Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Writer with a Learning Disability in Written Expression

Writing can be very difficult for many who do not have a specific learning disability (SLD) in written expression or reading. When you do have one, it makes the climb all the more difficult. I understand that I am a statistical anomaly, as most with this SLD would rather avoid the pain than struggle for something that they can love. So how do I it?

Here is what I have learned from the good teachers, the bad ones, and the ones that almost destroyed me. Here is what I have learned from watching my parents sacrifice to get me the help I needed to be able to learn and achieve. Here is what I have learned by crawling this long trail every day.

1. Have faith in yourself. 

Many people in this world get more out of destruction than they do from creation. With an SLD, you are vulnerable to others’ reactions to this condition. Speaking for myself, I have often felt shame when I looked at my handwriting, spelling and organizational skills. I have run the emotional gauntlet that a lot of us with SLD run. I will not go into that gauntlet here.

The one thing that I have let my SLD stop me from is something most normal people take for granted. I do not write holiday cards or notes to people in general. I hide behind electronic communication. The reason I do this is: 1. they can read it; and 2. they cannot judge me by my handwriting or lack of spelling. I will discuss how I work around the spelling problem in a few moments.

Confounding my diagnosis of SLD, I was also diagnosed with ADHD. I often do not invite people over to my home because of the organizational skill issue. My difficulty with organizational skills is a primary result of my ADHD. I am very well organized for me. However, I have seen in the faces of friends their expressions when they see my clutter. To them I can only say, it is the way my mind works. A boss once told me “I would be worried about where things were on your desk if I didn’t know I could ask you for something and you would know exactly where it was .”

When I have felt at my lowest or like I cannot achieve, I have always repeated a saying that was on a plaque that my step-grandmother gave to my father and that I “stole” as a child and have hanging on my wall even today: “Don’t worry if you work hard and your rewards are few. Remember! The mighty oak was once a nut like you.”

After I laugh at this, I then reflect that I must be a nut. I punch and kick against the very obstacle that will never go away in order to chase my dreams.

2. Keep the people who believe that you can achieve close to you. 

I have crossed the paths of many people in my life who do not understand SLD. Sadly, many of these people have been teachers. I wish I could say that the teachers and symptoms of misunderstanding was a thing of the dim ages when the understandings of SLDs were first coming out. However, I cannot. I can, with great joy, say that there are a lot more teachers who have some understanding and are trying new things to help.

It is not that we cannot learn something. It is that we learn differently. We have such a range of abilities that you have to give the “normal people” a little slack. (For you normal people who are reading this, let me try to help you understand what I mean. All those who have an SLD, pardon me for just a second. Here is an example. Imagine a fourteen-year-old child entering High School. Now imagine that he has the handwriting skills of a fourth grader and the spelling abilities of a sixth grader. Do you have that image in your head? Now, for the kicker: he has the math skills and the understanding of science and history of someone in college. He also has the reading comprehension of a person who should have their PhD. This is what I mean. In case someone thinks I created this fictional person as an example—it was me at age fourteen.)

Ok, back to you SLD friends and those who might be reading this blog to see what they can do to help. I mentioned that I ran into some horrible teachers. I did and I can write pages about what they did. I won’t. It is the teachers and the others I have met in my life who have been the cheerleaders that are and must be the most important. They have faith in you when you do not have faith in yourself. Hang on to them. Stay in contact if you can and when you are feeling down, turn to them AND LISTEN.

3. Never stop working at it

People often comment on how I have so many facts in my head or that I never accept where I am, but push myself too hard. What they may not realize and I will admit now is that for me, that is survival. I never stop learning and I never stop finding ways to keep myself improving. I do not limit this to trying to improve my handwriting, spelling, and writing in general. This is also applied to my study of martial arts—which sometimes means I am doing things on injuries that I shouldn’t—or to my personal development in other areas that I am already good at.

Many people become “life-long learners” because they like learning. Don’t let anyone take away your desire to explore and to learn. Don’t let the drug dealers and gangs hook you because you feel like an outsider or cannot be successful. Don’t let the bad teachers keep you down. For you and for me, “life-long learning” is a survival trait.

Let me tie this to point number 1. Take the following words out of any personal philosophy you may have: surrender and retreat. You cannot afford them. You can never surrender, never retreat, never give up, never stop trying to improve yourself. If you do, those who want to pigeon hole you into a role less than you are will succeed. Further, if you don’t have one, get a library card and use it until it falls apart and then get another and another and so on.

If you don’t like learning, it is how you have been trying to learn. Don’t stop trying other ways.

4. Understand that the problem will always be with you and show up when you don’t want it to. Learn to work around it.

I have an uncle who was a great teacher. However, several years ago he and I had a discussion on SLD and Attention Deficit. He said that we grow out of the problems. I wish that was true.

The truth of the myth is that we learn to adapt. What personally annoys me with my SLD—ok, one of the many things that annoy me—is that I can spell a word a thousand times, and then I can’t spell it again. It is often an easy word. I look at my SLD like an annoying cough. It pops up when you do not want it to. In some cases there is nothing you can do about it (for example: if you are taking a test). In everyday life have your methods and tools to get around these times at your fingertips.

What methods and tools am I talking about? Keep reading.

5. Make your best friend the Thesaurus

Unfortunately, schools teach how to use the dictionary before they teach the thesaurus. Yet, I do not know how it could be taught any other way. I have learned that with my spelling problem I can recognize the word when I see it (thus the high reading ability) but I cannot spell it worth a darn. I can turn to a good thesaurus and find what I am looking for by looking up a word that has a similar meaning.

6. Make your second best friend the Dictionary

If the thesaurus fails you, turn to the dictionary. Finding words you are having trouble spelling are harder this way, because you need a sense of how to spell those words. If you are not too far “off the mark”, it can be a quick hunt. For myself, I can be way off the mark and the hunt can be VERY time consuming.

7. Find a way to taste success and hunger for more

One thing you need to do is find a way to be successful at something. For me I tasted success through the Boy Scouts and through Karate. From these two things, I learned what I needed mentally to keep myself going and to keep at it. I graduated from High School, college and even obtained a Master’s degree. (Not bad for someone who was told by the horrible teachers he should drop out of middle school and high school.) I had some great leaders in scouts who kept me going and pushed me to Eagle. If I had not reached my Eagle Scout rank before I was fourteen I do not know if I would have had the same hunger to prove myself as I went though High School and college.

8. Use a computer

You are living in a great age for those with SLD. Because of my handwriting, I started to learn to type on an old manual typewriter when I was in first grade. That was the first intervention that I had, and it was before I was diagnosed with my SLD. Obviously, it did not have spell check, grammar check or allow me to move paragraphs from one place to another.

The computer word processing programs today do. Use them! A note of caution: Use them, but do not rely on them 100%. They do make mistakes. Always trust the thesaurus, the dictionary, and a good book on grammar.

9. See if your symptoms go beyond just the academics

I am not sure if the physical aspects of my SLD are the same or similar to others. However, when I was diagnosed with my SLD, I also had many problems with balance and hand-eye coordination issues. If you have a SLD or your child does, I would recommend checking to see if there is anything beyond the classroom that needs to be assessed. This can be done by asking for a referral for an Occupational Therapy (for the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills) and/or Physical Therapy (poor coordination) evaluation .

Now, an example of how these “beyond the academics” issues applied in the classroom: Part of my difficulty was that I could not transfer information from the blackboard to my paper. I could read the blackboard. I could read my notepaper. I simply could not take down the notes from the board to my paper. What did I do? Follow me for one more step.

10. Find the things that can help you improve 

I had to have quite a few interventions and I still use many of them. I do not know if all those with reading or written expression LDs have these issues, but just in case here are some things that help me.

A. You need emotional support from family and close friends who try to understand what you are going through;
B. A thesaurus;
C. A dictionary;
D. A book on grammar;
E. If you want to write like I do, find friends who are good editors. Use them, listen to them, and appreciate them—and make sure they know you do;
F. Summer school is a good thing, not a bad thing—do it even if you do not need it, it will help;
G. Outside tutors - I would recommend getting someone who can work with your SLD;
H. Constantly work on improving yourself (don’t just focus on the areas of your SLD, but work on those harder);
I. A blackboard and mechanical chalk holder to practice handwriting;
J. A balance beam;
K. A balance board;
L. A laptop or desktop computer with a good word processor on it (and keep the spell check and grammar check on—but remember it does not catch everything);
M. Pen or pencil grips (I wish I knew what they were called, but they look like little pyramids );
N. Some type of desk or way to slant any writing surface you need so that it is at a comfortable slope (Flat desks hinder my handwriting);
O. Read and read and read some more (if reading is your SLD—Audio books are great! I use them and I love to read. At worse, get a book and read along as best as you can with the audio book, even if you can’t get very far. You will still get the book through the audio book. Oh, one note: Try to get the unabridged versions of audio books);
P. Never give up on yourself (I know how hard that can be—all too well);
Q. Play video games daily (but not into excess of homework, exercise, and living life) to develop hand-eye coordination (I had to do a half hour a day minimum);
R. Get involved in a sport like karate, fencing, boxing and so forth were you can develop on your own at your own speed and improve your hand-eye coordination;
S. Get into something where you can be successful (for me that was Boy Scouts and karate. For you it may be something else) and can take that success to other parts of your life;
T. In school, you will have to take a foreign language. I learned in college that I was a lot better at the non-European languages (especially in writing—what little I can write in Chinese or Japanese is a lot easier to read than what I hand write in English) than I was at the European. You may want to explore it and see how you do;
U. Finally, never allow someone to put you down for your SLD.

Thank you for reading, even if you do not have a SLD in written expression or reading. If you do or if someone special to you does, I hope this was helpful. I may have a SLD in written expression, but I refuse to let it put a collar and chain on my muse. I will keep up my battle in order to do what I dream. Won’t you join me?

Thank you for reading and please visit and Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

1 comment:

  1. David, Bravo for your persistence. Persistence is mother of success. Marcel