A few weeks ago, something happened that reminded me why I’m grateful for my dyslexic brain.
I’m a teacher, and I was working in the classroom with my students. I was going from table to table, patiently giving out directions and handing out sticker rewards as the kids bombarded me with questions. I had one eye on one student, my other eye on my next task, while getting ready to shift gears into a math assignment for the class. One of the parent volunteers was struggling to keep up with me.
After the class, the parent came to me, and said, half-flustered, “How do you manage all the kids? I’m already overwhelmed.”
“I guess I lucked out,” I said. “My brain handles chaos pretty well.”
I’ve always known that I thrive in unruly situations. But I hadn’t thought about how that helped me in my job as teacher, until this parent pointed it out. It was a good feeling.
I haven’t always been happy with the way my brain works, however.
In grade school, I struggled with the basics of reading and writing. After my mom saw me trying to read a book upside down, she had me evaluated. That’s when my family learned I had dyslexia. We later found out I have , too. My family got me support in school and worked with me on a daily basis, and I became a very good student.
But having dyslexia was still tough on me. Because of my challenges, it took me much longer to finish my homework than other kids. In high school, it really started to get to me.
While my friends were going out on weekends, there I was stuck at home, doing homework. My parents never forced that on me. They gave me the choice, and I decided to work hard in school and do well, maybe because I felt the need to prove people wrong. Even so, I still resented that my brain was different.
When you’re young, it’s so easy to see the things you’re bad at, like reading a book. It’s much harder to see what you’re good at. And one of my best strengths was something I wasn’t even aware of.
Although it took me a longer time to do my work, I could do it while multitasking. I’d do my math homework with the TV on and get all the problems right. Keeping the TV on drove my dad crazy, but it was just the way my brain felt comfortable.
I think if I had realized back then, how different I was from other people in high school, I would have been much happier. But I never paid attention to things I could do, only those things I couldn’t.
My low point came during my first year of college. During that year, I didn’t get the support and the college promised me. I was on the East Coast, far from my family in California, and things snowballed. Although I was getting good grades, the stress was just too much. After talking with my parents, I left the school.
I transferred to a college near San Francisco, and that’s when things looked up. The school had an awesome disability services department. I was able to meet up with other students with learning and thinking differences, and they introduced me to Eye to Eye, a national mentoring organization.
All of a sudden at Eye to Eye, I started meeting all these other students who thought the way I thought, who saw the world like I did. I’d start a sentence and someone else would finish it. I realized I wasn’t alone.
As college went on, I also started to notice the side of me that loves multitasking. And I started to embrace it. Juggling 10 projects in the air at one time is something that I love, even if I occasionally need a push to get everything finished. I get energized by the activity.
The same brain that causes my difficulties with reading allows me to handle 20-plus kids, 6 hours a day, 5 days a week for 9 months out of the year, and not go crazy. It’s why I can have a group of kids at a table, with two doing addition, two multiplication and two subtraction, while I’m rotating and never missing a beat. That’s not something everyone can do. But it took me a long time to realize this strength.
I have great skills in some areas, and there are other areas where I struggle. It’s all part of who I am, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s why I love my dyslexic brain.
Read about the importance of self-esteem for kids with learning and thinking differences. Find out how to recognize strengths in your child. You can even try a hands-on activity to identify your child’s strengths.
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About the author
Anya Wasko, MA a special education teacher in San Mateo, California, has dyslexia and ADHD.