My Truth About Dyslexia―What I Wish for Other Kids With Dyslexia and Their Parents

Douglas Rawan II, a sixth-grader with dyslexia

Douglas Rawan II, a sixth-grader with dyslexia

Note: October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month


My name is Douglas Rawan II. I am 11-years-old, live in Massachusetts, and I have a story about dyslexia.

It starts back in fourth grade when I began to feel different than my friends in school. Making jokes was the way I would cover up having no confidence in school. No one knew that inside I felt stupid. I remember one day when my mom asked me to do some reading and writing, and I threw pencils on the floor and my book. I remember my mom looked really sad. Inside I knew it would be too hard, but I didn’t know why. Since Kindergarten, my mom hired tutors to help with reading, but nothing changed at school. I also had a hard time focusing at school until one day I came home and told my mom that I asked the assistant principal for a standing desk. My parents didn’t even know what that was.

One day, my fourth grade teacher called my mom and said she thought I was really smart but that my work did not show it. She encouraged my parents to get me tested. I did get tested, and after that I thought things would get better for me but they didn’t. My parents finally told me the testing showed that I have ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] and dyslexia and that I was two to three years behind in reading. I was so mad and asked them “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME BEFORE?”

My parents didn’t know what to say to me and never even used the word dyslexia, as the school told them that they don’t use that word. Once I learned about dyslexia and all the famous people who had it I told my dad one day, “Dad, I hope that I have dyslexia as Albert Einstein had it!”

I am dyslexic, which means I have a problem with reading. Having dyslexia doesn’t mean you have low intelligence or are lazy, it just means that your brain works differently. When I read, I don’t understand what I am reading, and I get easily frustrated. When I see a long word, I think “OH NO,” because I think I can’t read the word. Sometimes I break up the word or skip it. Also, when I read it usually comes out slow. I forget what happens when I read. A lot of words are hard for me to read. This makes me feel stupid.

Luckily, I go to a new school, which helps kids like me. When I came to my new school for fifth grade, I had a gap between my reading and grade level. In my first year, I made more progress in my reading than I ever had before. Today I’m still a little below my grade level, but with the right instruction, I expect to close the gap all the way. The teachers help me understand how my brain works, which helps me to read.

I am now in sixth grade in small classes and can get the tools I need, which is helping me to focus and “unlock my brain.” The way they are teaching me actually builds new connections or neurons in my brain, which changes the way my brain works, helping me to communicate and read better. I don’t have to struggle alone and think about how stupid I feel any more.

Knowing that I just needed the right tools makes me wonder what happens to other kids who are dyslexic. Are there other parents like mine that need the help for their kids? I wish that kids like me who still struggle with reading and paying attention in school can get the help they need.

This is why I decided to write a letter last year to President Donald J. Trump asking him what he could do as our president to make sure no child like me was ever left behind. After I sent the letter, my mom started getting other calls from moms who also see their kids struggling.

At the beginning of sixth grade, I met a new student who was visiting my school named Michael who was having troubles just like me. My mom told his mom that I wrote a letter to President Trump, and she sent it to Michael’s mom. The day I first met Michael, he asked for my autograph. It made me feel like I just won the World Series. Michael had never met someone like me who had the same troubles as he did.

If I look back, I wish my mom didn’t have to cry so much. I wish that my school had tested me back in elementary school so that I did not struggle alone. I wish the word dyslexia was used all the time so all kids could know that some of the most successful people like Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, Steven Jobs, Sir Richard Branson, Walt Disney and JFK Jr. all had dyslexia.

If kids like me knew that dyslexia doesn’t have to do with intelligence but that we have a hard time understanding how sounds and letters go together, which makes it really, really hard to read. I wish kids knew that when a teacher read me a test I got a 107, but if I had to take a regular test and write the answers I would get a 67 or 57. When the teachers told my mom that I just had to study more, I wish the teacher knew that it wasn’t the material I didn’t know, it was the way that they were asking me to take the test.

I wish for so many things for the kids who struggle. I wish I could go back to my old school and talk to all the kids who feel stupid because of reading and tell them the truth about dyslexia. I wish for all of this and so much more for kids and for their moms and dads.

I hope that no kid spends another minute feeling stupid and sad.


Related Blog: OSERS Assistant Secretary Collett expressed his commitment to rethink special education in a blog post last month.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

A Teacher’s Perspective on Advancing Dyslexic Education

Note: October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.

Alison Pankowski

Alison Pankowski

Alison Pankowski currently trains teachers in her New Jersey district in the Wilson Reading System and is an International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Certified Dyslexia Therapist. She is the current Vice President of the New Jersey branch of the IDA.  Mrs. Pankowski was a contributing member to the New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook, released in September 2017.


As a dyslexia specialist in my school district, I build the knowledge base of my colleagues regarding early identification, structured literacy intervention and essential accommodations for students with dyslexia.

I explain, often, that:

  • “Yes, you can identify students at risk for dyslexia as early as five years old.”
  • “Yes, teachers should provide instruction in phonemic awareness in second grade to continue to build reading skills.”
  • “No, using audiobooks is not a crutch; it provides access to grade-level text for struggling readers and levels the playing field.”

While it is true that legislative efforts in my home state of New Jersey have helped to bring these types of conversations to the local school level, there is still much work to be done to ensure that our state dyslexia laws, enacted in 2013 and 2014, are implemented effectively.

There are still many persistent misconceptions about dyslexia, and much of the implementation gap exists because professionals cannot act upon what they do not know or understand.

The truth is higher education often does not include coursework on dyslexia in teacher preparation programs, so local education agencies must either figure out how to build capacity or wait until guidance is provided.

But where would this guidance come from?

In New Jersey, I was invited to join a group of individuals tasked with creating dyslexia guidance. This group consisted of practitioners with expert knowledge in the field of dyslexia, including learning disabilities teacher consultants, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, higher education professors, assistive technology experts, parents and N.J. Department of Education representatives.

New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook

New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook

We worked together for more than 19 months to create the “New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook” with the intent to:

  • Build an understanding of dyslexia and related difficulties with written language;
  • Demonstrate how to identify and remediate students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties; and
  • Inform both educators and families in best practices to support students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties.

We met monthly to discuss how to best provide this understanding and specialized knowledge without overwhelming or alienating educators and families.

Our meetings involved thoughtful, often passionate conversations about what we had experienced or had heard from others around the state; both positive and negative, regarding how schools had chosen to implement the laws passed by the state.

Usually these discussions resulted in written revisions to chapters drafted on early screening, intervention, assessment, accommodations and assistive technology. These discussions then led to more discussions and more revisions!

As committee members with experience in the field, we met with educators and families across the state throughout the process to learn more about what guidance they were seeking and to assure them that it would be coming soon. We worked diligently to craft a resource that would provide best practices to meet the needs of their struggling readers.

The N.J. Department of Education released “The New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook: A Guide to Early Literacy Development & Reading Struggles” Sept. 25, 2017—just in time for Dyslexia Awareness Month in October.

My hope is that this handbook will be a giant step forward in closing the gap between the research on dyslexia and the implementation of best practices in the school and classroom.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Alison Pankowski
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Alison Pankowski is an International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Certified Dyslexia Therapist and is the current Vice President of the New Jersey branch of the IDA.

LD/ADHD Proud to Be:
Eye to Eye’s Different Thinkers

Eye to Eye's "Different Thinkers" celebrating LS/ADHD Awareness Month

As the month of October and Learning Disabilities / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (LD / ADHD) Awareness Month draws to a close, I have been thinking a lot about how our teams here at OSERS are strengthened by people who have different skills, different knowledge, and different approaches to problems. We don’t all think alike which brings strength to our work. I’d like to introduce some amazing students with LD / ADHD who think differently and bring strength to our society.

Recently, David Flink, Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye, authored a guest blog on the OSERS blog spot. In his post, David emphasized the importance that awareness plays in breaking stigma and building understanding around diverse learning needs. David frames learning disabilities and LD / ADHD awareness in the following terms, “We like to think, ‘It’s not a learning disability, it’s this ability to think differently.’” In his post, David talked about his own 5th grade reading struggles. Over the years, stories from his teachers and others who had LD and ADHD helped him succeed. He knew youth with learning disabilities needed hope, and they needed strategies for success. They needed mentors.

David founded Eye to Eye as a national mentoring organization run by people with LD / ADHD for people with LD / ADHD. The organization recently launched a National Share-Ability Campaign, which highlights the authentic experiences of students with LD / ADHD. If you’ve been in Times Square lately, you might have seen a giant screen “spectacular” sharing a story. Or maybe you know a student who has had a quiet, personal, one-on-one conversation: many have happened in classrooms and homes across the country.

As part of their Share-Ability Campaign, Eye to Eye asked their college-aged mentors across the country, “What would you like to share about your abilities as a different thinker?” OSERS features those kids’ inspirational answers here—positive messages by self-advocates who wanted to help others by telling their own story.

We welcome you to read their experiences and invite you to share your own.

 

 


Chelsea Bennett, Knox CollegeChelsea Bennett, Knox College

As a different thinker, I have been able to learn more about myself. Not only have I learned how to navigate my ADHD and explore how I learn best, I have also been able to learn great things about myself. My ADHD may be a challenge, but it has also taught me to enjoy the quirky, hyper, fun-loving person that I am because that is what makes me unique!


Katy Demko, University of PittsburghKaty Demko, University of Pittsburgh

Some people think my ADHD should hold me back, but I think it pushes me even more! It took me a while to figure out how I learn and it was a lot of trial and error. But I have come to realize that it is not a learning disability—I just learn differently.


Josh Dishman, Radford UniversityJosh Dishman, Radford University

My disabilities actually give me strength to work even harder towards a goal. Growing up, I was labeled as the wild, energetic kid who could never pay attention in class, which led many to believe that I was an idiot. As I grew up, I learned that having ADHD didn’t make me stupid, it just meant I had to work a little harder. I may have not been attentive enough to read a book, but if I listened to the book on audio, I was able to lead the class discussion on the novel.


Chris Gorman, Hobart and William Smith CollegesChris Gorman, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

I think that having ADHD allows me to approach problems differently. While most people would look to reach point D by going from A to B to C and then D, I always bounce around the problem. This lets me approach problems from a different angle and look at something in a totally different light than most people would.


Caroline Lee, Boston CollegeCaroline Lee, Boston College

As a different thinker, I can get lost on the way to class, forget where I put my textbook, and mix up my 10 AM class with my 12 PM class. But I still know that I have a valuable mind that can learn and approach things in interesting and meaningful ways.


Luz Madrigal, UC IrvineLuz Madrigal, UC Irvine

My ADHD brain is like a computer with a lot of different windows open all at once, and they are all functioning at the same time. I am a bit slow at learning new things just because I pay attention to too many details, but once I learn the task at hand, I tend to be above average in speed at that same job that took me longer to learn. I make sure I slowly learn everything, and once I do, WAM…I am extra efficient because I am a great multi-tasker! ADHD is pretty cool if you ask me.


Brianna Malin, University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignBrianna Malin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I am a different thinker and I am very proud of it. Living with an LD and ADHD has helped me gain confidence and motivation to succeed in anything I do. I have determination, drive, and dedication to always do my best to reach my goals. This has also helped me to be resilient in the face of any obstacle. I am very grateful to be different and to think different because it makes me, me!


Georgia Mavrogeorgis, SUNY BuffaloGeorgia Mavrogeorgis, SUNY Buffalo

My learning disabilities provide me with the gift of being able to understand and see the world from a different perspective.
I’m more open-minded and accepting of individuals and their differences.


Becca O’Hea, ECUBecca O’Hea, East Carolina University

Having dyslexia has given me immense patience in having to spend extra hours completing reading assignments, and taught me to be a strong listener to compensate for being a slow reader and writer. I make it a point to tell others about my difference and how it has help me in furthering my career as a student and as a future school psychologist.


Brandon Odenheimer, University of DenverBrandon Odenheimer, University of Denver

I have been classified as LD and ADHD since 1st grade. Now I’m in my senior year of college, and I have been able to use my way of learning to succeed in my studies all the way. The ability to share my experiences with others is very rewarding.


Arthi Selvan, Temple UniversityArthi Selvan, Temple University

I’ve struggled a lot with being a different thinker, especially as a science major. To me, being a STEM major means you must be the type A personality: organized, efficient, a linear thinker, competitive. However, my learning difference benefits me. I have the ability to see and approach problems differently than most STEM majors do. I sometimes feel like I have a secret super power because of my ability to think differently.


Sam Solomon, University of WyomingSam Solomon, University of Wyoming

Nobody ever told me bluntly, that I was doing it “wrong.” But after a lifetime of little corrections and criticisms about how you think and live, you start to hear it. It takes a lot of courage, a lot of self-love to truthfully tell yourself that your habits and flaws and quirks are wonderful. It isn’t about fixing yourself. You have to form an alliance with your learning style.

 


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Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

One Act of Sharing, A World of Difference:
When My Teacher Told Me She Had Dyslexia


An OSERS guest blog by David Flink
David Flink

David Flink is founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye and author of Thinking Differently: An Inspiring Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities


October is Learning Disabilities (LD) Awareness Month, a time when the nation turns its attention to the one in five students who learn differently because they have dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or other learning and/or attention issues. Eye to Eye honors the LD/ADHD community this month and throughout the year.

As Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently, “This is a time to understand how these disabilities impact students and their families, to reflect on the significant achievements that these students have made, and to renew our commitment to creating a stronger future for them.”

What does awareness actually mean? What would real awareness look like in our schools, homes, and workplaces? How can we unlock the potential of different learners and create a world where all learners can thrive?

Eye to Eye is the only national mentoring movement that pairs kids who have learning disabilities and ADHD with college and high school mentors who have been similarly labeled. We are an organization for people with LD/ADHD by people with LD/ADHD. And we believe that one of the most powerful things you can do is share your own LD/ADHD story or the story of someone you love.

Owning your LD, then speaking it loud and proud, is the first step in breaking the stigma. When you share your truth, you help a kid feel seen. You tell them they’re not alone. They start to see their future and their potential in a whole new way.

That’s why Eye to Eye mentors work with kids in middle school, telling them, “I’ve been where you are. I made it, you will, too.” It’s why our Eye to Eye Diplomats, who range from successful students to established professionals, speak around the country, saying, “I am what LD/ADHD looks and sounds like and here is how I found success.

I started Eye to Eye in 1998 because that didn’t happen when I was kid. I was a 5th grader who couldn’t read. No matter how much my parents supported me, I had no role models with LD/ADHD. If national statistics hold true, one in five educators has a learning difference or a family member who does. But that would have never occurred to me, I thought I was alone.

It was only after I graduated from Brown University and finished my graduate work in Dis/Ability Studies at Columbia that one of my teachers called to say, “I am dyslexic.” That was revolutionary to me, that one act of sharing.

Imagine that happening in homes and classrooms across the country. What it would mean to kids to hear that the adults in their lives face the same challenges they do.

It would break the stigma. It would create a safe space where a kid can say, “I really think I could learn better if I just had this.” Allowing kids to listen instead of read, learning with their ears instead of their eyes. Or letting kids with attention issues have breaks. Kids can get these accommodations now, but often the stigma of having an LD/ADHD can prevent them from seeking help or access the accommodations that are their legal rights. We should make sure no kid feels ashamed to ask for what they need—and what better way to not feel ashamed than to know you’re talking to someone who really gets it?

When we don’t share, when we keep silent, we lose kids. Kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilities drop out of high school at more than double the rate of students in the general population. Individuals with learning disabilities appear in the U.S. prison population at four times the rate they are found in the general public.

It’s not a small number of kids. Learning disabilities affect as many as 20% of our students. According to the Department of Education, 2.5 million kids have been identified with specific learning disabilities; as many as 6 million with ADHD. Still more have not been identified—and so many don’t get the attention they need. Unless we help them, the national cost in human potential and hard dollars will be tremendous.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about the work we do at Eye to Eye. We encourage everyone to share his or her story. We know that in some environments, revealing takes real courage. But sharing creates a connection. Connection creates community. And a community sparks culture change and a movement.

So, this LD Awareness Month, share your story or the story of someone you love. I started by talking with Secretary Duncan. One month before he made his statement about learning disabilities, two Eye to Eye mentors from the University of Illinois, represented the LD/ADHD community met with Secretary Duncan on his Back-to-School Bus Tour. They told him about the challenges they and the LD/ADHD community faced and what they hoped to do in their lives. They shared. He listened—and committed to change.


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Learning Disabilities Awareness Month: Beyond the Dys in Dyslexia

Guest Author: McKenzie EricksonMarketing 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!