Friday, March 20, 2009

Dyslexia, a personal story..... Part 2

Dyslexia is a sneaky problem--you don't know you have it until someone else tests you and tells you that you may be Dyslexic.  So as a kid you go through school struggling wondering why you have these problems and others do not.  But in my day there were no tests and no one to tell me that I had this learning problem.  I just lived with it.

How did I find out that I probably was Dyslexic?  You may or may not know but all teachers in the public K-12 system have to take classes or "clock hours" to continue teaching.  In most districts you cannot get a pay raise or cost of living increase unless you complete so many clock hours of in-service training.  Some of those classes are after school from 4 to 6 so many times a month.  Yes, you have to sign in and yes, you are tired after a full day of teaching but it is better then having to take a Saturday or weekend to take the course.  I remember driving down to a middle school in Renton having signed up to learn about a learning problem that children had. 

It was being presented by the Orton Society, a group I had never heard about.  The presenter started off by describing some of the characteristics that these children exhibited.  "They have trouble reading word by word."  Yeah, so what, so did I.  "The quite often have problems with arithmetic and numbers"  So? I did too.  "They like to work on their feet--move around a lot."  I did that all the time.  "They have troubles with right and left."  For heavens sake, me too.

She spoke about how these kids learn to cope and it was almost as if she had read my plan book for my own learning.  This was getting too close to me.  I began to worry.  I remember going home and talking to my wife about the fact that I was probably a Dyslexic person.  If the school district knew about this do you think they may let me go at the end of the school year?  It was a scary time and I remained mum about it all.  But I also tried to study more about this learning problem.  And I think I identified a couple of kids in my class that could have been Dyslexic.  I'm sure they wonder why I was being so nice to them at times...... 

During the following years I read most of everything that came out about Dyslexia but said nothing to anyone except my wife.  I continued on to graduate school to work on my master's degree.  And I did well thanks to my wife correcting my papers.  My typing skills began to pay off--I began to see mistakes that I didn't see when I wrote by hand.  

We need to fast forward to a time when I worked on my doctoral classes.  By now I had some confidence in myself.  I was a graduate assistant and teaching a class in Instructional Technology.  One day my major professor and head of the department said he was going to put a computer in my office and he wanted me to study it and report back to the department at a future date.  I thought he was a bit off.  Computers in those days were large machines that took up entire floors of building.  They also need air conditioning to work well.  Okay, give me the air conditioning but I doubted seriously they could put in a computer in my small office.  

What I did get was a teletype machine that one would find in a newspaper or radio station.  It was connected by phone to an IBM computer in Palo Alto (CA) to which I could access the different programs.  I was fascinated with it.  I could type "menu" and it would clatter to life and print out all the programs that it had in its memory.  Cool!  One of those programs was one entitled, "Statpac".  Well, I was taking statistics--let's see what this thing can do.  I typed, "run" and the first thing it typed was a question, "Are you an expert?"  I typed "no" and off it went.  I saw that it could do "Chi square, " an assignment due in a couple of days in my statistical course so I typed in the numbers from my assignment.  It immediately did the problem and typed them in a proper format.  You would have thought I had found gold.  This assignment was supposed to take a couple of hours and given my troubles with numbers might have taken longer and here it was all done in thirty seconds.  My oh my.  I was besides myself.  

I remember my immediate thinking--what else can a computer do that can help people learn?  The date was January 1967.  I was using the first time shared computer at the University of Washington.  Somehow I intuitively knew that computers and Dyslexia was joined in partners to learning about the world.  

In the late seventies, my wife and I re-mortgaged the house to buy a mini-computer one of the first on the market.  And we learned an important fact--the computer was hardware and you needed software to run it.  We learned about software but it was tough going.. I'm not good at detail and detail is what software is all about.  So we gave it to the university--maybe they could use it.

We then bought an Osborne One, another mini computer that was bundled with software like "WordStar" which could process words.  Then there was "Visacalc" which could manipulate numbers.  Another program was SpellCheck--I became very acquainted with SpellCheck.  To this day I can remember coming home from Seattle where we had just bought the Osborne. We set it up on the coffee table in the living room and as Lynn read the manual I made copies of the software like they told us to do.  

Then the moment of truth.  I started to write a paper on this little computer sitting at our coffee table and saw what I was writing on a monitor next to it.  I started to cry.  I knew, I knew this was an answer to my Dsylexia and my writing problems that Lynn had corrected for me all these years.  Here is an important point to those with Dyslexia--some of us can read better on a computer screen then on paper.  I don't know why but the words stand out and they don't move around.

Then I used the SpellCheck and got angry.  I plugged it in and the first thing it printed on the screen was that I have a fifty two percent error rate in my spelling.  Thanks a lot--I knew that.  Just correct my spelling, damn it.  

Since that time I began to tell people, especially my college students that I have Dyslexia.  I don't know how many students have come into my office, many not even in my classes and all of them just wanted to talk about the problems they have had in the past.  We pooled our experiences and shared.  It is comforting to know there are others who have gone and are going through the same experiences.  

As I've grown older the problems of Dyslexia have begun to fad.  I find I can read books most of the time--only once in a while will the floating words come back to haunt me.  I still have a fear of numbers but I can use a calculator on the computer and do most of the things I have to do.  It is nice to know it is a widget that is very handy.

And I was right!  The computer has been a phenomenal addition to the world and how we learn. The computer hasn't erased the problems of Dyslexia but it has leveled the playing field to a great degree.  But I hope we will continue to do research on this annoying learning problem and found out why some have it and some don't.  How can we identify it earlier on to relieve some children from the stress of learning? Learning ought to be fun.   And how can we teach teachers to identify children in order to teach them differently?  Dyslexic kids will not learn well with phonics no matter what you do in reading.  Perhaps with cat scans we'll learn more on how the brain works.

Somewhere back in Harrison, NY, I need to thank a teacher who taught me how to read, albeit, differently.  That had to be in the early 1940s.  Isn't that amazing?


  1. You might be interested to learn about new software that can help people with dyslexia.
    Ginger Software has developed ground breaking text-correction software that automatically corrects spelling mistakes as well as misused words. The software is currently available as a free download from
    The software was designed to support people with learning difficulties and is measured against texts produced by people with dyslexia.
    You are welcome to download the software and write your impressions on this blog.

  2. Great post. I find it really inspirational. This just comes to show that children with dyslexia are able to perform well.

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