I never wanted to be a writer. If someone had told my young self that I would become a writer one day, I would have laughed—or thrown up—or run away. The idea of becoming a writer never even crossed my mind.
As a kid, reading and writing were torture. I hated them both. After being diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade, the intervention I received helped me to cobble together some rudimentary reading skills, but then I was placed back on the educational assembly line and fell farther behind year after year. This had a devastating effect on how I viewed myself.
Dyslexia affects a person beyond reading and writing. It creates a social and emotional toll—lingering feelings of shame, brokenness, inadequacy, and a lack of belonging, which can prevent a dyslexic person from reaching their potential, or even recognizing that they have any potential.
This is hard enough to deal with if you know you are dyslexic. But imagine the difficulties that an undiagnosed dyslexic faces, dealing with all the social, emotional, educational, and professional complications of dyslexia every day of their lives, but never knowing the reason why.
There are millions of undiagnosed dyslexic adults today—an estimated one out of ten people! This vast multitude often suffers silent shame and fights feelings of being a fraud, living in constant fear of being ‘found out.’ Many come up with creative ways to ‘cover’ inadequacies in the workplace, feeling ever more inauthentic with every excuse, while negative self-beliefs limit personal growth. Readers may identify with the following:
- Hiding: being afraid of rejection or losing a job because of dyslexia
- Shame: not understanding the nature and scope of dyslexia and feeling broken or less worthy than others as a result
- Anxiety: constantly struggling to find the extra time needed to plod through work assignments in a world that demands instant results
- Self-loathing: negatively comparing yourself to others who seem to do things effortlessly
- Resignation: believing it’s too late to improve reading comprehension and writing, believing you’ll always be an underachiever
So if you know—or suspect—you are dyslexic, how can you make the best of your reality, discover your genuine potential, and have your own best life? Try the following suggestions:
- Get informed. Often adults don’t truly understand their experience until a child or grandchild is diagnosed with dyslexia. As they listen to the specifics of the diagnosis, they recognize themselves. Two excellent online resources to learn more about dyslexia are the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity and the International Dyslexia Foundation. Viewing documentaries such as The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia can also be helpful.
- Develop understanding. Realize that you are part of a group. Other dyslexic people share similar complex life experiences to yours. Take advantage of their experiences, cultivate patience with yourself, and learn some new coping skills. Share your new knowledge about dyslexia with friends, family, and workmates. This lays the foundation for self-compassion and honesty. Maybe you never knew that dyslexia is a decoding problem, or that reading will never become automatic for dyslexics? That sequencing issues explain why people with dyslexia might have a poor sense of direction or be challenged to remember more than one step at a time?
- Question and replace old beliefs. Tackle negative feelings and redirect them with your new-found knowledge. Realize that most dyslexics are hard-working, tenacious, creative, outside-the-box thinkers. This will help you redefine your relationship to yourself, one belief at a time. Understanding that dyslexia is a lifelong processing issue—not an intelligence problem or a motivational issue—resets your expectations of yourself and helps with planning. Recognize that you will need extra time for tasks that require reading or writing and that allowing yourself this ‘grace period’ is the key to realizing your potential.
If you identify with some of the concepts in this article, chances are that you are part of the tribe! Our clan is big, talented, creative, artistic, and full of courageous survivors. You, like the rest of us, have stories to tell. Discover your full potential, silence your inner critic, share your story, and get on with your best life!
In my next blog I’ll discuss living with an adult with dyslexia from my non-dyslexic wife’s perspective.