DISABILITIES

HOMEPAGE: www.danieljvance.com


By Daniel J. Vance


I never thought I'd write about a man on a Wheaties box.

New York native Bruce Jenner won an Olympic gold medal in 1976 by breaking the world record in the decathlon. Since then he has been active in Special Olympics, The Dream Foundation, and C.O.A.C.H. For Kids. Hasbro has marketed a Bruce Jenner doll and Parker Brothers has a Bruce Jenner board game. For brevity, I can't list all the dozens of other organizations and activities, including sports announcing and public speaking, he has been involved in.

But perhaps you aren't aware of his experiences with a learning disability.

“I flunked second grade and was held back,” said Jenner in a telephone interview, talking of his lifelong struggle reading because of dyslexia. “My biggest fear as a kid was going to school, because I was afraid the teacher was going to make me read (out loud) in class. That was the most traumatic experience anyone could have. I got sweaty palms. I didn't want to look bad in front of friends. And they think you're stupid because you can't read well.”

He explained dyslexia in his own words. “With dyslexia your eyes work fine, and your brain works fine, but that connection between your eye and brain is not a fluid process. Where it really shows up is in reading, as in any time you have to rapidly visually identify and understand something.”

A person with dyslexia may reverse, invert or transpose letters, thinking, for instance, that the word "dog" is really "bog," or that "felt" is "left." Words in a sentence may appear to run together. Dyslexia may affect more than ten percent of Americans.

Said Jenner, “When talking with kids about dyslexia in schools, I try building up their self-esteem, (to counter) their feeling of being stupid and not as smart as other kids.”

Citing the help that modern computer “spell-checkers” offer, for one, he says kids “have it made” today if dyslexia is their only life problem. The bigger challenge with the learning disability, he said, is one of combating the poor self-esteem brought on by negative comments from peers and parents.

“We put so much pressure on kids to excel in school at such a young age,” he said. “I still have nightmares about taking tests.”

Next week learn how Bruce Jenner turned his disability into Olympic gold.

For more, see danieljvance.com. [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]