Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Iyar 5766 - May 17, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Journey With Dyslexia
by L. Raffles

When I was young, I used to write a list of things I would like for my birthday. Of course I never expected to get everything on the list (still, one can hope, can't one?), but my mother would try to choose something on the list, or something similar that was more reasonably priced, to give me for my birthday. The funny thing is, that now as an adult, I can not remember anything else on those lists, or a single birthday present I received (sorry Mom!), but I remember with perfect clarity that the top of my list — every time was: NO BOOKS!

I hated reading. I hated the fact that I was expected to do it all day at school, and then come home and do it for fun! Fun . . . ha! I resented that people could think I was stupid because of the way I read aloud, or because I read so slowly, and I think I compensated by making sure everyone was put right on that score!

I was very lucky because I was raised in a very rich linguistic environment — lots of people talking about lots of clever things all the time — so I didn't have to rely on books for all my information and vocabulary. I'm sure if I hadn't been able to read at all, someone would have noticed, but instead I fell through the cracks, because I was just good enough, and clever enough to fool everyone. I compensated for my reading difficulties with listening well, remembering everything I could, and talking a lot.

But this compensation meant that no-one picked up on the difficulties I was experiencing, and it wasn't until I was struggling in higher education, while my peers (who seemed to be my equal in intelligence) sailed through reading books and doing assignments, that I finally got myself tested and learned of the term Dyslexia.

So what was it like for me in school?

Firstly, I know my difficulties pale in comparison before much more challenged children than me. Don't get me wrong, I could read, although I switched letters around, skipped words, lost my place, and found it very hard to understand what I had read.

On the other hand, I was very bright, my writing was neat and my spelling was bearable. If I never read the books on the English syllabus, I scraped by based on all the analysis in class, listening to the others read and reading the back cover. I learned quotes off by heart from all the set books and poetry, and hoped that would impress the examiners.

I dreaded being called on to read, and if I was — I clowned around and created a lot of distraction . . . that was enough to put the teachers off calling on me! On the other hand, I was always a good (although impatient) listener, and answered questions enthusiastically. Still, I often read the questions on exams wrong, or misunderstood their intent, and in multiple choice, I read the choices wrong as well. So I did poorly on tests even in subjects I knew well, though orally I did fine.

Math was particularly challenging because I couldn't understand what was wanted of me by reading the instructions. Even if I could read them, I didn't understand them unless I heard them. I found numbers confusing, and to this day, with the use of a calculator, I can't add up a column of numbers accurately, and have to double-check my work, which I've learned to do habitually.

I didn't outgrow my problems, but I learned that things are possible, although with more effort, if I put my mind to it. I have to be willing to read things slowly, and repeatedly, if necessary. I have to accept the frustration of realizing I have made a mistake (again!).

When I write, I use the computer, which has made life a lot easier, but I still have to check and re-check my work. When the spell checker brings up a misspelled word, I can study the two versions (mine and the computer's) for a long time before I see the difference (a missed letter, letters transposed . . . ). I often ring the wrong number when I read a number out of the telephone book, and when people reel off numbers to me, I have to get them to repeat, only two, maximum three, numbers at a time — slowly.

When my kids practice their spellings, I have to have the words in front of me or I get confused as they read out the word letter by letter. This is true even for words I can spell easily.

I only learned Hebrew reading in my late teens, and assumed the difficulties I had were to do with my late start. Now I see that even for a late starter, I'm an abysmal reader. I feel dizzy when I see whole pages of writing, although since I started reading for pleasure when I was twenty, things have improved. I still read very slowly, and aloud I sound awful (but who asks me to do that anymore?).

My reading comprehension has improved greatly but I still have to sometimes re-read things a few times to get the gist (especially technical instructions for a machine). Despite all this, I have succeeded in many areas of life, including those requiring reading and writing skills (I won't bore you with my CV!).

Why am I telling you all this? Because I want you to know that if a person uses their intelligence, whether they have been given a lot or a little, to the fullest, and is willing to try hard, and come up with strategies that help them compensate or circumvent the things they find particularly difficult, they can succeed. You need to know this for yourself, and you especially need to know it for the children in your care that are struggling.


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