Learning to Learn: An Interview With a Dyslexic

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects reading. It’s very difficult to read and write with dyslexia because you’re more of a visual learner. It’s harder to take your thoughts and put them into words and sentences and vise-versa: taking those sentences, reading them, and putting them together is difficult, too.

What were your early experiences with dyslexia?

In 3rd grade, we were assigned a reading level from ‘A’ to ‘Z’. I was always in the ‘F’ range because reading was so difficult for me and while everyone else was going down the levels and getting closer to ‘Z’, I just felt very stuck in the middle of the alphabet. It was very challenging for me to get through the books [that were easy for my peers].

At around 4th grade, my dyslexia started to catch up to my math because we were starting to do more word problems. I was put into a [group] that was for people who weren’t really good at math. It was more frustrating for me because I knew how to do the math, I just couldn’t solve the word problems; I couldn’t read the word problems and put them into equations.

How did dyslexia affect you when you entered high school?

Really this year [in high school,] studying became more independent. There were more textbook readings with longer pages, bigger words, and this was a huge step-up from middle school. It was difficult because I want everything to be fair to everybody. Having a standard is very important but there’s a difference between having a standard that’s fair for everyone versus being able to accommodate other people’s needs. If you accommodate and help other people the best they can in their weak subjects, then it will be fair because everyone will be at the same point. 

That was frustrating to me because people were catching onto the concepts very quickly because they were able to really understand the material in the textbook or what the teacher was saying. For me, it just took me more time. I ended up falling behind in a couple of my classes because of that.

And school doesn’t really accommodate for everyone; it gives an advantage to a specific group of people. That’s how the majority gets so ahead but the people who don’t learn in the same way fall behind.

Exactly, it really only accommodates the majority. So the school system is unfair to the minority of the student body. They really want to focus on the majority and how the majority is the best they could be, but they don’t focus much on the minority. It doesn’t matter to the school because the minority is only a handful of kids out of the entire grade, anyways.

It was very difficult for me to understand and wrap my head around because this was happening to me on a daily basis. I had to really fight for fairness, pretty much. But I actually wasn’t fighting for anything, I was just trying to catch up to everybody.

How has it affected your sense of self?

I lost a lot of self-worth and self-confidence this year. It’s actually quite usual in kids with dyslexia because it’s very hard for us to see that it’s not our intelligence, it’s just the way we learn. So for a lot of people with dyslexia, it’s like a scale. Our IQ is much higher than our performance level. For people without dyslexia, their IQ and their performance usually match up so it’s even. A lot of my grades were lower than what I expected them to be, and I got very discouraged.

I was at a point where I was kind of fed up with my teachers and how they were teaching because they weren’t really doing their job. I mean, they were teaching the majority of the class, but they weren’t really accommodating for the kids that were falling behind. Some kids in our class are in ELL (English Language Learners) or they came from different countries this year. They were falling behind and were at a disadvantage. It’s not their fault; they’re actually quite brilliant seeing how they’re in all these honors classes and they’re obviously able to complete the material. They just needed more time.

Now, my mom and I have been talking about getting retested for dyslexia just so that I could bring it up to the teachers and tell them that I need more time to complete tests. But the thing that really got me is this one time where we were talking to a teacher. They said, “Well, you better do it quickly because if you do it next year or in junior year, they’re just going to think that you’re doing it to get extra time and that you’re not actually dyslexic. [The administration will believe that] you don’t actually have a learning disorder and that you’re just faking it.

This just blew my mind. I was so disgusted by that because first of all, some people aren’t even diagnosed [with a learning disorder] until high school. People faking it and taking advantage of people who actually do have a learning disorder and putting them lower on the scale was just very hard for me to understand.

I don’t tell a lot of my friends that I have dyslexia because I’m worried it’s going to affect how they think of me. I don’t want them to look at me differently and “kick me out” because that’s happened before.

I also don’t know whether I should tell my teachers about my dyslexia. A teacher hears the word “autistic” or “learning disorder” and a red light flashes immediately. Many of them think, “Oh, this kid is different so I have to treat them differently.” In our society, we see all these movies and TV shows about kids that have really bad mental disorders. It’s not because they’re bad kids, but it’s because of how their brain is wired. It’s sad to think about how they get treated worse than others because they’re different. 

So I don’t tell a lot of my teachers or classmates. I just don’t want to be treated differently. I just want to be treated like everybody else.

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