A brief story of how I eventually learned I was Dyslexic – and the power of songs to make sense of words.
Struggling during the Early Years
I always knew there was something different about me. I was in 5th grade and I still had problems spelling my name. In exams where I had to write if the answer was “b” or “d” I could never tell the difference.
For the longest time, I thought that I was just too dumb to learn things well. Everyone else seemed to get it, including my younger sister. But not me. My grades were not excellent, but they were not bad either. So I made it through middle school without a single adult or educator identifying why I struggled. I often felt bad, yet never hopeless. I just assumed I needed to work harder. So I did.
I realized that if I memorized some words, there would be less errors. But the challenge was – how to make sure I memorized them correctly?
Power of Songs
The most embarrassing struggle was misspelling my name. In order to get it right, I had to pay attention in a way that I was just not capable as a child. Instead, I imagined that I was a tiny person traveling through the top of the letters, jumping, sliding, and climbing each one. Naturally, I also made up a song to assist me in the journey.
Suddenly, paying attention to letters was less difficult. So I began to make up songs.
I made up songs that described how the letters flowed from one to the other and the directions they had to land. Eventually, I was able to spell well enough to be understood.
I was terrible at remembering and organizing. So I learned to use a planer to keep track of everything. At the beginning it was difficult. Mostly because the information I wrote down was difficult to read as it was difficult to write. But after enough years, I conquered that too.
My efforts paid off. My grades kept getting better and better. Once I even got a 100 on a major test. My parents were so proud they even bought me a new dress!
Learning a New Language
English was my worst subject during the very few years I studied it. The first year, I was placed in a remedial class. I never understood why if we all knew what “gato” meant, why did I have to learn “cat.” I had no songs for those words. My parents used to put pictures and words in posters around the house. But it just made no sense.
So when my family unexpectedly moved to the United States many years later, I knew what to expect: failure. After weeks of crying and hating life in general, I realized that I had no choice but to conquer this new language.
I borrowed an American Sign Language book from the school library and I taught myself as much as I could. Eventually, I even took a class in the evenings. Learning the alphabet helped me tie in the Spanish and English together letters together. Learning words as movements created links among groups and classes of words.
I still had problems, but my “foreignness” eclipsed any dyslexia-specific issues. So I did not get identified as a dyslexic. There were also several issues with being a Mexican girl in a predominantly white school (a story for another time).
Even with all the writing and reading problems, I graduated high school in the Distinguished Achievement Program. I was told I was the first person in my school district to achieve this recognition after having started in the English as a Second Language Program. The lesson I learned: lots of hard work pay off.
Off to College
Being the first person in my family to go to college made the road to get to – and stay in – college quite difficult. But this is a story about Dyslexia.
School was never easy for me. But it was always manageable. As long as I put in the hours of work, things worked out well.
Everything changed when I got to college. The classes, the material, the difficulty, the pacing – all of it was finally beyond my capacity to manage on my own. There were not enough hours in the day to get through the work. I slept about 4 hours a day. I was struggling. And for the first time, the hard work strategy was failing.
Through tears, after struggling with an English essay, I asked a friend what was wrong with me. After looking at all of my notes and my paper, she finally put a name to what she saw: Dyslexia.
I wasted no time making an appointment at my college disability services office. They could not help without the proper paperwork, so they sent me to another office on campus to get an appointment with a doctor. The school did not offer these services, unfortunately, but they gave me a referral to a neurologist. I called the neurologist, but without health insurance, the entire battery of tests and imaging was going to cost me over $10,000.
At this time, I only had a visa. I did not have my green card or citizenship. I did not qualify for any federal financial aid. Texas let me attend paying in-state tuition, and they gave me a grand total of $1,800 as financial aid for the year.
With no money for school, I could not afford the specialist’s fees. Not being a citizen or resident, I did not qualify for any help from local organizations.
I was helpless.
But I finally knew that I was not dumb – I was different. And that was priceless.
I never did get paperwork for my dyslexia. I finished my undergraduate degree Summa Cum Laude at Texas Tech. I also got an MBA. Now I am working on a PhD.