First things first. I’m no expert on dyslexia. I’m no doctor. If you think you got dyslexia please contact your doctor and ask for options to help you deal with this learning disability. I’m writing this to share my story. Perhaps this post can help someone else, at least I hope so : ] Let me know in the comments if you have dyslexia and how you deal with it.
Just writing this post in English is a major accomplishment for me. I absolutely hated learning English when I went to school as a kid. I’m native in Swedish and Finnish, and learning three languages at the same time can be a real challenge for any kid, not only for those suffering from dyslexia. I started to attend my English classes when I was 10. To me learning this new language was like trying to break the Enigma code. Frustrating, boring and to me totally impossible. Nothing made any sense, everyone else seemed to get it while all my exams came back with red ink all over them, cruelly highlighting every single mistake I made. No matter how hard I studied, no matter how much I tried I just felt plain out stupid. I drew lines on my table during class, one for each minute, then stared at the clock an erased them away as the minutes passed, a simple sort of progress bar until I could get out of class and on with the rest of the day. I guess I don’t have to tell you I was not my poor teacher’s favorite student.
Let’s rewind a bit, back to when I was 6. I remember a lot of the kids in my preschool had started to figure out the basics on how to read letters or spell their name at this time. Everyone were so excited to start school, and my friends tried to read out loud all the signs and letters we could see when walking to the park with the class. I was so jealous. Looking at strangely shaped letters and actually seeing a word or a name seemed like pure magic. I was very exited to start school, I just couldn’t wait to learn this awesome new skill!
However, starting school proved to be a very frustrating and at times very overwhelming experience. I’m not really sure when, but after a while it became apparent to both me, my parents and my teachers I was falling behind, my spelling, reading and writing was not developing like it should. I tried just as hard, even harder, than the other kids to learn, but something in my head just seemed…broken. After a while I started to hate reading, I hated the mandatory weekly spelling tests (yeah, we had mandatory weekly spelling tests at my school from when we were 8 or 9 years old and upwards). My teachers tried to help me, they would read out loud my failed attempt at spelling words like “katt” (Cat in Swedish) and said stuff like “but can’t you hear it’s pronounced [katt], with two t’s. If you only use one it’s pronounced “kaaaat”. This made zero sense to me. After a while I just pretended I to understand so they would leave me alone. Mostly I just guessed how to spell.
My brain did it’s best on its own to come up with creative solutions and to make up for what I was lacking in reading and writing. One example is that I loved the idea of writing a diary, but since I just couldn’t get the words right I resorted to drawing each day in my diary, instead of spelling it. I guess my passion for drawing and painting was really born somewhere at this point. I had the best grades in gymnastics and drawing, but I loathed the Swedish classes because they they made me feel stupid, like I was not an equal to my friends, like I had a broken brain. It’s very easy to start feeling alienated and then panic when you realize something is wrong, that no matter how hard you try you just can’t seem to fix it. Especially as a child. Feeling inferior, stupid and of less value, almost every day for years or months, is not a good thing for any kid.
Luckily for me I happened to be born in a time when dyslexia had just been “discovered” and starting to gain traction no just among researchers, but also among teachers in Finland. I remember I was so scared when my parents first told me I had something called dyslexia, but after learning more about this condition and taking some tests it felt very good to finally have a name for what I was experiencing. To know that I wasn’t stupid! In my case my dyslexia mostly affected my reading and writing, but I’m also notoriously bad at separating left from right and also have a mild face blindness. My overall coordination of hands and legs are also somewhat lacking (which was a huge challenge when taking ballet classes later). Doing jumping jacks is a serious challenge for me.
Dyslexia don’t affect IQ in any way, but it certainly made me feel less intelligent to my friends and the other kids in the class. Not being able to read or write properly did not feel half as bad as that feeling of being stupid. I know that everyone who has dyslexia probably experience it in their own way. In my case the condition made my spelling super bad, I mixed capital and letter cases, my hand writing was a mess, I flipped “d” and “b” when writing. I often wrote the same word twice and was unable to see this until someone pointed it out for me. When I was reading it felt super exhausting and I had to read every word out loud and slow up until I was 10, which was super annoying for my classmates. I read the letters in the wrong order. My reading was slow, but I adored stories and tales. Instead of reading books I listened to tons of old tapes containing audio books from the library, sitting in my room, drawing. It was my way of getting into the amazing world of books without having to struggle for hours with each page. So all this time I was drawing stories in my diary, I was listening to stories and loved to craft my own in my head, I even made a small weekly news paper about what was happening in my made up land for my toys and sold it to my family members. I wanted to break into the word of letters and books, I just did not know how.
My school finally helped me out and I got to see a special teacher each week that helped me to understand my dyslexia. I slowly learned how to read and write, and when I was 11 we got computers to my school, which helped a lot. The spell check in Word was my best friend. I was slowly starting to crack the code, and it wasn’t long until I started to write my own short stories, which I absolutely loved doing. But learning a foreign language really felt like starting fresh again with all the issues.
I totally hated it and struggled to get good enough to pass my English exams with little to none extra points. This utter hate towards English (and sooner French) followed me until I was 16. By then I could read and write Swedish without problems, even if I still did a lot of spelling mistakes and performed below average in reading comprehension tests, but I was OK. I was actually more than just “OK”. I wrote two books and a short story at the age around 15 to 16, and even handed the short story to my Swedish teacher for feedback. She gave it back to me with “excellent, never stop writing, Sara!!” written on the last page. I still got those books saved on a floppy disk somewhere.
Then, when starting in my new school after finishing the mandatory one, after turning 16, something just clicked in my brain. It was like I was suddenly able to understand English. I found myself enjoying the English classes more and more. Playing video games certainly helped a lot at this point. I was still far behind my classmates, but at least I was finally understanding and I was making progress. I totally loved the course books that contained chapters from a variety of novels, and even went to the library and borrowed the books in English just to read the rest. Afterwards I held brief presentations for the class (in English) about the book. It was like that last piece about How To English had finally downloaded into my brain and I could run the .exe just like everyone else!
When I started studying video games at university three years later I noticed I was light years behind the average English skills of my class, but ever since I’ve worked hard to make up for all that lost time in school. I got great coaching from people around me, and writing this blog here is a way for me to constantly trying to improve. I still feel sometimes I need to make up to get to the same level as others, but I think I’m closing in on a good enough level quite soon.
Today I have learned how to deal with my dyslexia, and I feel very lucky that I was diagnosed so quickly, meaning that I was able to properly learn or write at all. I still make plenty of spelling errors, and I use the spell check of my web browser on every other word I’m writing in this post. I’ve kinda accepted I’m never going to learn how to spell certain words like because, sincerely, inconvenience, forest and unfortunately (among with välkommen, människa, känner or emot). I know I need to check and then double check all emails I send at work(approximately 40-70 each day), and I know I sometimes make spelling errors on my Twitter. To me that’s OK.
When it comes down to my clients however, if I post something for them, I usually spend quite a while obsessing about the spelling, checking and double checking and then triple checking and if I ever make a mistake with the spelling I honestly feel like my whole day is ruined and I get a a brief moment of anxiety where I briefly feel my arms and stomach go numb over the panic. I just don’t want to let others be affected.
On my private Facebook I regularly make spelling mistakes when posting an update, and it annoys me to death, but I just can’t seem to wipe away that last trace of dyslexia, I guess that’s who I am, and I choose to be grateful of all the other things this has given me, like my art. What makes me sad however are when people I know try to make “clever fun” of my spelling mistakes. It briefly makes me feel like when I was 8 or 9 and struggling each day not to feel inferior to my friends and classmates. I have never told my friends about this, but it really makes my heart sink when people try to be funny about my spelling. I’m sure they mean no harm.
I know many people probably judge me on my spelling mistakes as just not caring or being lazy, but the thing is I’ve been playing the game of reading and writing on “hard” my whole life, so honestly I probably put way more time into reading and writing than most people ever will in a lifetime : ) I’m dedicating this post to my 10 year old self, sitting in front of her English books, feeling stupid. I wish I could tell her not to worry : ]