Writing with Dyslexia – My Story

Dyslexia is more common than you might think. This debilitating learning disability affects twenty percent of the population. You might recognize famous names that have it. Local Seattle radio host and former Partridge Family star Danny Bonaduce, Jennifer Aniston, Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jay Leno have it just to name a few. Even Albert Einstein had dyslexia.

But what exactly is dyslexia? Dyslexia is defined as “a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that does not affect general intelligence.

This last part is so very important. I have it, but my IQ is actually above average. I’ve been tested above 120. However, growing up in school, I was called dumb, stupid, and idiot. Not only by my classmates but was called stupid by my teachers in grade school. This affected me greatly and was the cause of my low self-esteem. Even my dad used the term dumb and stupid when I was growing up. These hurtful terms were used mainly due to ignorance.

Writing this article is extremely difficult. Not only because I can’t spell, but it brings back those terrible memories of how I was treated in school. More on that a little later. First, you need to understand that there are four types of Dyslexia. They include phonological dyslexia, surface dyslexia, rapid naming deficit, and double deficit dyslexia.

Let’s examine each one. First up is phonological, which is defined by dyslexia-reading-well.com as extreme difficulty reading that is a result of phonological impairment. This means the ability to manipulate the basic sounds of language. The individual sounds of language become ‘sticky’, unable to be broken apart and manipulated easily. This type of dyslexia is synonymous with dyslexia itself. Next up is surface dyslexia. This is defined as a sub-type characterized by difficulty with whole word recognition and spelling. Someone with surface dyslexia can usually master phonics but cannot read words that are spelled differently than they sound (irregular words) as defined by learninglabfl.com. They also define rapid naming deficit dyslexia, as the difficulty of quickly naming things such as numbers, letters, and colors on sight. Finally, the double-deficit hypothesis of dyslexia suggests that both rapid naming and phonological impairments can cause reading difficulties and that individuals who have both of these deficits show greater reading impairments compared to those with a single deficit.

Growing up in school was torturous. I was teased and bullied by kids and ridiculed by the teachers. Unfortunately, in the mid-sixties, there wasn’t a lot of information about dyslexia. If there was, they didn’t want to take the time to work with me. I was always told I was holding the whole class behind. I was held back in second grade because my reading skills weren’t aligned with everyone else’s. That killed me being so young and not allowed to advance with the rest of my class. Later, I believe it was in the fifth grade, I would be taken out of the classroom and placed in the hallway in a conference room, by myself. The teacher would grab an encyclopedia, open it to a similar lesson the rest of the class was learning about. Then, I was told to copy the entire text, word-for-word. When asked why I was being put all by myself in this conference room, the teacher would say that it’s because the rest of the class suffers if I’m there during these lessons; I’m holding everyone else back.

This is actually the worst thing you can make a dyslexic child do; copy text word-for-word until its right. Which, when I brought my finished paper to the teacher, they’d glance it over and say it was wrong. Start over, without telling me why it’s wrong. I cried in the conference room because I was so frustrated. I began to think that I was actually stupid. I could never get it a hundred percent correct. So, every day in the fifth grade, I was sequestered in my special little room to pencil out passages from an encyclopedia. 

Two, four, six, eight, you can never get it straight, was the kids’ mantra. This would make me cry even more, which would bring more teasing.

The effect this had on my self-esteem was tremendous. I never excelled in school. I hated going and I was drained of being teased and bullied every day. I failed many classes, not being able to learn like everyone else. So, I turned to read science fiction. It was my escape from everything. I loved it. It shaped me and how I viewed the world. In fact, I read so much, I was named bookworm in High School, or “Bookie” for short. I took Library Science as an elective class and for four years, spent a good amount of my time there. It was the only class I got A’s in and it was the only class I never skipped.

I thought I could read fairly well, but I failed every English class. I had to take Freshman English in high school every year. In my senior year, I had to pass this class, or face not graduating. Every year, I would get the same teacher. I remember her well; Mrs. Scoogle, dressed in grey clothes and her hair in a greying tight bun. Well, the first day of my senior year, I walked into my freshman English class and took a seat in the first row. Well, guess who they assigned me for my teacher. Yep, it was my nemesis, Mrs. Scoogle. Her first words to me, in her English accent, were, “Well, Mr. Larson, I see you’re here for another round. I suppose you enjoy punishment?” My response was, “I suppose I do, but I’m going to pass this time!” She said, well, “Good luck, Mr. Larson.” She ended up giving me a D minus, but it was a passing grade. I think she passed me so she wouldn’t have to suffer with me next year.

I was never diagnosed. No one ever took the time to work with me to tell me I had this debilitating learning disability. It wasn’t until my adult life that someone asked me if I was dyslexic. I ask them what’s that? So, for the first time in my life, someone took the time to explain it. It all made sense why I couldn’t spell. It made sense why numbers were always transposed and I sucked at math. 

Armed with my newfound knowledge, I began to understand my learning disability and began to realize that I wasn’t stupid or dumb. It wasn’t until my current wife, Diana, encouraged me to excel. So, I enrolled in online college and sought my Bachelor’s Degree in Business. Four years later, I graduated with honors. I continued and obtained my Masters in Business and at the age of fifty, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA. I finally excelled in school because I understood why. I was able to learn skills to overcome. 

I still have trouble with spelling and superimposing numbers, but I know my issues and have overcome them. That’s one reason why I began writing science fiction; it was my love of reading stories and my wife’s encouragement. I’ve currently published thirty-one books spanning seven different series, including a cookbook! Currently, I’m working on book number thirty-two and there’s no end in sight.

After EatSleepWrite owner Adam Scull asked me to write a post about it, I felt a tremendous need to tell my story. The key takeaway is that you can do it. Don’t ever listen to anyone say you can’t excel. I’m living proof that you can overcome dyslexia. You’ll never be cured, but being armed with the knowledge that you have a learning disorder, you can overcome and achieve any goal you put your mind to.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story and I wish each and every one of you success in all that you do.

Until next time, this is Author Brian K. Larson, Sparking Imaginations, One book at a time.

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