What it means to be dyslexic and why it matters to everyone else

By James Kettle

“Cna yuo raeb tbie?” Translation: Can you read this?

If you can, you now know slightly what dyslexic people go through for most of their lives. Although learning disabilities are becoming more and more visible in our societies, that doesn’t mean that they are fully understood, or more accepted.

I am dyslexic, and I am also 2 meters tall, I have black hair. All of these things are intrinsic to who I am, and are in part what makes me, me. However, the fact that I am dyslexic is not my most defining trait, just like having black hair. My dyslexia is something I have had to learn to live with. I now see it as a blessing and something that showed me the value of hard work and most importantly the need for persistence. When I was younger however, I saw my disability as a curse. I was struggling more than my classmates, the letters on the pages didn’t make any sense and I couldn’t believe that my friend Henry really read Harry Potter, a feat that would have been impossible for me. In the first grade my school became aware of my illiteracy and told my parents that I had severe developmental problems. They said that, if placed in the right school, I may go to a normal high school, and if a miracle happened, maybe college. Well, my parents did not take this siting down. They started to look for new schools.

They found a school. It was called the Churchill School and Centre, a place where everyone had a different disability and all the needed resources were given to each child. In this place all the students were different but in this unity of difference we were all on the same field and the shame and hostility I felt at my old school disappeared.

The most important thing to understand about learning disabilities is that the actual condition is not nearly as important as the social condition in which the child is in. My condition did not change during the first day of my new school but the fact that I was treated with respect and honesty completely changed my attitude towards school. Through 8 years of intense educational reprogramming of not only teaching me what to learn, but how to learn, I went on to go to a normal high school. While the transition to the normal high school was not easy, it was aided by the fact that I had a counsellor that was trained in cases like mine and I was allowed extra time on exams. While it wasn’t the same as my old school, it did feel like I was accepted, more importantly I felt that I was growing as a person in a challenging environment. I was constantly pushed by my high school to achieve more, this was critical in allowing me to get on track with everyone else.

I applied to university and was accepted to the Columbia and Sciences Po Dual BA where I now study economics. I had long surpassed the previous predictions of not making to high school or any university. This feat, however, was not made by me, but by the countless hours of education, therapists, teachers, principles and two extremely motivated parents who got the help I needed when I needed it. 

People with dyslexia can do anything. They can go to Columbia, become artists or writers, play football, succeed or fail; it all depends on if they get the help they need when they need it. There is no such thing as a lost cause, but the earlier the system catches dyslexia and addresses it, the higher the likelihood of that child succeeding in adulthood. It is also important to look at dyslexics not as “stupid” but as different learners. The fact that I go to Columbia doesn’t make me smart and the fact that I have dyslexia doesn’t make me stupid. The only thing that defines me is the quality of my work, which I have learned to produce even with my disability. It is also important to not patronise people with dyslexia. If I was not pushed to produce the same quality of work as my peers in high school, there would have been no way of me making it to Columbia. People need to pushed out of their comfort zone, with respect to their physical limits. Make me write an essay but don’t give me a spelling test, the latter I will surely fail (thank you spellcheck). 

When you see me, don’t think of me as a dyslexic, but as person who has dyslexia. Treat me the same as anyone else but understand that I have strengths and weaknesses, like everyone else. Understand that dyslexics can do anything

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