Our second post in #TheStrengthWithin series explores how learning “disabilities” that can seem to limit children in traditional classroom settings, can actually prove to hold amazing abilities many overlook. Laura shared her journey of realizing the amazing gift she was born with: Dyslexia.

The clock on the classroom wall ticked slower and slower.

“Only ten more minutes” I thought to myself.

“Okay class, we’re going to finish the day with a popcorn read from your reading book.” said Mrs. Mikton. For most of the kids in Mrs. Milton’s fourth grade class, a popcorn read was simply a fun way of doing the reading homework. For me however, a popcorn read was an absolute nightmare. There I sat, heart racing, hoping I wouldn’t be called on.

“Let’s see,” said Mrs. Mikton “popcorn Laura.” With out a choice I struggled through the first few lines of the text. With every stutter or miss pronounced word I felt my face grow hot and tiny beads of sweat form on my forehead. It was only a matter of minutes, but for a dyslexic child, an experience like this feels like hours of agony.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was five years old. At the time, I didn’t quite understand what that meant, other than my summers and after school time would be spent in reading support groups and endless tutoring sessions, none of which helped. As the years went on, I started to notice a greater academic separation from the other kids. In middle school, there was an extra class period for people who needed additional help with schoolwork. I never saw anything wrong with being in this class until one day I witnessed a classmate being bullied for being in the “retard” class. From then on, I was mortified and kept the fact that I was in that class a secret from my friends. In most of my classes my grades were mediocre at best. I did the work that was assigned and was always well behaved. However I never got high scores. I often misunderstood written directions and completed entire assignments wrong. My poor grades took a major toll on my self-esteem. I was working just as hard, if not harder than my classmates but couldn’t seem to pull off good grades.

This continued into high school where the bullying for people in these types of classes became worse and the bullying within the classes themselves was no better. As one of the only female students, I was constantly sexualized. The boys relentlessly commented on my body, threw crumpled up pornographic drawings at my head, and made obscene gestures with their hands every time I looked their direction. The combination of feeling embarrassed about being in this program and the awkwardness/anger I felt towards the male students resulted in me becoming painfully shy. For the most part, I simply allowed this harassment to happen, until one day when one of my male classmates was talking about the size of my breasts right in front of me. How “right now they were only tangerines but in a few years they could be melons.” and “on a scale of 1–10 she would rank way higher with melons.” At this point I was fed up. I turned around and said “Stop f***ing talking about me.” At which he simply scoffed and called me a bitch. As I walked out of the classroom that day I felt something sharp hit my back. I turned around to find a metal ruler on the ground. One of them had thrown it at me and made a small cut in my back. This type of thing continued for a while. Thankfully, the physical bullying never turned into anything more than rulers and papers being thrown at me. The verbal harassment however, was much harder to deal with and can be attributed to negative body image I experienced throughout my teen years. Eventually I decided to leave the program completely. Unfortunately this meant I was not allowed extended time on the S.A.T. which lowered my score dramatically.

It was at this point that I began doing my own research on dyslexia. My grandmother sent me two books, both of which changed my life. One of them called The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis, and the other The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock L. Eide and Fernette F. Eide. Both books highlighted the massive potential behind the dyslexic brain. While reading these books I was surprised by how much I could relate. They explained exactly how the dyslexic brain worked and why traditional schooling methods were ineffective for dyslexics.

As it turns out, there is a huge misconception about what dyslexia is. Dyslexia, simply put, is an over development of one region of the brain and underdevelopment in another region of the brain. Dyslexics have over developed visual, three dimensional and often emotional regions of the brain. When a dyslexic person is presented with two-dimensional material like letters and numbers, their brain attempts to process the information with the three-dimensional part of the brain rather than the language area. This causes them to see numbers and letters as three dimensional objects floating in space, with the ability to see them from all angles, upside down, backwards etc. which is what causes difficulty with reading and spelling. After learning this I was able to better understand my learning style and develop my own methods of learning. Better yet, I now had a deeper understanding of my strengths. Not all dyslexics develop the same strengths but The Gift of Dyslexia lists a few of the basic abilities that all dyslexics share.

  1. They are highly aware of their environment

  2. They are more curious than average

  3. They are highly intuitive and insightful

  4. They think and perceive multi-dimensionally

  5. They an experience thought as clear as reality

  6. They have vivid imaginations

  7. They often have above average emotional intelligence

  8. They are able to see similarities and connections between things that appear unrelated, which allows them to be highly creative

  9. They are big picture thinkers

  10. They can utilize the brain’s ability to alter and create perceptions

With this information, I truly began to see my dyslexia as a gift. I now understood that my passion for things like art, psychology and technology all stem directly from my dyslexic mind. Additionally, the hardships I endured throughout my childhood and teen years were valuable learning experiences. Because of my struggles in school, I have learned to put tremendous amounts of effort into the things that are important to me. I have also learned self-love in acceptance, which for me, is the greatest gift of all. In my current pursuit of graphic design and computer science, some of my strongest work carries themes of academic hardship and the objectification of women, both of which I experienced because of my dyslexia. Would my childhood have been easier without dyslexia? Yeah, probably. Would I be the creative, curious, empathetic person that I am today without dyslexia? Probably not. Would I change the fact that I have dyslexia if I could? Not in a million years.

Original artwork created by Laura Stevenson