Growing Up (Older) with Dyslexia - part 1

Part 1 

(read part 2)

I grew up in the 80s. Way.. way.. way before predictive text and autocorrect. I thought that I will someday “outgrow” my dyslexia, but at 37 I must say I have now decided that there’s no way out. To be honest, I have my day to day struggles. Which had me wondering.. was it harder now.. or was it much more difficult when I was a child.

So I decided to do a little self-analysis and hopefully come out with a conclusion: was it harder before or is it harder now.

When I was a kid:

1. Reading in general 

Reading was HARD. It gave me headaches, I would get into this fight or flight mode and I felt the need to get out of my own body. It took me longer to be able to read fluently compared to my siblings.

My mom is a reader. My siblings are all readers.They frequently discussed books they all enjoyed reading, and I was obviously not in this conversation. The funny thing is I was totally fine with that. I preferred drawing

2. Writing in general

Let’s start with differentiating “b” & “d” first. It doesn't help that I’m named with a letter “d” and my father’s name is “Abdul” - double the fun. I was in Year 1 when I heard the teacher calling “Ablin” and I automatically knew it was my homework she was marking.

I hated writing and just to make it clear how much I hated it I stopped writing for the whole of Year 2. Actually I wasn't trying to make a point at that time. I just didn't know that it was compulsory until my teacher told me that she's going to speak to my parents about it at parent- teacher’s meeting. Before that, I thought writing was an option. I had picked a different option, to draw, a lot.

3.Left & right shoes 

I’ve worn school shoes the other way around. Sometimes the whole day. The only reason why I checked and realised that it was the wrong way around was when my blisters hurt too much.

Other than shoes, my left and right coordination in general was pretty pathetic. Using utensils was so hard. Following dance steps at kindie was difficult. You know that game where you clap and clap your friends hands and switch hands and.. well never mind. Even talking about it gives me headache.

4.Being a jelly fish

On top of not knowing how to move my left and right hands without looking like the ceiling fan, I was also a very clumsy kid with poor body awareness. Most of the time I felt like a jelly fish.

I did a lot of sports in primary. Hockey, handball, long jump, hurdles and netball, horribly. But I had no “shame”. It didn't matter to me that I look like a complete fool. I enjoyed physical activities. Until… I turned 12 and the boys at the school were getting meaner. That’s when it all ends. Boom! Shamed!

5.Understanding what other people are saying 

At a very young age I made the decision that ignorance is bliss. But when I started school, where class was delivered verbally with less dance moves and songs to help me concentrate, ignorance was a bad idea.

By the time my teacher gets to her fifth sentence, I was still struggling to decipher the secret message in her first sentence. God forbid she threw a question at me and I would look completely lost. I found out at a later age that it’s due to my auditory processing. At that time I just thought that I’m “slow” and invented some compensatory methods to overcome  the difficulty.

6.Self-expression

I’ve always felt like talking slows me down. I enjoyed observing people more than talking to them. But when I have to or want to, finding the right word can be quite a struggle. Not having the ability to string sentences properly with perfect grammar makes conveying a message a big challenge. I couldn't understand when to use “she” or “he”, or past or present tense and all those rules that makes a person “normal”.

My mom was a grammar guru who speaks Queen’s English. Me, I decided that baby talking would “mask” my issues. And I successfully did it without ever being caught. Conversation with mom:

Me : Mom, what is the doing?

Mom : Is the sleeping.

She gets me and joined in the fun. I get my message across. Win - Win.

P/S we still to this date speak like this. Fun.

7.Understanding social cues

Oh God! Why can’t people just say what they mean. Why is that when I used my “best judgments” it turned out to be the worst decisions? Like playing outside when it’s raining and spending my whole week’s allowance on a hairpin made by my 7 year old classmate. Why is it when people say “use your best judgment” it’s always their judgment that their talking about?

Oh.. and then there was the “gentle” teasing. Everywhere. I didn't seem to get the memo. And I thought to myself “everybody hates me!”. But when i finally learned from my observation that people “bond” thought this weird “sadistic” way, I decided to practice on my youngest brother. I got pretty good at it. In fact too good. I swear my brother grew up thinking “why does she hate me so much?”

8.Counting with my fingers 

Oh this one in hard.. I couldn’t keep numbers in my head. I just couldn’t grasp the concept. It’s worse than letters. It’s just some bunch of random meaningless symbols that means something to everyone else but means totally nothing to me. Don’t get me started on “+” and “-“ . They are simply foreign and too unimportant for me as a child. Too much effort for too little reward.

I was using my hand an toes to count up to Year 4. But by then I was beginning to develop some awareness of my social surrounding and I had a cute crush in the same class. Of course he was not only cute but he was a straight A student. He was perfect.

So I found a better way to hide my difficulties. My solution was to always have many many fat erasers and pen knife in my pencil case. For every mathematic question given to me, I cut small pieces of the eraser and use it as counter.

Practice you say? School finishes at 5:30 pm and I’d rather watch “Doraemon” on TV which starts at 6:30 pm weekdays.

Later on I discovered some method’s that would help me think “mathematically”. The method I use for Dyscalculia Training at The Academy. I loved maths after that. My favourite is multiplication 118.

9.Taking things too literally

It starts with “Use your best judgment”. Then comes the proverb “Go with the flow”. What flow where? I just want to know if we're going to the toy shop when we’re on holiday. “See how it goes”. See how what goes where? Sigh… Why can’t people get straight to the point.

My favourite is “what do you think?”. Why is it that when I gave my truly honest opinion on what I truly think about finishing the whole bag of chips before dinner is considered a bad  move? You asked grandma. And I answered. And I got grounded. Something was wrong with this equation.

10.Concentration & attention span

As a child I’ve always been a busy one. I was always looking for things to do. Perhaps because there was only 2 TV channels back then with no cable TV, it made access to TV quite limited. TV starts at 9:30 am and by midnight you see colourful lines with white noise which I actually found pretty soothing. I was always moving & exploring. Drawing & making crafts. In the garden doing experiments, usually involving the cat, a snail and a homemade parachute.

But at school you have to sit still. You have to listen. You have to read. In order to be able to do all that, one is supposed to find ones centre and quiet ones mind and channel everything one has to the lessons in class. It was too Yoda for me.

I scribbled a lot in my books. If there was no space in my book I drew on my hand and school uniform. I have to do something, or else I’ll explode.

Looking back, it was pretty tough. But I survived. Did it get better during my teen years? That’s a story for another time.

Read part 2