University of South Carolina women’s basketball star A’ja Wilson is a force to be reckoned with. The 21-year-old led her team to this year’s NCAA women’s semifinals, and she’s expected to be the number-one WNBA draft pick overall. But it’s her openness about dyslexia that’s making headlines.
Penning a personal essay to The Players’ Tribune, Wilson says she’s always struggled with reading. Growing up, she dreaded being called on to read aloud in class.
“It’s not that I flat-out couldn’t read. I definitely could,” she writes. “But I didn’t always comprehend what I was reading … I’d get so mixed up.”
Her early school years were difficult. She was told: “You’re just being lazy, A’ja. You need to try harder.”
“But that’s the thing,” she writes. “I was trying. I really was.”
Wilson wasn’t officially diagnosed until her sophomore year of high school, and it still took years for her to accept it. Her first steps were to get and support in school. Then, when she started college, she and her parents decided every professor should know about her dyslexia.
Wilson credits her college coach, Dawn Staley, for helping her open up fully about dyslexia. Staley would ask her to read a Bible passage to the team before every game. The exercise helped Wilson to become more confident as a player and as a person with learning differences.
“I think A’ja, in dealing with dyslexia, you always think that you’re less than because you don’t pick up on things as quickly,” Staley said in an interview. “Your processes are just a little bit different.”
By writing her essay about dyslexia, Wilson wants people to “understand it’s real.” And she wants to show the human side of her struggle with reading. As one of the best athletes in University of South Carolina history, and with a WNBA career in front of her, it looks like she’s just getting started.
Wilson is just one of many athletes speaking out about learning and thinking differences.
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Tara Drinks is an editor at Understood.