“Keep your eyes on your paper!”
Anytime I ever hear this coming from a teacher I knew it was because of me. I was the kid that was leaning too far over to see my neighbor’s paper that I almost fell out of my seat. In fact, I once got my foot caught underneath the seat as I was trying to lean over and read off another student’s paper. Not only did I fall over but the whole desk came with me.
My excuse for flipping the desk over? I was stretching.
I know what you might think. If only you had applied yourself better! Don’t be lazy! Don’t rely on your neighbors for help! I had heard it all! From my friends, teachers and my grandparents. It was obvious that I was different from other students. I could grasp neither the teachers’ lectures nor the assignment requirements.
I didn’t have the best upbringing. My mother had a hard time staying off drugs and she was in rehab while she was pregnant with me for an addiction to prescription pills. There were moments when I thought maybe this was all her fault. But I don’t bank on that.
It was the beginning of second grade when I first “realized” I was never going to live up to any expectations that people had for me. It wouldn’t be long before the expectations were lowered anyways. After a few weeks with my classmates in second grade, I was moved back down to first grade. The worst part was that they took me out of class on my birthday to “demote” me.
I have never forgotten that day! I remember the feeling of walking down the hall as the principal leaned over and told me, “Happy birthday!” Talk about an awkward moment! As I sat in that same class with the same teacher from the year before, I remember knowing what was going to happen. We did the same art projects, had the same class parties, and learned the same lessons from my first year of school.
Side note: To all the teachers out there that think little kids don’t remember things from one year to the next, you are mistaken! For example, if you tell a parent “This will be good for the child, and they probably won’t remember anyway,” WRONG!
I remember being in the third grade and being taken to a room with a lady whom I had never met. I’m 32 years old and I never have forgotten how it felt to be in that room. After I was tested, my grandparents were told that I had a learning disability and it was recommended that I be placed on an IEP*.< I didn’t find out I was actually dyslexic until many years later! But we will come back to that.
This would be the beginning of the expectation lowering. I was rarely given on grade-level assignments. I was mostly given things that were for one or two grades below.
When I was about 10 or 11, I remember listening to kids reading out loud in class and thinking that someday I would be able to read. Like as if it was something I could just grow into and hadn’t hit that “growth spurt” yet. I didn’t understand that reading was something the other children were being taught, while I was kept at a lower level.
(By the way, I’m still waiting for “someday”.)
Once I got into high school I started having anxiety about all my classes. If I was in art there would come a time when we had to write a report about a painter. If I was in choir I had to be able to read music. It was never-ending. My days at school were long; nothing was better for me at home because I almost always had a letter in the mail telling my grandparents that I was failing a class.
Being a student in high school was so stressful for me. In one class, I would be reading something for a fifth grader; in the next, I’d be in algebra class.
By the time I was in high school I had mastered the art of cheating. At least I had to master something while I was in school. If I wasn’t sucking up to (this may have looked like “manipulating”) a teacher so they’d let me slide with the few things I did turn in, I was paying other kids to secretly leave answers hidden to a test in the classroom.
I would get caught a lot, and often had afterschool detention and even a few in-school suspensions. I was willing to take the risk if that meant that I might get a good grade on a paper. My philosophy (back then): you gotta do what you gotta do!
Thank God for friends! Because without them I would have never graduated. I had a friend in almost every class that would let me have their paper and take it home with me.
It may sound like I didn’t try in school and I was lazy. And yes, that did happen. The times I would give it everything I had in me to do my own work, it was still wrong. And then the lectures would come about how I didn’t apply myself enough.
It was the simple things that were the hardest, too. Once when I was in the 10th grade all we had to do was look up words in the book and write the definition down for that chapter and we could get extra points. Well, a high school class is about 35-40 mins long. I thought to myself, “I can do this! And I might get a high C in this class.”
The problem was it takes me twice as long to look up a word. and these were very long words. See, for me to look something up I have to look it up letter-by-letter. And I didn’t even know what the word said. So, long story short, I only had like five definitions done in the class. So it didn’t help me at all. And I was too prideful to ask for help. What teenager wants to raise their hand and say, “Ms., I can’t look up these words that are right in front of me.” I didn’t even understand that I could ask for help without being scolded by a teacher, assuming laziness. The shame that comes with being dyslexic is powerful. I felt like I was being penalized for having to think harder and longer than most students. For having a “defective” brain. I thought, “If I can’t write more than five definitions in one hour, there must be something wrong with me.” I left class that day with tears falling from my face.
To be honest, by the time I was in high school I had given up on myself just because it was so hard to keep up with my peers. I was able to get a job at a fast food place in the next town over. I had a teacher tell me I would never amount to any more than I already was. And it was in my best interest to not try for anything more. Every time I saw this teacher, a piece of me died knowing she believed I didn’t deserve to aspire to anything else. And, I started to believe it myself.
By God’s grace, I graduated high school at the age of 18.
I continued to struggle with any job I had, but I learned to make up for what I was lacking in academics. I got an iPhone and was able to use Siri to help me spell. I still use an app to help me spell today. And don’t think I don’t get looks from people when I randomly say a word out loud in public just so I can finish a text!
Life is so crazy how it happens! I was on Pinterest one day and started pinning things about being dyslexic. A friend who is a nurse practitioner asked one day if I thought my son was dyslexic. I told her no, but that I had wondered if I was. As the words left my mouth I regretted it. I just told someone my secret! See, by this time I had a family and a job; I was doing pretty good at life. All while keeping my secret that I thought I was dyslexic.
I was worried what people would think. “She’s stupid and can’t read!? How does she even function in life!?” This might be a little dramatic, but that is what I thought people would say.
My nurse practitioner friend didn’t say those things to me. She said,”Really? I know someone that can help you find out if you are. My husband has the same issues and we had him tested.”
She gave me the number of a psychologist that tested children and adults that might have a learning disability.
I was 28 years old when I met the psychologist who tested me. We are going to call the psychologist “Moses” for right now. The testing takes 3 hours! And it was not easy. There were moments when I felt like I was going to cry, or should get up and walk away. I didn’t even know this person, and I was showing the worst of me because I was embarrassed throughout the test. I was not allowed to say, “I don’t know.” I had to try, even when I felt like I had nothing.
No joke! It was so stressful and awkward to be in a room with a psychologist, asking questions that you as an adult should be able to answer, but can’t. I didn’t need the test to tell me what I already feared, but I wanted a professional diagnosis. I just kept telling myself, “It will be worth it to know why I can’t read and why my spelling is so messed up.” So, I persevered.
I didn’t get the results back until about a week. The day I got them back was actually my birthday! I thought it very fitting, the fact I was sent back to the first grade on my birthday, and now I’m about to find out why on my birthday. It was right there, in black and white: I was dyslexic. And not only was I dyslexic; it seems that I was severely dyslexic. I knew I saw numbers and letters wrong, but this was way more than just writing a ‘B’ but needing a ‘D’. The psychologist explained that I had no phonics skills; anything that I could read was only because I had memorized it at some point. I apparently showed strength in using context clues to figure out what some longer words were, or what they may mean.
I thought, “Finally, I know the truth!” But as they say, the truth hurts. And this stung. If I ever felt stupid in the past, I sure felt it now. I can’t even put two sounds together. I felt like the teacher was right; I could never be anything more than what I was.
I pretty much flipped out in my head. I was thinking, “I can’t do anything with my life. People like me can’t make a difference in the world. I won’t even be able to help my kids with their homework in the future. What kind of mom am I?”
This led me to argue with God. Even when I was in high school, I felt the call to preach and tell my unique story of how I was taken to church. After being tested I was heartbroken. I told God there can’t be a plan because I can’t even read the plan!
But there was a plan, come to find out.
After many talks, “Moses” helped me realize I wasn’t the worthless student I always thought I was. I was encouraged to find that there were other students like me, who used accommodations to get through college. I began slowly learning that I didn’t have to believe the negative comments that had scarred me for so long.
In the book of Jeremiah, we are told that before you were born God knew you. And it shocks me to know that, even though I can’t read or write, God still made me and calls me to be his child. And even more crazy, calls me to speak the gospel.
In Exodus, we find Moses (the Biblical prophet) telling God he is unable to speak publicly. God tells him, ” Who has made man’s mouth?….Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” Exodus 4: 10-12
That’s how I felt. I can’t go out and do God’s plan because my brain doesn’t work like it should. But who made me? God did, and if God tells me to go, I’m going to go.
I’m happy to report I just received my associate’s degree, and I’m working on my bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry at Mid-America Christian University. I also currently have a local minister’s license and serve as a minister. I plan to apply for my District license this January, with the long-term goal of becoming an ordained minister.
This was not an easy road. There were many times I’ve had breakdowns and felt that maybe I should just call it quits on God’s plan. Although I receive some accommodations to aid me in completing assignments, there still have been moments that I’ve wondered, “Am I going to pass this class?” My accommodations do NOT make the classes easier. They simply allow me the technology and resources I need in order to study the materials and complete the assignments in spite of my dyslexia. Through it all, I’ve had to be reminded many times by my friends and family and by “Moses” that I could do this and I was better than some label of dyslexia.
Whenever God calls someone to do something, He provides a way. God provided Aaron to help Moses speak to Pharoah. I believe God provided the psychologist (“Moses”) so I could learn that I wasn’t stupid, I merely had dyslexia. And I persevere in my calling. I’m starting this blog in order to help others who have a calling they think is impossible. Walk with me on this journey as I write this blog and minister despite my dyslexia.
*IEP: Individualized Education Plan. It is an official document created by a certified special education teacher. IEPs require a professional diagnosis of certain learning disabilities, etc. An IEP outlines accommodations and/or modifications teachers must abide by to ensure the best possible educational outcomes for students (in theory…).
Disclaimer: If are reading this blog and you are a teacher I had in school, this is not to tear you down in any way. I simply wrote about what I went through as a student that was misdiagnosed with the wrong kind of learning disability. I neither blame the school I attended nor the teachers.
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