Not too long ago, Dyslexia Blogger’s John Hicks sent me this tweet:
I have to admit I was at a loss for words and advice because I am so used to thinking about what could help me and other dyslexics in PhD programs. I had never considered a child’s perspective. Given that it is Dyslexia Awareness Week, I though I would take some time to answer.
My story of how I became aware of my dyslexia is elsewhere on this site, it can provide a bit of background. But to cut to the chase, here are the most important things I would tell my younger dyslexic self, and things I think would be relevant for a kid today too:
You are NOT dumb
When I was a kid, my younger sister was (and still is) an academic star. She taught herself how to read before Kindergarten using the yellow pages (!). While she mastered reading, I was a second-grader who could not reliably spell her own name. I felt so dumb.
Our parents were great at praising hard work over good academic outcomes, but the rest of the world was not. As I continued to go to school, everyone would remind me what a brilliant sister I had. I would see my peers mastering things that were seemingly beyond my reach: like seeing the difference between “d” and “b”. I would see younger kids spell and write. I was so frustrated. I would feel stupid, dumb, and worthless. I did not like school, and I did not like learning. Yet I was not failing, so no one identified me as a dyslexic.
If I could, I would go back and explain to my younger self that what I am experiencing has a name, and that it is called dyslexia. I would be clear to explain that being dyslexic means I learn and do things differently. I would make sure to say that being dyslexic is not a phase; that no matter how many times I practice, I will still make mistakes. I would emphasize that being different does not mean that I have no value. I would point out that life is more than just being a good student with good grades.
Focus on your strengths
Beyond reassuring myself, I would also point out my strengths. I would point out how awesome it is that I created a song to help me spell my name correctly. And that figuring out I had to make recordings of important concepts and listen to them to learn, is a big accomplishment. I would tell my younger self that these creative solutions were just the beginning of all the dyslexic advantages.
I would show my younger self that dyslexia helped me learn many important skills for later in life. Dyslexia made me strong and taught me to not give up, even when facing seemingly insurmountable odds. Dyslexia made me flexible, teaching me that there are multiple ways of achieving a goal. Dyslexia made me resourceful, forcing me to hack together a series of fixes to achieve my goals.
I would make it clear that without dyslexia, I would never have learned to think of clever solutions. I would say that because dyslexia made it so difficult to learn, I learned to appreciate learning. And that once I mastered the right way of learning for me, I would love it so much that I would go all the way to a PhD.
Technology is AWESOME
And last, if I were to time travel to speak directly with my younger self, I would mention that the world of the future has amazing technology that can really help. That the future has computers with spell check, text-to-speech, and dictation software.