Confessions of a Girl With Dyslexia

How I learned to believe I was smart

We were all seated around the teal oval rug, and I was on the verge of vomiting.

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My heart was pounding so hard, it created a ringing sound in my ears, all voices in the background diminished to Charlie Brown “wa wa wa wa’s.”

Thump, thump, thump. My heart grew louder in my ears, creeping up into my throat. I wiped my sweaty hands on my tom-boy cut-offs. Maybe it’d be a good thing if I threw up? Anything to stop what would happen next.

“Skylar?”

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Can everyone hear my heart? 

“Skylar!”

I was awoken from my panic attack by my 4th-grade teacher, Ms. Edwards.

“It’s your turn to read,” she smiled.

With shaking hands, I took the book from Colleen who was sitting to my left. Knowing I was lost, she pointed to where she had left off. I began.

Stopping and starting, I wondered how bad it really sounded, but then, it was confirmed.

“Don’t worry,” Colleen announced to the class, an attempt at easing their discomfort. “She has a disease.”

“She has a disease.” This moment has been fossilized into my mind forever. It was the first time a peer made a judgment about me because of my dyslexia, and it would not be the last.

That day, “She’s dumb” was permanently seared into my skin with her verbal branding iron.

***

Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that interferes with word processing. Basically, when a normal brain reads a word, it’s like “Cool. I got this. r-e-a-d, that spells read, b*tchs!”

When my brain reads a word, it’s like, “Nah, let’s make this really complicated. Let’s make this like trying to understand why Britney Spears had her 2008 meltdown.” It’s confusing, painful, and takes up way too much of your time. 

Luckily, there are wonderful dyslexia specialists out there who help kids like me learn to read in a way our brains better understand. You may be a natural reader, I’m a decoder.

The misconception with dyslexics is that they are stupid. My heart just started beating faster as I typed this; a lifelong struggle of busting my *ss to prove otherwise will do that to a girl, I suppose.

Dyslexics, however, typically have high IQs (yes, Einstein was dyslexic), can be amazing storytellers (Hi, Steven Spielberg!), can read people’s emotions like no other, and can have amazing hearing and long-term memories. The list of positive qualities goes on and on.

But so what? My haters certainly aren’t googling “positive traits of dyslexia” in their spare time…

So here was the thing: the only person I had to prove this to, was myself. And so began my journey. 

***

By the time I reached 8th grade, I was a quiet, hardworking but good student, more focused on my dance career than anything else. There was just one problem. My school ended at 8th grade, which meant I would have to face my first set of standardized testing to get into high school.

This was the second time I was branded with “You’re dumb.” This one, placed right under my collar and above my heart.

I nervously sat waiting in a sterile office, the rough fabric of my chair itching my skin. Then, the head of my middle school entered. She was the one who had called the meeting. After a few moments of small chat, she came clean.

“Skylar’s ISEE scores aren’t great.”

I knew this already, so what?

“I think it’s best if she doesn’t apply to Hockaday. She’ll never get in.”

I was heartbroken. It was the one school I’d fallen in love with. But, if there’s one thing I had learned from dyslexia, it’s that you must persist (and ignore a lot of bombastic opinions). So, I applied anyway…and I got in.

I started Hockaday that Fall, and in my green and white plaid skirt, it was there my brandings began to heal over. My creative writing was soon held up in front of classes, a teacher took me aside and told me I didn’t have to be a dancer, writing was an option for me. Yes, there were a lot of brainiacs that scored perfectly on their SATs at my school, but they’d all be there hooting and hollering with joy as they watched me perform the lead role in our Spring ballet. I was different. And that was okay. In fact, I was starting to like it.

When my senior year rolled around, I got into every university I applied to and even received a scholarship to NYU. And let me tell you, it was NOT my test scores that got me in. No way in hell.

I was starting to so fiercely recognize what I liked and what I was good at, and if I’m honest, I’m not sure this would have happened if I hadn’t been so limited in other areas. I was on fire, and I liked the warmth.

 After I graduated from film school, bright-eyed and hungry, I took a job in LA. My dyslexia was something I hadn’t thought about for years besides the extended time I received on tests in college. It felt like part of my past.

On the second day of my shiny new LA job, I made a joke after flipping two words as I spoke. “It’s the dyslexia!” I exclaimed after we all stopped giggling.

“Oh dear lord. Please don’t tell me I hired a dyslexic editor,” my boss retorted, dead serious.

I cried in my car all the way home. But there was one thing I didn’t do; I didn’t let him brand me.

Yes, I was hurt, but then and there, for the first time in my life, I didn’t let him tell me I wasn’t smart. I knew I was smart, and he could never take that away from me. No one could.

So here’s my confession: my browser history is a long list of googling how to spell words, this essay is RIDDLED with typos, and I’ll have to proof it 17 times; I literally can’t remember names to save my life, and I still shake when I have to read aloud.

But you know what? I don’t care.

I can write one hell of an essay, and that’s good enough for me.

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