By Daniel J. Vance
Dyslexia can affect a person's handwriting, spelling, reading, and writing—and his or her life-long confidence. The International Dyslexia Association website defines it as a permanent learning disorder characterized by problems in "single word decoding."
For instance, a person with dyslexia may reverse, invert or transpose letters, and read "dog" as "god," or "felt" as "left." Words can appear to run together. It affects to some degree five percent of Americans. Though usually above average in intelligence, individuals with dyslexia are often judged "slow" or "stupid."
Eighteen-year-old Heidi Sample of Cordova, Illinois, struggles with dyslexia. She recently told me her story over the telephone.
"Sometimes words on a paper look like a jumbled mess, with the words all running together," she said. "I'll look at a word and often take the last letter and put it next to the first. I get made fun of and called names. When I was little and didn't have as many friends, I was called 'stupid' and 'retard.' One girl in class to this day still makes fun of me. She does it to make other people laugh.
"I had a special education teacher in fourth grade who had no idea what dyslexia was. Everyone thought I was stupid and so did I. I was absolutely miserable, cried myself to sleep at night and dreaded, just dreaded, going to school. I remember them telling me I was 'handicapped in my mind.' It was made worse by having an amazingly smart older brother in the gifted/talented class. Then in fifth grade they determined I had dyslexia.
"Growing up, when the teacher asked me to read I'd always say my eyes were too tired and make excuses. If she made me read, I'd stop to sound out words and other kids would say I was stupid. Until two years ago I thought strongly about suicide. Since then I've been better able to cope. Now I'm a cashier at a local grocery and only the manager knows. I make pricing mistakes all the time. When I try to explain, most people don't understand and some call me a retard. Some kids physically run away from me thinking they can catch it.
"I need a career where I don't have to spell much. So I'm applying to a photography college in California.
"We are normal people. Just be more patient with us."