Guest Author: McKenzie Erickson, Marketing Coordinator at Benetech
Dyslexia. It’s a word I’ve heard since the third grade. It was the explanation for why I couldn’t read, why I had to cheat on my weekly spelling tests, and why I felt different. I’ve since come to realize there is more to dyslexia than its disadvantages.
When I was in school, I put a significant amount of energy into keeping my dyslexia a secret. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was in special education, or that I had a tutor for nine years, or that my parents read my advanced placement (AP) textbooks to me. I worked hard to make sure I had the perfect grades and the perfect resume to get into the perfect college. I overcompensated by working three times as hard as my peers. I was student body president in my senior year while being involved in multiple extra curricular activities. I needed to make sure people saw me as smart and competent.
After graduating high school and taking some time to reflect on what I really needed, I made the decision to attend Landmark College. It was there, among hundreds of other students with learning disabilities and attention issues that I began to define who I am. I found helpful resources like the National Center for Learning Disabilities and learned more about disability laws and my right to accommodations. I developed skills to advocate for what I need to be successful. Learning differently is what all students at Landmark College have in common. It was time to discover who I am beyond my dyslexia.
My associates’ degree at Landmark College prepared me to attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I began to focus on knowing and understanding exactly what I have to offer and what energizes me. I opened myself to the possibility that my strengths were not in spite of my dyslexia, but because of it. I honed my skills by studying branding, creative and critical thinking, and human centered design. As a capstone I interned at Benetech.
I just celebrated my three-year anniversary at Benetech. I’m proud to put my design and marketing degree to use contributing to Bookshare, a global literacy initiative of Benetech. Bookshare is an online library of over 350,000 accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities like dyslexia. By continuing to develop my strengths and identifying ways to compensate for my challenges I’m crafting my ideal career.
This LD Awareness Month, I encourage all teachers to consider which of their students might have dyslexia. Notice how bright they are and how hard they are working. Help them to identify and celebrate their interests and strengths. Understand that these students are constantly confronting their major weaknesses—reading and writing. And thank you in advance for seeking out the necessary professional development to provide effective evidence-based interventions.
For parents of children who are struggling with dyslexia or other learning and attention issues, I want you to know that there are resources and communities of support available to you. Whether in your local community or on Web sites like Understood.org, there are experts who can provide information to help you make decisions and navigate this journey, and there other parents who understand the challenges you face and will share their stories.
I urge all students with learning disabilities to pursue activities that you enjoy. Believe in your ability to learn. Use your voice to increase awareness and understanding of the whole of dyslexia. Help to shift the paradigm from disadvantages to advantages. Find your strength and focus on making it into your super-power.
Author’s Note: In case you’re wondering… yes, it took me more time than you can imagine to write this blog post. But some things are just worth it!
Hay McKenzie you and I attended Landmark College the same time. I think if you knew my full name or saw me you would remember me. I do not believe we were in any classes together. I am not going to use my name here as I do not wanna to share that out in the public. Thanks for sharing your story and including Landmark College in in your post here. Have you been back to Landmark Campus? If not you would be surprised with the upgrades and new things that are happening there. I do not feel that Landmark College gets enough credit for what they do. Or gets on enough of these stories. Anyways that is enough for this comment I do not want to make it to long. Take care and thanks McKenzie.
Well said, McKenzie! Very useful for sharing with the families and students with whom I work. THANK YOU, keep speaking out and up, I’ll do the same, gratitude and love, Colette
Hi McKenzie- My heart is wide open! Shout from the rooftops- you made the journey and did not give cup- despite all the obstacles- I join you and your remarkable family in saying you are a role model that we want all those with dyslexia to be!
Way to go McKenzie- while I was reading your article I too was thinking you probably put a lot of time into developing this – I always had to work so hard as well preparing written documents. I am so proud of you – keep doing the wonderful work and thank you for mentoring so many others that are following in your steps.
ps I will hand this article out to my students.
psps I had to proof read this 4 times before sending!!!! I still have dysgraphia!!!!!
Thank you for taking time to tell us your story
Laura and Star,
I’m glad you found my story inspiring.
Sue, Jennifer, James and Roxanne,
Thank you for your kind words.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful and inspiring story.
As a parent of a now 15-yr old son with dyslexia and dysgraphia, it is always wonderful to hear about the success of young adults with similar challenges. While my family knows great success and happiness in life for any person challenged by dyslexia or any other disability is possible, there are times unfortunately that others make it sound impossible. Thanks for being willing to share your story and insight with others.
Thank you for your insights! As a special education teacher and mother of a dyslexic daughter, I appreciate your personal story. I try to teach courage and perseverance to all of my students- strengths you have obviously developed!
Thank you for crafting this wonderful blog post. Writing and exposing ourselves in this type of forum is not something that most of us seek out. Your contributions and insights to the dyslexic community are so valued and your work with Benetech and insights for BookShare will be so critically important.
What a wonderful story!!
“Help to shift the paradigm from disadvantages to advantages. Find your strength and focus on making it into your super-power.”
So beautifully and powerfully said. Great post!