Unless I tell people, most would never know that I was diagnosed with dyslexia and a speech impediment when I was 7 years old. In my youth, I always felt embarrassed about my learning disabilities. I felt stupid, to be more precise. I hated when my siblings were able to effortlessly pick up learning Arabic from the instructors who came to our home, while I struggled with the basics of learning the numbers and alphabets. When I started school lessons outside of our home, each time the teacher called my name to go for additional instruction in another room, I hated everyone knowing that I needed extra help. I would gather all of my belongings on my desk, and walk out the room with my head down feeling ashamed and of course, stupid. Even when school was out of session, I still needed more support.
During the summer, I remember several instances of having to leave the playground early or abruptly leave karate class to go take lessons for my learning disabilities. I remember one instructor, Ms. Williams, who would repeatedly make me read short passages from the classic Sally, Dick and Jane book series. After I read, she would test my comprehension and force me to practice my speech with a bunch of questions. When I answered incorrectly or mispronounced a word, which was often, she would pinch my forearm with her skinny fingers. I hated reading about all of the fun Sally was having in some random lily-White suburb or hearing kids playing outside and having entirely too much fun without me. What was I doing?! Sitting in a hot classroom at P.S. 44 and getting pinched up!
I’m still sitting in “classrooms” learning, but it’s not so bad anymore; I love learning and being challenged. There is a running joke in my family that I’m a professional student, maybe I am. Still, it took me decades, once I became a doctoral student, to finally drop the negative feelings. My dyslexia and speech problems aren’t nearly as severe as they used to be. However, both still pop up without warning. I still mix up numbers here and there, but not so much anymore (as one might imagine, JHS algebra was a nightmare). I can read pretty quickly, but if I need to fully digest what I’m reading, I usually have to read it 2 to 3 times. It doesn’t matter if it’s reading something more complex like a scientific journal article or “simple” instructions for one of my son’s toys. The struggle is still there, sometimes. To this day, I still frequently forget left from right. For my road test, which I passed, I had to write “L” and “R” on my fists and think twice before every “simple” direction from the examiner.
I didn’t reach most of my developmental milestones “on time,” but I managed to continue developing and learning. I have mostly gained control of my dyslexia and speech impediment, but it was not without repeated intervention and a vigilant parent. Thank you, Umi!
p.s. Umi is Arabic for mother. I guess I still speak some Arabic. Ha!