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This year, my family is figuring out how to navigate dyslexia. For families grappling with recent diagnoses, I understand your concern.
But allow me to tell you that my dyslexia turned out to be my secret power. It has affected my life as an adult in hugely positive ways.
I know it is not easy. Our son is dyslexic.
I try not to write about my children. I fear an inevitable, creeping tinge of taking – experientially — from them. When I started writing, however, I realized I don’t have to tell his story as much as I do my own.
Although, that is not strictly correct either. His story belongs to him.
Still, family histories are informative. The information/clues available within gene pools may be stressful. We hold pearls of information in degrees ranging from uncertainty to fear – in clenched fists. We watch our children unfurl.
It serves us well to grow less afraid. We are better human beings when we grow as they do. We become less rigid, more accepting and resilient.
When he was three, his preschool teacher sat me down. She said, “There is something about the way he organizes tasks that I don’t understand.” His kindergarten and first grade teachers suggested an evaluation. He benefited from his kind and patient teachers. We owe a huge measure of who he is to their unwavering faith in his intelligence and abilities.
We sent him to a school for children with dyslexia.
I too was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child.
My focus issues were epic. I had companion sensory issues. I had trouble retaining and processing information. I felt isolated and frightened. One morning, I arrived at school to learn that there was a report on an animal we had studied for some time due. I felt shame and horror standing by a cubby, report-less. On another occasion, I was almost left in the park by my class because I did not know about a designated meeting point.
My forward-thinking parents sent me to a school to address my dyslexia. This was the late 1970’s and early intervention was far less common.
At this school, I had teachers who recognized in me things I could not yet know. A teacher I’ll never forget once called our home – before VCRs – to tell me to watch a movie set to air that afternoon. The movie was To Kill A Mockingbird and I was riveted. I would grow up to be a refugee advocate.
This same teacher brought a disassembled phone to a child in my class who could not read but who could engineer. She told him to put it back together and he did. In this classroom, gifts, rather than apparent deficits, were underscored.
I believe that dyslexic/ADHD kids grow up to be people less bound by measurable standards of perfection. As children, they understand failure viscerally – far more than they do success. In the right setting, they can have an adaptive, stellar work ethic. Their ability to learn in non-linear ways can produce new ideas. They take intellectual risks because they don’t understand a standard path of thought. Their sense of the possible can be skewed in wonderful ways. This can be wonderfully freeing. If you are not afraid of failing, you push harder with the full knowledge that failure is absolutely survivable.
Nevertheless, the thick of it is not easy.
One evening David was missing a dear friend from his old school from whom he had received the kindest letter that afternoon. He lay in bed and cried cathartic, necessary tears.
I felt wrecked. Meeting the rapid-fire needs of children is hard. Effective advocacy on behalf of one’s own child feels impossible because the love is so fierce. There is no objectivity to duck behind.
That night, I knew that we had acted in David’s interest. I also knew how sad he was. It was killing. We were right and we were sad. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “[T]he test of first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
And David, whose intelligence is absolutely first-rate, has begun to make peace with the transition. He has fallen in love with graphic novels. He will chart his course.