My earliest memory of my struggles with dyslexia was when I had just turned five. My father was going away on a week long business trip and my mom thought it would be fun for me and my younger sister to learn something new to surprise him with when he returned. Needless to say it turned out to be anything but fun.
My sister’s task was to learn how to tie her shoes. Mine was to learn how to tell time. I was so jealous. Tying shoes was sooooo easy. Why was I given the impossible task of understanding when the two little hands on the clock were telling us it was time for school or time to go to sleep? Wasn’t that what my mom was for?
My mom had bought one of those clocks designed to teach kids how to tell time. I hated the thing and, even today, can remember clearly what it looked like. It became my worst enemy. I cringed every time mum pulled it out to “have another go.” That was the problem. She just kept pulling it out and we both kept getting increasingly frustrated. It was useless. I just couldn’t do it and it wasn’t for lack of trying. My brain just couldn’t make sense of what the hands on the clock were pointing at and it certainly couldn’t make sense of those damn quarters! I was completely baffled by this quarter and half thing. What was wrong with saying 1:15? Why did we have to say quarter past one? I guess it was supposed to make things easier, but quite frankly I was just more confused.
As I got older, the quarters continued to haunt me in situations where mum would tell me we were leaving the house to go to the barn at quarter to 3 and I would be ready to go at 2:15pm, having not been able to correctly work out the time she was referring to and having felt too embarrassed to ask.
Needless to say, my sister completed her task and mine in time to show my dad when he returned from his business trip. Apparently, neither my father nor mother was interested in how well I could tie my shoes which didn’t make sense to me. I could tie my shoes very nicely, thank you very much.
I felt like such a failure. I was told I wasn’t trying hard enough, but the truth was my parents may have well been speaking a foreign language when teaching me how to tell time. My brain just couldn’t decode what they were saying. I would get confused. Just when I would start to get the hang of it, I would forget what they had just taught me. When he was home,my dad also gave it a go and spent some time with me and the dreaded learning clock, but that also proved unsuccessful.
Months later, my grandmother sat down with me and things started to click. She was very patient and would repeat the same thing over and over again until I got it. Repetition, repetition, after repetition. I didn’t realize this at the time, but she had figured out how to get my brain to understand and store information. A formula that I would rely on throughout my life, but especially in college.
Have you observed this type of struggle in your kids? Grandkids? Neighbor? Yourself? Often it can be misinterpreted as not trying hard enough or not caring, but the truth is the dyslexic brain hates things like clocks, reading, and math. Getting it to understand these topics, at least at the beginning, is like teaching a flamingo how to sew on a button.
I don’t ever want anyone to feel like I did–a failure and that you aren’t good enough when everyone else is able to do something you can’t. I don’t want anyone to have the experience that everyone else masters something instantly and it takes you ages to figure it out. It’s a horrible feeling, leaving you feeling so small and not good enough.
I realize it may look like dyslexia only made my childhood more challenging and mortifying, but it also gave me a huge priceless lesson: if you want something bad enough, and put enough effort into it then you’ll get it. Here’s what I mean…you try to do something and it doesn’t work. Then you try harder and you come closer, but still it doesn’t work. So you try even harder and put everything you’ve got into it. You are so exhausted and want to throw in the towel and then, all of the sudden, it works. Did you hear that? I said IT WORKS (woo-hoo!!!). I learned the value of hard work and how much it pays off. You don’t get that if it comes easily and you didn’t have to spend hours with flash cards for days practicing over and over and over again to learn the Presidents in the 5th grade. The amount of pride I felt when I could recite all of the US Presidents confidently…well heck I still beam at the memory today because I won. I didn’t let my dyslexia beat me.
What about you? Post your stories below. I’d love to hear about a time when you didn’t let dyslexia win. Was it recently or when you were growing up? Or maybe you have a child or grandchild with dyslexia, what stories do you have about them getting over dyslexia hurdles? (Why is there a ‘U’ in there….I definitely think it should be herdles). I look forward to hearing your stories of how you went over, around, through, or under the your hurdle.