiding students who were treading a similar path. If no one else would, I was determined to lend them an ear, provide guidance, and help them unleash their potential.
I am acutely aware that my writing is not perfect, but this is who I am. I am cognizant that this piece may not be grammatically impeccable, but this is my writing style. An expert would, in a glance, discern the dyslexic characteristics. Our imperfections render us fascinating. They fuel our motivation to persist, evolve, and understand ourselves and others. I acknowledge my errors and I continuously strive to hone and refine my skills.
Indeed, I still encounter people who snigger at my writings behind my back. God bless them if it amuses them. It’s unfortunate, however, that they choose to see only the errors in the text and deliberately ignore the essence of the content. Are they really that superficial? Are they truly that unprofessional?
Life is no fairy tale. Every fairy tale is punctuated with the presence of malevolent and detested creatures. It’s just the way it is. But in my fairy tale, there are also creatures who assist me, accept me, and understand me. Foremost among them are my kin – particularly my parents, to whom I am eternally grateful for accepting me as I am, for supporting me, and for believing in me – all the way through my doctoral studies and beyond.
It’s always easiest to see imperfections. It’s always easiest to spot mistakes. How many parents take the time for their child? How many parents genuinely listen to their child? How many parents are prepared to persist, encourage, and work along with their child? I know the answer. Not many. It’s a sad truth. But my parents were and continue to be different – persistent, understanding, and positively inclined. That’s why I’m here – at this juncture. I relish my profession and continue to evolve. Hence, I write with delight – even though, in the opinion of the self-proclaimed superiors, my writings may appear strange.
Numerous times dyslexia has posed limitations for me. Numerous times I still feel a sting when someone points out my mistakes. That’s just how it is. I have to live with it. But I am unwavering in my belief that we need to accept everyone. Hence, I accept each and every student and wish to assist them. So that they may feel accepted. So that they can refine themselves. So that they can capitalize on their potential. So that they can forget about their “mistakes”. So that they can notice and rejoice in their strong personality dimensions.
It’s always easiest to mock those who are different. Don’t be like the others. If we could accept and assist each other, the world would be different. We must start here and now. All different, all equal.