In the 3rd grade I told a friend that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. It wasn’t long before I realized I couldn’t spell to save my life, so couldn’t possibly be a writer. Letters could not be trusted. They shifted and changed, and words I could spell one day I couldn’t spell on another. I must have been wrong.
Dyslexia was talked about in my family, but it was never about me. It was my bothers who my parents worried about. In time, I decided I had some Dyslexia, too.
I was an adult when I diagnosed myself with Attention Deficit Disorder, Inattentive Type. I seem to be the only one in my family with it. Nobody admits to it and they don’t really understand it, although in hindsight I can see that our mother had it. It’s common in childhood that those with hyperactivity got diagnosed with ADHD for obvious reasons. These children can drive the adults nuts in a hurry with their excessive energy. The lack of self-control in some is daunting, not to mention the impulsivity. Those with the inattentive type often go under the radar and struggle on their own, often feeling lost and confused.
I’ve had my own moments with impulsivity and humiliated myself because of it. There are those who witnessed me tackle a 11 year-old boy during the festivities on the marina. I saw the boy get prizes already and then I saw him grab a hat out of an adults hands. I jumped up, tackled him and then waved the hat in victory. I didn’t even want the hat. It was that this kid was taking more than his share and being disrespectful towards adults that got me. Part of me felt it was my responsibility to set a limit as his parents clearly didn’t. I wish the other part of me had stopped and thought. This isn’t my child. It is not my responsibility to teach him a lesson. If only these thoughts were faster than the impulse.
Feelings of humiliation and regret quickly set in. I had to wait a week until the next gathering was planned to return the hat to the host who had been flinging them out to the crowd. I sent an apology email to the people I was with and not all were my friends or even friendly.
My dad had dyslexia and it impacted his life in terrible ways. He was born in the year 1919. I imagine that his parents and brothers teased him, insulted him and made him feel small. Dyslexia that was not understood in his time. As a boy he spent time in the corner with a dunce cap on his head. It breaks my heart to think of it. Ironically he was a brilliant man who could fix just about anything. He was a skilled plumber, electrician, had his own cement mixer, welding equipment and a vast array of tools and machinery.
I once came across him finishing a bathroom remodeling job for a friend. I recognized his car out front and wound my way through the open garage door. I watched him silently for a moment waiting for a pause in his work. I learned early not to get in the way or be a distraction when he was working. I admired the tiled shower, the painted walls and the flooring that matched up perfectly. Sadly, I don’t think he ever fully appreciated his talent.
Fortunately for my dad he was a terrific athlete growing up and popular with his peers. He was class president. The story goes that he had to borrow someone else’s letterman jacket for a yearbook photo. If he had his own jacket it would have been covered in Letters from the many athletic achievements. Whatever money he made went to his mother and sisters, not on buying himself an expensive jacket.
To put it simply my father was a complicated man. I grew up hearing him refer to his children as dumbasses who couldn’t find their asses with both hands. I was confused by the one about being as useless as a boar with tits. As a child I thought he said board, as in a 2×4 with breasts. I guessed that’s pretty useless. Once my siblings and I made a list of about 20 saying our father used to use when talking to us, when he was teasing us. I don’t remember him saying these things in anger unless someone broke something or got in serious trouble.
Between my struggles with learning and hearing my father’s assessment of me, I was convinced I was largely worthless. This led to looking to others for acceptance. It’s an old story that many young women experience. And although I hung out with some questionable characters who did not always treat me with respect, I managed ok and still have friends today that I had when I was a child.
I want those who love someone with learning challenges to understand it’s not about being lazy, although some do give up and don’t do what needs doing. Allowing a kid to disappear into the world of video games is a huge mistake. Kids have to find a way to learn and that takes effort. It’s hard. Not wanting to put in the effort is lazy.
A large part of managing successfully is to develop some habits. Create things that work for you. Making lists has been really helpful for me and putting the list in a safe place, so as not to lose it. Putting things in the same place provides predictability, setting out reminders can give visual cues. I’ll place an object on my dashboard when I use my headlights in the daytime. I like my old car, but I have killed the battery a few times. Finding ways to help overcome the obstacles is important and can be different for everyone.
Surprisingly, I always got good grades, but I didn’t do much in the way of homework until I went to high school. I went from a public to private school where all 6 teachers handed out an hours worth of homework most nights. There were also finals and a lot more tests than I was used to.
I had to find a way to succeed. My parents were spending money on me now. I wanted to prove to my father, who had been ill most of my life, that I was not a “Dumbass Kid!” I wanted to prove I was worth the tuition and that I wouldn’t let them down. I worked hard to figure out what I needed to learn. More than anything I needed a quiet place without distractions, not even a radio. Even though I shared my bedroom with my younger sister, we rarely fought about my taking over our bedroom. She was gone a lot, although I can remember one fight in particular.
I was studying for a psychology final I had to take in the morning. It was about 11:00 pm, and I’d been at it for hours. My sister came to bed and immediately turned the radio on to a rock and roll station. I told her to turn it off, and she said she needed it to sleep. We screamed and yelled at each other before I decided I’d done enough studying for the night and went to bed.
I’ve continued to be challenged by letters, numbers, restlessness and focus. It’s the forgetting, especially the details, that really bother me. At least now I have a better understanding. Funny, I can recall applying for a job after graduate school that listed “attention to detail a must.” I didn’t even know myself well enough to know details were not my thing.
My message is that self-knowledge helps us to have compassion and forgiveness for ourselves. Don’t let what others tell you about who you are make you believe you are less than. I may be a slow learner and that fact triggers my doubts about being a dumbass, of being stupid and unworthy. That voice lingers ever so quietly in the back of my head, but now I challenge it. I don’t readily accept it as I once did.
I was on the honor roll in high school and graduated with honors in college. My dad lived long enough to see me start college. By then we was saying, “You can do anything you set your mind to, Baby Doll,” to all of his kids.
I hope you will fight the good fight as well.