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Why is Dyslexia a Bad Word?

When I was younger, I thought being dyslexic was a curse. For the longest time I thought there was something wrong with me. I felt as though I had a disease that could never be cured. I thought this way for so long because I struggled so much with reading and spelling, and throughout the years it just never got better. I decided that hiding it was better than exposing myself that I was not able to read or write at the same level as my peers. I would feel humiliated and embarrassed when the teacher made me read out loud. I would be ridiculed for not trying hard enough, like I was choosing to not complete written assignments. Teachers either thought I was lazy or trying to be defiant. They looked at me and decided that I didn’t look disabled enough to have accommodations.


My dyslexia definitely made if difficult in my daily life and affects me in so many ways. A lot of us never get diagnosed as we grow up still not able to read and write Unsure of what we will become, knowing our darkest secret is being “illiterate”. Not being able to read and spell is dehumanizing and traumatizing to those who struggle daily! It's very sad that most dyslexics never get the intervention they need to be successful and still to this day I hear teachers reassuring parents by saying “it will get better, just you wait and see!”

Research statistics on the prevalence of dyslexia indicates that twenty percent of the general population has dyslexia. It pains me to realize from my personal experiences that elementary schools, high schools and post-secondary institutions don't pay enough attention to students who have “invisible learning disabilities” such as dyslexia as much as they should. Time and time again I see students get stuck at the bottom and forgotten about. Being a dyslexic child, it seemed that resource teachers at the time didn't want to label a child with learning disabilities. It seemed that by receiving a diagnosis the outcomes would do more harm than good. It seemed to me that dyslexia was a bad word and if you had it, you would be damaged goods.


Shamed or silenced by my teachers I started to create a negative image of myself and started to think being dyslexic was shameful because I couldn’t do as much as my peers and therefore wasn't good enough. Teachers would look at me and assume by my appearance that “Kersten is a beautiful girl, there’s nothing wrong with her, she will grow out of it and start trying harder when she’s older”. Just because I don’t look disabled, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get extra help if I need it! I shouldn’t have to leave a school with all my friends because my school denied and denied I wasn’t dyslexic and wouldn’t help. Everyone should get the help they need to be successful! Too many teachers in Canada still misunderstand the early warning signs of dyslexia and mislabel dyslexia with students who may just have Irlen.

I avoided so much that when I got to high-school I didn’t know who I was. I started to hang out with individuals who were not good people, it came to a point where I abused drugs and alcohol. I “dumbed myself down” and just kept moving along by making bad choices one after another. It is very sad to think about how much I struggled and that I had zero self -worth at that point, as I started building up more shame hiding my secret, “I’m dyslexic”.

This whole trauma situation I had, of not being able to read and spell could have been fixed when I was younger. But the trauma and shame kept building up. From grade one to grade six I was very mad and frustrated that I couldn’t read and spell but there were other things that affected my everyday life that wasn’t just reading and spelling. It was directionally issues, auditory processing issues, word retrieval issues, comprehension issues and shame build up from not knowing who I was. I created shame within myself thinking, “am I never going to be good enough to make passing grades”. Going over and over in my mind, I constantly contemplated whether I should quit. Am I even going to make it this year?


I struggled with reading and spelling each year. I waited for it to magically get better and by the sixth grade it didn’t, I was reading at a grade two level. Quite embarrassed about the fact I couldn't read made me feel very vulnerable and quick to be defensive and uneasy. People associated being illiterate with “oh you must not be very smart”. I felt that if I told people that I couldn't read or spell that they would treat me different or bully me. Trying to explain to people my struggles was nearly impossible as I couldn’t even explain and understand it myself. I could never organize my thoughts quick enough to write it down, and my thoughts would be all over the place, making it extremely hard to write it down. During school a few of my teachers humiliated me, where they forced me to read out loud knowing I couldn't read a one syllable word. I struggled throughout my whole elementary experience and every year it just got harder and harder. A lot of people say, “oh, I don't even remember when I was a kid it was so long ago”. Not true for me, I definitely remember a lot of things because of how traumatic the experience was, the amount of shame and worrying every day with the negative self -talk in the back of my head that led me to believe “I’m not good enough!”


During those days in school, I would hold in all in my emotions, hiding my secret. Accomplishing any task, if it had to do with reading or spelling, would take me forever. At a young age I was quick to make friends and resorted to building friendships where they would help me during class with certain tasks. If it came to reading out loud, I would avoid it all together. A basic task to someone else, would be nearly impossible or would take the entire day. Pretending all day was quite tiring as I would try to keep up with the long note taking or having high anxiety about when the teacher would call on me to read.


The current education system makes zero sense when it comes to teaching reading and writing to students diagnosed with dyslexia by using strategies that are proven by research to not work effectively to teach dyslexic students. Why do most teachers continue to think that they are doing the best for their students when they exclude the 1 out of 5 people who are dyslexic? For example, classrooms with twenty-five students enrolled will likely have five children who are dyslexic. In Manitoba, there is no curriculum outcome that requires children to be literate. Public schools are not required to teach reading and spelling differently to dyslexic students because teachers assume that every child will eventually learn using the traditional methodology to teach literacy.


I strongly believe that our current education system is long overdue to overhaul the manner in which the system fails to regulate programming to ensure that they are working in the best interest of all children, and not only use programming they are familiar with. If educational practices were better regulated and had quality control, we would be less likely to have so many dyslexic students getting pushed through the system, never having the opportunity to be provided recommended programming to meet their individual needs based on an accurate diagnosis of their learning disability. Also, that the recommendations receive parental consent and that each student be treated with dignity and respect is my hope for all dyslexic students.

How can you help your child or your self who is Dyslexic? Check out www.kcdlc.com for tutoring services. If you want learn more about Dyslexia and my journey stay tuned for more stories and tips.

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