Those who have dyslexia struggle. It is difficult for them to pronounce, encode and decode language. This is poignantly felt in a society organized by written words; however, dyslexics often show resilience, creativity and imagination when facing this challenge. In talking with these individuals I noticed a common narrative thread: struggle shows us who we are and is often the prologue to great failure or success.
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Madalyne Marie Hymas
For Madalyne Marie Hymas dyslexia is a loaded word. She can’t stand when people call it a disability. It is so much more than that, “There’s so much people don’t know about being dyslexic... (It also) has inherent advantages.”
Hymas is a graphic designer and has used her work to address these issues. You can see her work on her site at madalyne.com/THE-DYSLEXIC-ADVANTAGE
It’s silent. You could hear a pin drop. “Okay go.” Dawson picks up the brightly colored cube, turns it over and around a few times. Squares of blue, green, yellow, red, orange and white stare back at him. His slim 14-year-old shoulders sigh and then slowly he spins the squares. The sound of plastic sliding though puzzle grooves fills the air. His hands quicken. His fingers spin colors. Then he sets the Rubik's cube down, perfectly separated and organized into colors. One minute and four seconds. He gets this. He’s good at it.
But it doesn’t come easy. At 14, Dawson has to work hard in school. His reading and writing are painfully slow, his math tutors have to tailor his lessons to his learning style or he just doesn’t get it. He usually knows the answer in his math classes but can’t tell you how he got it. Yearly tests show him well below average for his age, but he tests high on his IQ. Dawson is dyslexic.
Tubarus Chisholm was told he was retarded. But this wasn’t true, he was dyslexic and no one really knew what that meant. He was told he would most likely not graduate. Despite this he graduated college and then went on to get a Masters of Science in Counseling Psychology; Clinical Mental Health. He is now working towards opening his own practice. He believes his dyslexia gives him great empathy, which is an invaluable skill for a therapist.
Shannon and Carter Duncan
Mrs. Duncan knew her daughter, Carter, was unhappy at school. In third grade she paid $2,500.00, to have her daughter privately tested for a learning disability. Carter was dyslexic. After doing their homework, the Duncans learned that through process called remediation, most dyslexics could be caught up to grade level reading and writing. Remediation teaches reading and writing through sound-based phonics. Mrs. Duncan took this information to the school on what she thought was a “silver platter.” But after several meetings the school said that Carter did not qualify for remediation. Pictured above is a letter that Mrs. and Mr. Duncan wrote to the Fairfax County School Board. Carter was still denied services. Mrs. Duncan now tutors her own daughter with the Barton reading method; waking up at 4:30 every morning to get it done. After a year and a half of remediation, Carter has improved three reading grades and is doing great.
Rainey Scott’s pink feather earrings match her perky pink shoes and that’s on purpose. She notices things like that. Rainy has known she’s dyslexic for a long time. Her parents both struggled in school but were never officially diagnosed with dyslexia. She has been getting tutored in the Orton-Gillingham system for three years. It’s not always easy; she has her good and bad days. But this year, for the first time, she picked up a book because she wanted to. She’s now read several of the Scoop Doogan Mysteries Series.
At 15 Calvin Rizek has already has mastered his game face. He is not someone who will give up. He knows how to just keep going. His dyslexia has taught him this. There are no shortcuts in dyslexia. Surviving in school means hours of extra work, it takes perseverance. “I get things wrong and the feeling really sucks and you feel like you can’t do anything about it.” But he learned to just keep at it, “just by working through it…and not giving up.” He actually gets better grades than some of his friends. “I try harder and don’t slack off.” He can learn just like everyone else, it just takes him more time.
This trait translates well in other areas of life. Calvin is on Fairfax Crew Team. “You can’t give up on yourself or your boat when you’re rowing.” He knows it will be hard, but he also knows hard work pays off. He and his team won first place in the Regatta last season.
Nick Clemente is a graduate student at George Mason University, getting his masters in Social Entrepreneurship. He has dreams of working in microfinance and one day maybe even being president. But it’s taken him a lot of work to get here. Clemente is also dyslexic and it wasn’t until he learned about self-fulfilling prophecies that he found within himself what it takes to succeed.
At 55, Linda Hooks is just now learning to read. Her brows are knit in concentration as she mouths out the sounds, “wh-a-ck, wh-a-ck, whack.”
Hooks dropped out of school in seventh grade. No one really knew she couldn’t read. “Whether I read or not it really didn’t matter.” She would get a few friends to help her out when she needed it, but not very many people ever found out. Years later well in recovery from drug abuse Hooks was tested for dyslexia. It was the first time she learned she was teachable; that she actually could learn to read.
Linda now takes classes at the Washington Literacy Center, in Northwest D.C. “She's got such determination,” her instructor Robin Barr says. Slowly and surely Linda Hooks is learning to read. She already made improvements and now has a Facebook account she checks on her lunch break. “Come back in eleven months,” Hooks says “and I’ll be reading.”
Squeals echo off the concrete. A small robot moves forward, backwards and then spins around. It’s powered by an 18 year old and his electric smile. Jack Rizek shows of his Vex Robot that won him second place at the Fairfax High School Science Fair. It was a battle of autonomous vs. human control.
He uses logic, math and problem solving skills to build his robots. All skills commonly attributed with dyslexia. He also uses these skills when he reads, a common dyslexic weakness. He says that on average he misreads every 5th word. To compensate he uses logic and problem solving skills to understand the text.
Jack is accepted and plans to attend the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. His advice for other dyslexics, “You’re not alone, if you make a mistake learn from it. Also don’t let people get to you for being a slow reader or being pulled out, because you are probably better at something else, even if you haven't figured it out yet.”
In November of 2013, Cayden Stump found out he was dyslexic, at 14. He had gotten through school mostly with sheer memorization. “I have to read and write and spell every day,” he said “so it’s hard for me every day.” But the hardest part is when people pick on him. “Being dyslexic hurts…I want non-dyslexics to see it’s okay to be different and for them to treat me like a regular person.” Cayden’s mom now tutors him in the Barton Reading method and he is doing much better.
Cayden loves the computer game Minecraft and he’s good at it. It’s described on Minecraft's website as “ A game about breaking and placing blocks. At first, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew players worked together to create wonderful, imaginative things.” Cayden describes it like a sandbox. This fits right in with the theories that Dyslexics are known for being good at three-dimensional spatial relationships.