Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Exposing the Secrets- My Dyslexia Research Paper


Exposing the Secret

     Growing up I lived a life filled with fear and shame. For eight years I hid my deep dark secret from my parents, siblings, friends, and teachers. My secret came with self-hate. The self-hate began to fester and infect other areas of my life, leading me to fall into a deep depression. I sought relief from pain through drinking, promiscuity, and self-mutilation. What was my secret? I could not read.

     Dyslexia is a disability that impacts a large portion of young students. Robin Boda, the Director of Education at Hope Education, describes dyslexia by saying that “it is a brain difference, neurological brain difference. Often going hand in hand with that, are gifts and strengths” (Boda). Yale’s MDAI, Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative, posted “20% of the population is struggling with this hidden disability” (MDAI). Goldish, author of Everything You Need to Know About Dyslexia, wrote “It is further estimated that 10 to 15 percent of school-age children have dyslexia. Yet despite the large number of people with dyslexia, it is estimated that only 5 percent of dyslexics are ever properly diagnosed and given appropriate help” (Goldish, pg. 20).

      A Huffington Post article said, 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can't read” (Crum). When Boda was asked for her view of Huffington Post’s statistic, she was not surprised. She described how the majority of her adult dyslexic students made it to very high levels in their high schools, many even graduating. Dr. Greene and Dr. Forster did a study on high school graduates readiness to enter college. They found that “only 32% of all students—fewer than half of those who graduate and about one-third of all students who enter high school—leave high school with the bare minimum qualifications necessary to apply to college” (Greene). Dyslexic children are going undiagnosed.

The Stigma:
     When I was in third grade, I asked my dad to have me tested so I could be in the resource room like a couple of my friends. He responded by telling me that I was not retarded, because no kid of his was retarded. Then he told me that I was just being stupid and lazy to slack off with my friends. That is the moment I realized how disappointed my family would be if they found out just how stupid I was. It was my job to keep my struggle a secret.

     Dyslexic children are going undiagnosed due to the stigma attached with the term dyslexia. People with dyslexia are often seen as lazy and stupid. “Sometimes because dyslexic children are so bright and seem to have all the cognitive "equipment" necessary to read, their continuing struggles are blamed on lack of motivation or not trying hard enough” (MDAI). The MDAI also found that students, thinking that they are not intelligent, often give up on themselves and have no hopes for success or happiness. These false beliefs, lead many dyslexic children to keep their struggles a secret.

     John Corcoran is a dyslexic teacher and an advocate for education reform. When he was young, his teachers told his parents that “he was simply ‘unmotivated’ and ‘immature’ and would learn to read at some point” (Feeney). Corcoran went through life pretending that he could read and even got through college and became a teacher. “Still, he maintained the illusion of literacy, carrying a newspaper or book under one arm and listening carefully to conversations in the teachers' room” (Feeney). When a student does reach out for help, the parent does not believe the student. The reaction of those parent’s and my father was described by Boda, “The parent doesn’t know how to deal with it so they don’t exactly believe the kid. They say try harder and you’re not focusing.”

     While the common belief is that dyslexics are stupid, this belief is completely false. “Dyslexics are not stupid. Most have average intelligence. Many are above average” (Goldish, pg. 20). MDAI describes the talents of dyslexic students saying that they “usually excel at problem solving, reasoning, seeing the big picture, and thinking out of the box” (MDAI). Many teachers, parents, and even students believe the negative stigma on dyslexic students.

The Signs:
     When I would sit down and read, I would spend an hour trying to read the first few words. The letters on the page would begin to dance around and blur into and out of focus, often giving me headaches. I felt stupid and I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. All the members of my family are geniuses, and I could not even read a couple words. I kept my secret until I was seventeen years old. My Spanish teacher was the first person I felt I could tell without a fear of judgement. She supported me and inspired me to be an advocate for myself. She helped me tell my parents and fought for me to get tested.

     Dyslexic children are going undiagnosed because people are unaware of the signs of dyslexia. Dyslexia has many signs including: Speech problems when young, problems with handwriting, bad spelling, difficultly reading out loud, low reading comprehension, thinking out of the box, does not test well, headaches when reading, and even ADD/ADHD. Students often do not have the same signs. “[Dyslexia] appears as spelling errors, but it is far more complex than just switching letters like b and d. There is a huge range of dyslexia and it is on a spectrum” (Boda). Goldish describes the spectrum saying, “dyslexia can range from minor problems with spelling to complete illiteracy” (Goldish, pg. 19). It is important for teachers and parents to be educated on the signs in order to help students.

The Shame:
     Exposing my secret to my parents was one of my most terrifying experiences. To my surprise, my parents did not react as I had assumed they would. They were supportive and immediately got me tested. My parents were shocked to discover that I tested at a third grade level. They sacrificed their time and money to get me specialized tutoring. After a year and a half of intensive tutoring, my reading level went from third grade to high school, it gave me the coping skills I will use for the rest of my life.

     Dyslexic children are going undiagnosed due to their deep seeded shame. Clinical Psychologist, Gershen Kaufman, studied shame in adults and found that “adults who have not learned how to read and write feel acute shame over their deficiency” (Kaufman, 1992, 199). Boda found that fear and shame were so common that they were the two things she had to overcome with every student she has. She said, “They try to hide it, cover it up, don’t seek your help” (Boda). When John Corcoran exposed that he could not read it “marked the end of shame, anxiety, and ingenious evasions and the beginning of a crusade on behalf of literacy and education reform” (Feeney). 

     Sonya Bridges is another inspirational person. She is also a teacher and she also discovered that she had dyslexia when she was an adult. Even though she had to work harder than most of the kids in her class, she persevered and did well in school. Bridges was tested when she was an adult, after years of wondering if she was dyslexic and “when the results finally came in, Bridges was relieved, but embarrassed. She kept her findings secret for a while” (Graham). Shame is a powerful force that is very common in the life of a person with dyslexia.

The Solution:
      Five years ago when my oldest daughter was in first grade, I discovered she is dyslexic like me. I refused to have her live a life of shame, low self-confidence, and hating school. When her teacher and counselor at school said she was too young to test, we pulled her from public school and began homeschooling her. She goes to a tutor once a week and we work with her throughout the week. Over the few years, she has caught up to grade level reading, a passion for learning, and a high self-confidence.

      Dyslexic children do not have to go undiagnosed. While there is no cure for dyslexia, fortunately, there are ways to greatly improve the life of dyslexic people and to empower them to reach their full potentials. The first step is to educate parents on dyslexia. About thirteen years ago Mary Buchanan discovered that her teenage daughter could not read. Parents often do not realize that their child has dyslexia. “Unfortunately, teachers and parents do not always notice that a child has a language disability” (Goldish, pg. 9). Boda describes the reason parents don’t catch their child’s learning disability, “A lot of parents trust the school to take care of all of that. Parents go many years without listening to them read, or if they do listen to them read they will listen to them read stories that have been read to them many times that the student has it memorized.” (Boda).  I was able to catch my daughter’s dyslexia and get her help, because I was educated on the signs of dyslexia.

     Mary Buchanan described her feelings as shocked and saddened. She was shocked at how she could not have known and was sad to think of all the years and the lost opportunities. When asked about what steps her husband and she made to help their daughter, she said, “We went and got her tested and paid over $9,000 to get her tutoring.” She also said that it “would have been helpful to get info out to parents to know what to look for, signs to watch for” (Buchanan). The sacrifice she and her husband made have had a huge impact on her daughter. I know this impact because she is my mother. If it wasn’t for the way they responded and fought to help me, I would not be about to graduate from college and the cycle would not have been broken for her granddaughter. A parents love and support are key to a child’s success. “Because of the love, encouragement and academic help from her mother, Bridges endured the bullying and laughter of classmates, and worked hard to become an achiever” (Graham).

      The second step to helping dyslexic children, is to adjust their education to encourage their strengths and strengthen their weaknesses. In order to find the student’s strengths and weaknesses, it is important to test them young with a non-standardized test. Since dyslexia is inherited, it is especially important to test if any other family members are dyslexic. If a student is diagnosed with dyslexia, the school needs to find ways to educate within that child’s learning style. Many schools are trying to fit students into a box, and dyslexic students often don’t fit. For example, standardized tests might reflect the knowledge and understanding of many, but dyslexic students do not test well. Dyslexic students also need more time in getting the foundations of phonics and reading. To push the student along in hopes that he or she might catch up, will actually hinder the student. “The existence of other social problems does not excuse the public school system’s inadequate performance” (Greene). Boda believes that we have to do school differently. She describes the importance of having a high standard but a different standard for each student.

     While the tutoring helped me read, it was not a cure. When I became a student in college, I assumed that I would hate school and would get bad grades just as I had done growing up. I was shocked to discover that I was able to get onto the honor roll and even ended up being honored as an Emerging Scholar at a banquet. I will always struggle with my dyslexia, but I am now empowered to succeed. I am finally starting to break from the chains of self-hate as I am discovering that I am a strong, talented, and highly intelligent woman.


Work Cited
Boda, Robin. Interview. 21 July 2015.
Buchanan, Mary. Interview. 21 July 2015.
Crum, Maddie. "The U.S. Illiteracy Rate Hasn't Changed In 10 Years." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 6 Sept. 2013. Web. 26 July 2015.
Feeney. "The Teacher Who Couldn't Read: John Corcoran." Biography 3.10 (1999): 82. Middle Search Plus. Web. 25 July 2015.
Goldish, Meish. Everything You Need to Know about Dyslexia. New York: Rosen Pub. Group, 1998. Print.
Graham, Charlotte. "Dyslexia hits home for former local teacher." Laurel Leader-Call (Mississippi). (September 19, 2011 Monday ): 1305 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2015/07/25.
Greene, Jay P., and Greg Forster. "Public High School Graduation and College Readiness Rates in the United States. Education Working Paper No. 3." Center for Civic Innovation (2003).
"Illiteracy Statistics." Statistic Brain RSS. 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 July 2015.
Kaufman, Gershen. Shame, the Power of Caring. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman Pub., 1985. Print.
"MDAI: Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative * The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity." Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative * The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. Web. 29 July 2015.





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