Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Lost Childhood

Most people have figured out their right from left by the time they're five. At fifty two, I was a little overdue, so I looked it up on the internet. I appear to be dyslexic. I think I’ll probably be able to survive this diagnosis, but it is a shock to find it out now after I’ve wasted my first fifty years in the sorry, but redeemable state of disability. I could have spent my life with a label that would have made me unique, or made me use special glasses, or made me spend lots more time in remedial English.

I never had a major problem with reading or writing, or learning in general. Addition and subtraction had never seemed to be a problem either. I could do the problems in my head alright, but when it came time to looking at problems on paper, it was the simple ones I had the difficulty with…you know, the stacked addition problems or the subtraction problems. I never paid much attention to those pesky little “+” or “-“ signs. I was always okay on the timed tables that we were tested on because they were all the same kind of problem. A whole page of addition or subtraction was easy, but I always messed up a lot of answers on those kinds of tests where the problems were mixed. It never occurred to me that this was odd. It was easy to ignore and it was far from debilitating. (For me of course, it is Anne who doesn’t particularly like my efforts at balancing the check book register.)

While reading and writing were never a serious problem either, I was, however, painfully slow at reading. I had to re-read paragraphs over and over for them to make sense. As an early reader, reading was no fun. It wasn’t until I took a speed reading course as a freshman in high school and learned a trick about maintaining progress down the page did I resolve that difficulty. That trick seemed to clear it up. At least I could read at a normal speed and have some comprehension.

But, the oddest thing was that I could never pronounce the names of any of the characters I was reading about. Whenever I was asked about what I was reading, I stumbled all over myself trying to pronounce the names of any of the characters. I had never heard them in my head. I always thought that this was a little odd, but again, not debilitating and fairly easy to overcome. I always thought that I just couldn’t remember very well, but that was a pretty inconsistent explanation, because plot and context came to mind easily.

Writing was darn near impossible because none of the ideas came in an orderly fashion and all the organizing tricks they tried to teach us never worked very well for me. I could make all the notes I wanted to. I could sort all the note cards I could fill out, but I could never seem to get them in the right order for my paragraphs to make any sense. And, like a lot of people, I just didn’t have the patience for multiple drafts of writing anything. I followed these simple rules of paragraph composition: topic sentence, supporting sentence, summary sentence. I was quite the king of three sentence paragraphs. I got better and better at it, but it wasn’t until the advent of “word processing” that writing finally became enjoyable. I could now put down my ideas in any order and rearrange them on the fly. Oooh, and automatic spell check…this is living!!!

But the most serious consequence of this whole thing is that I have never really mastered the art of direction. High School marching band was hell because of all the “Right Face,” “Left Face” stuff. I was never good at that and always nervous whenever we were going to have to march somewhere. When I was a Junior I bought myself a class ring. Class rings were worn on the right hand. This was a very helpful clue. I could now process the right and leftness of my hands because of that ring. (This worked fine until I got married. For the first four or five months I wore both a class ring and my wedding ring. I was confused almost constantly. I finally had to take the class ring off.)

Most people didn’t seem to be plagued by these same issues. I turned to the internet for answers. The internet can provide some comfort, but the knowledge part is always suspect. This is what I learned from Dyslexia-Lessons.com: (The highlighting is mine.)

What is dyslexia?

'Dyslexia' literally means 'difficulty with the written word'.

It is a complex condition, usually present from birth, which prevents someone from accessing printed or written material in a normal way. So, although many dyslexics are highly intelligent, they require 'extra time' to process text that they read or write.


What are the symptoms of dyslexia?

The symptoms of dyslexia are wide-ranging, from directional confusion to the knock-on effect of depression resulting from frustration, alienation, and low self-esteem.

Common symptoms include:

tendency to confuse letters such as 'b' and 'd', 'u' and 'n'

sometimes thinks '+' means '-'

struggles to read and write with fluency and enjoyment (I'm past this one and the next.)

continual errors in work

poor memory for remembering mistakes

needs help with numeracy (especially times tables, telling the time, division, fractions, percentages and conversions)

poor memory and concentration span

This site also recommended Analog watches. I always had trouble with digital ones, but I never knew why. They were great for telling what time it was right now, but no good for lapsed time or future appointments. Now I know why.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, my difficulties never achieved notice of my parents, teachers, or society in general. I certainly didn’t have the typical symptomatic manifestations of common dyslexia, but I sure fit all the other stuff they attribute to it now. It is kind of like reading one’s horoscope. Every astrological sign fits most people.

I think that, by today’s standards, I must have been really disadvantaged. How ever did I survive my childhood? I think the “experts” have managed to categorize most functional / sociological / anti-sociological symptoms so that most people fall into some categorization of illness or dysfunction.

So now I know. I am defective. I regret the fact that I never was able to capitalize on my disability. I have a label. And, while I can probably overcome this affliction with therapeutic exercises and lots of hard work -- to rise above the sad and disadvantageous station that I was born to in life -- I think that I will probably die without having mastered the difference between my right and left hands.

© 2007 Mark Indermill - All Rights Reserved