Tell me about yourself.
My name is Marta, and I’m 26 years old. I have dyslexia. I want to work one-on-one with kids who struggle with school, just like me. I think that I can understand where they’re coming from, and help them with where they’re going. When I was growing up, I always wished that I had a teacher who knew what I was going through--someone who would tell me that, with a lot of hard work, I could do it. To have someone who had “walked in my shoes” would have meant the world to me, so that is what I am planning to do for other kids.
I’m really close to my family. They’ve been really good to me. They’ve supported me and have been a solid rock. I’ve started and stopped going to college a number of times. I’m working on getting my associate’s degree, so that I can be a paraprofessional in the classroom.
I’m learning at my own pace. I now realize that I don’t have to explain myself to others (and answer, “What have you been doing all this time?”). I will hold my head high. I’ve gotten discouraged and have given up on school many times, and I will keep coming back. I WILL achieve my goal, even though it is one class at a time.
What are you passionate about? What are you good at?
I’m good at working with animals and kids. I like working with them, because they’re very trusting. It’s refreshing to be around them, because they are themselves and not ashamed of it. I feel like I can be myself when I’m around them, and that feels good too!
I’m good at playing sports (predominately swimming and soccer). In many ways, sports are a life metaphor for my dyslexia, because I have to work really hard, but I can reach my goals. Sports give me an outlet where I can just grit my teeth and kick the water or ball as hard as I can. It’s like I’m fighting back. I’m not going to give up!
Music comes naturally for me. I am good at improvisation, though I can’t read music very well. I have been told that I have a “good ear”. When I first started playing violin, it was squeaky and shrill. Since I had good ear, I knew how awful I sounded (so did my dog, especially for those high notes).
How old were you when you were diagnosed with a learning disability?
When I was four, they thought I had a “hearing problem”, because I didn’t understand and follow directions. My hearing was fine, but I was delayed with processing. I was diagnosed with a learning disability when I was about six. In first grade, I had trouble reading and keeping up with homework. I couldn’t keep up with the other kids who finished everything in class with time to spare. I would be working really hard and would still have a lot to do at home. Also, my class had a high proportion of very bright students, who later went to prestigious schools. Those kids would finish their work and chat near my desk, so I couldn’t focus on my work in class.
I was always compared to these kids. It was really frustrating when the teacher or other kids would say, “That’s easy!” It wasn’t easy for me. Then I’d have to go to the resource room to finish tests and would miss what they were covering in class. It was a “lose-lose situation.” I needed the extra help and time, but by getting the extra help, I ended up further behind. It was really frustrating! For this reason, I moved around to a lot of different schools.
My parents sought out a teacher and school that could accommodate my learning style. I went to a Montessori school that was hands-on and self-paced. The teacher was compassionate and took the extra time to make sure that I didn’t get behind. That teacher made a huge impact on me.
I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until I was 19. I already knew what I struggled with, but having the “dyslexia label” helped others to understand the nature of my struggles.
What are some misconceptions about dyslexia?
People with dyslexia are smart. There are many types of intelligence that cannot be fully captured on an IQ test. It’s like trying to put wind in a box. Things that most people can do with their eyes closed, may take an enormous amount of time and effort for someone with dyslexia to complete.
Dyslexia is not limited to reading; it affects everything. My dyslexia is there when I try to make sense of a documentary. It’s there when I try to do something as “simple” as memorize a phone number. I’ve lost a lot of jobs because of my difficulty following multi-step directions.
How did your dyslexia impact you in high school? Compare that to your experience in college.
In high school, I had the same workload as everyone else. I could do it all, but I just couldn’t keep up. Teachers assumed that it would take “X amount of time”, and did not appreciate the fact that I was always the last kid to finish a test. My dyslexia was never taken into consideration.
In college, it was easier to take it at my own pace. Because of my parents’ financial support, I have been able to take one class at a time and just put in the extra hours required for each chapter, each test, each paper. It’s still not easy, and is very frustrating at times. Sometimes, I get bogged down. Instead of focusing on the whole book, I have to break it into smaller, more manageable pieces.
To give you perspective, when I took Anatomy and Physiology, I didn’t even work. Studying for this class was my job. I had to take the class twice to pass it. It was doable, but it was a lot of work.
In college, I’ve had to get accommodations. I’ve had to learn the hard way that I need to let the teacher and Learning Support Services know about my dyslexia and accommodations ahead of time. I have to arrive early to class, and allot extra time in my schedule in order to give myself the extra margins to get my schoolwork done.
What kinds of supports have helped you to learn?
What’s most important for me is pre-learning and getting the big picture first. If I don’t, nothing sticks. Pre-learning is the glue that brings everything together. I have to read and understand the main idea before class for the lecture to make sense, and then review it. I have to learn it multiple times and from different angles. Having context is so important for me to be able to follow directions. It’s like scaffolding. The main idea is like a framework, and the rest of the information surrounds it.
I’ve also learned not to be afraid to ask questions. There are no dumb questions. Chances are, someone else has the same question, but is just afraid to ask. The pre-learning helps me know what I need to clarify. I often circle or highlight in the margins, so that I remember to ask a question.
What has helped you to become more independent as an adult?
In this day and age, you need to go to college in order to get a good job. I’m working on my associate’s degree, which will help me to support myself and be financially independent. This is really important to me.
I’m still relying on my parents for help, since I’m not able to support myself with my part-time work. It’s disheartening, because I’m an able-bodied person, so you would think that I could find a full time job. I’ve learned the hard way that there’s much more competition in this economy for those jobs, which is why I’m working so diligently in school.
What advice would you give to someone who works with kids who have dyslexia?
I had a third grade teacher, Mrs. Gillespie. She didn’t have “all the answers”. Recently, she bumped into my mom, and said she was so sorry that she didn’t know then what she knows now. I wish I could have told her how much she did for me. You see, Mrs. Gillespie was so caring and patient, which was really what I needed the most. She was always learning more in order to help me. What she did for me was worth more than someone who had “all the answers”.
What advice would you give someone who just found out he or she has dyslexia?
You need to find out how you learn, and then you can do it! Don’t focus on the task as a whole; break it down, class-by-class, section-by-section. Get the main idea; don’t worry about the little bits of information. Once you get the main idea, the rest will fall into place.
What advice would you give to a parent of a child with dyslexia?
Be patient! You don’t have to know how to deal with it now; you will learn as you go. Don’t worry about your child. He will find his way. It will take longer and will be harder, but in the end, your child’s success will mean more than the success of the child who had it easy. In hindsight, I wouldn’t trade my struggles in school with someone who had none. The struggles with my dyslexia have made who I am today.
Have you done any creative writing?
I have not done much writing outside of assignments for school. In high school, I had to keep a journal and write reflections for a Bible class. I was struggling with depression and spent a lot of energy pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I did not like that, but I felt like I couldn’t be “down” around other people. In my Bible journal, I applied the verses to my own life and wrote figuratively about my feelings. I remember that, although I poured my heart into it, I never received full credit. I guess I was supposed to do more research and read a concordance to find out someone else’s interpretation of the text. I know that I should journal now, but actually, I now am able to be more “authentic” with who I am and how I’m doing. I don’t have the same “felt need” for a journal to confide in like I did in high school.
How did you begin writing poetry?
I have always enjoyed writing, but I haven’t written that much. I wrote the poem that is featured here for an English class.
Does your dyslexia affect your writing?
I have a hard time with writing. I am kind of a perfectionist about it and want it to be an accurate portrayal of what I am experiencing. My writing is often poetic, full of proverbs and metaphors. In my writing, I strive to incorporate these concise, yet profound, insights on life. Writing is a lot like drawing for me. The end result is different than what I had envisioned. I never know how it will turn out, but I am always happy with what I create.
Tell me about your writing process.
Usually, I have to find a topic that I’m passionate about, or I have to be inspired. I work hard to craft the words to express my feelings. I have to revise my writing many times and ask other people to give me feedback.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I often write about things that aren’t right in the world. In frustration, I write about the need for justice. For example, I wrote a story about a group of inner-city kids that I worked with at a summer camp. I needed some closure on all that I learned and witnessed in their lives. Journaling was cathartic for me, and helped me to make sense of all the emotions that I was feeling at the time.
Would you share one of your poems?
One snow crisp night I breathe
Dark early morning air
A quiet breeze was whispering
Foreshadowing the sun.
The untouched snow still sound asleep
My steps crunch loud and clear
Still all remains so peacefully
The breeze knows all that comes.
Sweet birds did sing their lullaby
Now sleepily awake
While nature waits with bated breath
To see the morning light.
The sun peaks through all cold dark clouds
The night it melts away
Splashing the sky all comes alive
The night is chased away.