Not a Dys-Ability

I need to rant a little here today…3f4b7446e642eecc10735b7cf43fbae8

As you know I have been doing a lot of thinking, writing and reading on the subject of Dyslexia lately. A list has been made on twitter , News alerts on google, sites bookmarked and I am starting to think about getting re-diagnosed.

All this to say STOP thinking of Dyslexia as a disability. Just cut it out. It is no more a handicap than being left handed makes you the puppet of the devil or redheads turn into vampires when they die. In this culture where being sick is equal to being special, please stop counting Dyslexia among your lazy Susan of options to feel sorry. If I read one more “The Warning Signs” dun dun dun… headline I am going to scream!

Yes, we learn differently. News flash .. everyone learns differently from each other. We are not robots that can all easily fit into the industrialized education system we have made for ourselves. Not all of us fit so nicely in the warehouse model of “school”. It is not the job of “Education” to be a place to stash your kids while you go to work, make the lives of teachers and administrators easy, fit into silent rows of desks or for the love of Peter, expect good results on tests that measure NOTHING.

5009895781_6129f801b0_bCome on people, asking an 8 year of any stripe to sit quietly and still for 8 hours is the real issue here. Those that think this is a good idea are the disabled ones.. How stupid and out of touch with reality do you have to be? I mean really?

Why is it expected for us to conform to your system? We are 1 in 5.. And that is not including all the other learning styles out there.. When did the institution, School, become the god we have to all bow to? Where is the populist revolution I keep hearing about?

Across the street from my apartment is a Success Academy, I here the children chanting daily “Good Morning Miss …, A, B, C,..” and so on, in unison, all neatly lined up in a row against the wall in their uniforms. It makes my skin crawl.. It’s good to teach children to conform and submit to authority early right? Lesson learned at the Success Academy.

There is a huge and widening gap between school and education. Our society is suffering for it. The evidence is in our election choices and the rise of things like racism and isolationism.

Singling out the Dyslexics, spectrum, ADHD, behavioral issued and underserved as the excuse for a broken, ill conceived system is a losing proposition. It’s not the kids or the learning styles that’s the problem.

Further reading: The Dyslexic Advantage, Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. by Brock L. Eide M.D. M.A.  Fernette F. Eide M.D. (@drseide)

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To my true mind all of the sounds of the alphabet are arbitrarily assigned symbols that represent those sounds. It’s the arbitrary part that always caused me the most trouble. Someone, somewhere in the 1st millennium BCE – likely an old, mean monk – decided the sound “pah” should look like “P” combining at least three different alphabets. Everyone acquiesced and then POOF several thousand years later I am just supposed to agree? (I can hear an english teacher I had in the 8th grade shaking her head and say, ”dear, dear, Aryn, why do make it so hard?”…)

2015-03-05-04-54-34-pmIn a way Dyslexics are natural born linguistic philosophers. No part of letters or numbers is taken for granted. It is only through conscious repetition that sound and symbol eventually get married. Now, you are saying to yourself, isn’t that true for all kids? Yes, to a degree. The difference is that there is always a lingering skepticism. There is always some air between sound, meaning and symbol. This makes reading forever slow.

“The large brown cow grazes in the green meadow.” You skim, “Lg Brwn Cow Grazes Grn Meadow”. I read “The   large   brown   cow   grazes   in   the   green   meadow”. You will forget that sentence by breakfast tomorrow. I will forever have an impression of Ferdinand with a flower behind his ear grazing in the tall green grasses outside of Madrid not remembering where I read such a lovely sentence but glad nonetheless.

Teachers are the saviors for us Dyslexics. (They can also be our biggest hurdles.. I have heard some pretty terrible stories) Good, well trained, patient, loving teachers are what make the difference. I had three that I can remember clear as day. I’m even friends on Facebook with one of them – shout to you MM! There were others, like my Chemistry teacher in the 10th grade who seeing that I was smart, but totally ill equipped for science, and wanting me to at least learn something in his class, let me write a 20 page paper on the Armenian Genocide just to pass – Thank you Mr. A. (He is Armenian and was lobbying in his off hours to have the genocide recognized officially by the UN)

There were also the countless hours with parents and guardians hovering and helping. My step mother would take dictation and type my papers for me. Into the wee hours of the night my mother would all but write my papers for me. Uncle M. would help me with geometry and my poor dad would try and muster the patience to explain multiplication again for the tenth time – 7s still give me trouble. It always confounded him that I could grasp scale, but multiplying 9×7 was torture. All this and the tutors, it truly takes a village.

My stepmother tells this story, she challenged the then headmaster of The Calhoun School to stay true to her word, that they wanted children of all learning styles. It’s right there in the mission statement still, “At Calhoun, teaching and learning begin with the strengths, needs, questions and diverse life experiences of the individual student.” I can promise you telling my stepmom “no” is not easy. So, that is where I went for eight years. Thank goodness I did. Progressive education saved me.

Most class curriculums, including most progressive formats, are based on the concept that you build up on the lessons before it. This is done linearly. The essential assumption in that concept is that the students must commit the lessons to memory and be fluid with the information. Often we do not get fluid and some simply can’t memorize any more than they could turn themselves purple. Imagine trying to do Algebra when you are still counting on your fingers.

Things like Math and Science are taught with a heavy amount of rote memorization and “it’s true because it is so”. We have already established that, for me, that argument is fruitless. I have always wondered how much easier and fun it would be, not just for the Dyslexics in the room, but all the kids, if curriculums were turned upside down and inside out. Teach the concept, the reasons, the stories and then the facts and figures. Use the numbers and signatures to illustrate the content. This way you would have a population that at least understood the basic principles of physics, even if they cannot do the problems. It should be noted here that 1 in 5 Americans are Dyslexic. Progressive could take on a new gravitas and not just be code for small classes and hands on projects.

I have mentioned this over the years to a number of teacher friends and heard all the lazy reasons why it won’t work. I can tell you that A Brief History of Time and The Tao of Physics are among my favorite books. Smart is not the issue. Different is not lesser. Once culture truly absorbs that, then anything could be possible.

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#Dyslexia #DyslexiaAwarenessMonth #Adulting #Education #LearningDisabled #Neurodiversity

Diagnosis:

10433075_10152527244942049_7538247378482333601_nIt was 1980. I was just turning 8 years old. I could not read, write or do any arithmetic. No, I was not an orphan or growing up in the developing world … It was the Upper West Side of NYC and my parents are creative entertainment professionals – we had a nice middle class life.

My Montessori school teachers, sweet as they were, missed all the cues and I was very creative in my answers. Fooling them was easy. I would even sit in the “Reading Area” for the free periods and mimic all the other kids reading. I was not reading. I was looking at the pictures and gleaning the stories from the adventurous illustrations of Dick and Jane. Lucky for me there weren’t any math quizzes.

Enter 3rd grade.

This meant a new school and books without pictures. I was screwed.

There was a test called the ERB which was the key to a shiny new school, but the test was opaque. There were no pictures, just a mess of black symbols and a pretty pink slip with lots of bubbles on it. We were instructed to fill in the bubbles with our new #2 pencils. The prompter read some of the questions aloud. “Ms. Chapman please stand up. How do you spell People?” I was stunned. Everyone was looking at me. My palms went clammy. What should I say? .. the truth.. “Miss, I don’t know enough people to be able to spell them for you” and I sat down quickly feeling proud of myself until I saw her frowning face. That was not the answer. She thought I was being obstreperous. What she did not know is, I genuinely did not understand her question, I thought she wanted me to explain people to her. It was such a fancy test after all.

The real truth is I could not have spelled out the letters P-E-O-P-L-E with a gun to my head. I had only just learned to spell “Friday” and was still pretty pumped about it. Why couldn’t she have asked me about that?

My new school was torture. I did not understand the other kids and they did not understand me. My classes were opaque, confusing and frustrating. I kept hearing about my potential, intelligence, verbal skills and precociousness .. but I was failing badly. The adults faces would always go grey and sour when talking about my school performance.. I knew something was wrong. I knew something was wrong with me.

What came next was a wash of testing. My memory of this is like a photo montage in a movie.. There were hearing tests, vision tests, physicals, neurological tests and IQ tests with blocks. My parents did not inform me what all the fuss was about, so I went through thinking that maybe all kids got to do this. You know what?  I am not “retarded” or as we would say in today’s terms “On the spectrum”

A brand new diagnosis had emerged in mainstream called Dyslexia.

Here is the official definition:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

The short of it: trouble reading, writing and learning math. Other symptoms include having no sense of direction or time and trouble learning a foreign language. The upside? Creative out of the box thinking.

I often joke that English is not my first language, Dyslexia is, so learning a third like French, chemistry or math is really too much to ask.

Anyway, since it was so new, getting help was not easy or cheap. I was promptly asked to re-do third grade. A huge blow to my confidence and in my mind rendering anyone who ever commented on how smart I was as a liar and moron. What good was being smart? A cascade of tutors and therapists followed. I think at one time I had tutoring three times and therapy once a week. One of my tutors was in this really bad part of town (Chelsea in 1981 was not pretty) and her house smelled like cats.. Another would act books out with me using Smurfs, that if I completed my reading, I would get to keep. (Remind me to tell you the Othello story) I hated going to them, but without them and their infinite patience I would never had made it through school or found my way into Milan Kundera’s beautiful novels.

Eventually I got the hang of it and went on to Bennington College and The American University in Paris. Turns out doing school is building a series of habits, like everything else. Reading is still slow, math is for calculators and my fabulous book keeper.. writing requires drafts and thank god for Siri for everything else.

The biggest advantages Dyslexia gives you are profound coping mechanisms and solutions for everything in daily life. My son said to me the other day, “Mom, you are really good at this adult stuff.” I credit my Dyslexia, at least in part, for that and I am grateful.
#Dyslexia #DyslexiaAwarenessMonth #BenningtonCollege #Adulting #Education #LearningDisabled #Neurodiversity