When I was a preschooler, my mom would read me the adventures of Lewis and Clark, the mysteries of Egyptian Pharaohs and the legends of the great Hercules. These stories drew me in, leaving me in streams of tears and grumbling complaints when my mother deemed it was time to close the books and go to bed. But storytime ceased around kindergarten when my father fell ill with cancer, forcing my mother to pick up the night shift and unwillingly abandon my sister and I in the homes of neighbors and distant relatives who didn’t know about the importance of our nighttime stories. This scattered routine continued on for years, creating a greater impact than anyone could have known at the time.
On the fourth day of fifth grade, we were placed into reading groups. I was in a mid-range level group due to my high comprehension score the year prior. As the first month of school continued on, our teacher slowly began to pull students from the room for additional reading testing. Like all of my peers, I was pulled from the room and asked to read aloud a mid-range chapter book about the Oregon Trail. No one had ever taken the time to read with me one-on-one. They would read me the beginning of a story, and then ask me how it ended after individual reading time. I would go sit in the corner of the room waiting until someone would notice me or the fact that unlike the other kids, I didn’t get it. I snuck by solely due to the predictable endings of the stories and my use of pictures for context clues. I was never able to actually read the words placed before me. They were just shapes and lines, looking like alien characters to my eyes.
It took six years of school for someone to notice I had dyslexia.
After that day, I spent 11 months in intensive after-school tutoring sessions. I would often find myself sitting in the hallway of my elementary school in a decrepit children’s chair. As the day went on, the stench of clorox disinfectant and musty carpeting intensified, infested my mind and sent my stomach into a tumble. Above me, the clock hung precariously on the wall, marking the time of my release – the end of the day. In front of me was a book with a whole variety of shapes and squiggles under the pictures. Over and over I asked myself why I was forced to sit there.
The answer was in front of me in the form of a gruesomely colored yellow BOB book, which is a type of children’s book designed to teach reading skills through the use of phonetics. You have not found true agony until you have been forced to read a BOB book, a book that emphasizes rhymes and phonetics over storylines.
It’s no wonder that even today I can’t stay sitting for more than a few seconds. For a 10-year-old kid, tutoring was pure agony. Every day, I would sit at the children’s table across from various tutors, glaring them down with the best evil eye I could muster. Those gruesomely colored yellow books would stare up at me with bolded black letters, intending to help, but only succeeding in confusing me. I hated those books with a passion, but I loved the potential that came with them. I had always wanted to know the end of those stories. The idea that one day I might be able to read about Harry Potter at Hogwarts or finally learn what happened in “Little House on the Prairie” kept me going.
Dyslexia is like a mental plague – a fog that rolls over the mind and scrambles up all of the letters and numbers you see. I found out I was dyslexic in fifth grade, and I experience the mental flipping of all of my letters – resulting in seeing entirely different words – almost every day. To put it simply, while the text might say one thing, I manage to produce something else. The world becomes quite confusing when it’s faster to read upside down than right side up.
Learning how to read unfortunately wasn’t the end-all-be-all. There’s no magic cure when it comes to a learning disability. I still am the slowest reader I know, I can’t spell to save my life and I can’t remember math equations or verb tenses. The fog continues in my mind today as a freshman in college, raging its war of confusion. At the end of the day, it all just means that I have to want it a little bit more. I need to want to hear the end of the story, to write the essay or study for the test more than everyone else. If I don’t want it, I become lost in the fog falling further and further behind.
Learning disabilities are frustrating. Sometimes, they’re downright maddening. To be viewed as inferior or unintelligent because of something inside of you completely out of your control brings a bitter feeling of helplessness. I see myself as a strong independent person, someone who served as student body president in high school and is now a Division I athlete. Most importantly, I know that I’m a hardworking student. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when I curl up inside of myself and cry over how helpless I feel.
Frustration is something that bubbles up inside of you. I can choose to be angry when things get hard, to keep a bitterness inside of me, but I know that is not the answer. For there to be understanding and awareness about learning disabilities and the challenges they pose, we have to listen. For six years, no one listened to me. Hear the little girl who says she doesn’t understand, pay attention to the boy who can’t sit still and learn how to help them, because everyone learns differently.
Marin Christensen, a freshman, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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