January 29, 2012

A few months ago, a friend (with years of experience and degrees to back it up in early childhood learning/development) asked me to teach her how to mirror-write.  The ensuing conversation reminded me I had sitting in my “to-do” pile, two books I had not yet read.  One of them, “Now You See It” by Cathy Davidson caught my eye because its focus is the brain science of attention and how it will transform the way we live, work and learn-a variation on the new theories of adult-learning-about which I am passionate.

The second, “The Dyslexic Advantage” by Brock and Fernette Eide originally peaked my attention because when I saw the title, I was immediately transported back to my parents’ house before I started school.  I was sitting at the dining room table, with my older siblings, Rosie and Ray, hovering over me telling me I was stupid.  And I did not understand why.  They were trying to teach me how to write my name and had become frustrated because much as they tried, as their voices grew louder and louder, I simply could not accomplish the task.  “You didn’t copy it the way we wrote it” and “She won’t do what we tell her to” filled the air.  Finally, they dragged me into the bathroom to demonstrate that what I wrote was “mirror” writing and backwards.  Since my brain did not see the letters I had written as any different from what I had copied; and since I did not understand the concept of a mirror reflecting an image that is the reverse of what is before it, being pulled into the bathroom was frightening, not enlightening.  All I learned from that experience was there was something else wrong with me besides being left-handed. And this one was a really bad thing – I was stupid.

Now of course, I don’t remember when the break-through happened and I grasped the concept of how to write, but since I don’t remember this being the issue once I did toddle off to kindergarten, it must have clicked sometime in the year I was four years old.   I did not have trouble learning to read and quickly a new complaint arose from them –“there she is again, with her nose in a book”.

And so, I have never thought of myself as dyslexic – a term that did not exist when I was a child.   And the lingering problem of instinctively mixing up the directions of right and left that I still battle today, I have always attributed to being left-handed – and not related at all to my original trouble with mirror-writing.

I did not forget, however, that instinctive way of writing, and even today, if I position myself with pen in hand at the upper right-had corner of a piece of paper, my brain automatically switches, and I easily can write my name , your name, or take notes – all only legible by holding the page up to the mirror.  I also have not forgotten that I am the “dumb one” in the eyes of my siblings.  And, no, they have not forgotten either – and often react to whatever I say or do with disbelief, disdain and comments that communicate that surely, I have misunderstood – but that’s another story not for today.  Suffice it to say, that it’s a deep wound and instinctive that when I achieve something of significance, I hope that perhaps I might hear just once from my family  ”Good Girl” – even though I know full well I won’t.

But I digress.  Prompted by the request from a friend to teach her to be “as dumb” as me”, I was motivated to go right home and open that waiting book – “The Dyslexic Advantage-Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslectic Brain”.

WOW!  I can only say, within minutes of putting “my nose in that book”, I learned so much that clarifies the life I have lived and where I find myself today.   Perhaps I am NOT the stupid one; perhaps I am just the only one of my siblings that “perceive the written word differently…conceive space more intuitively, see connections between unrelated objects, and are able to make great leaps creatively that others simply miss.” What a wonderful thing to contemplate after all these years!

But more importantly, this is a book that everyone with even a hint of dyslexia, and every parent and sibling of such a person, as well as every educator should pick up and read.  As the book jacket promises,  the Eides combine newly emerging brain science with their expertise in neurology and learning disorders to explain dyslexia.  And by doing so, they erase the stigma of disability, replace it with its advantages, and thus give to all those who struggle with the challenges of dyslexia, a reason for hope.

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