Stealth Dyslexia

First read this: Stealth Dyslexia: Does Your Child Have An Issue

I was gifted from the word “Go.” By two-years old I spoke Spanish fairly well and English well enough to tell my parents’ friends what happened on CNN that day. I recited poetry in Spanish, standing on folding tables at my father’s golf tournaments while the scores were being tallied. By all accounts I was hashtag blessed. Well, except for being born a girl in a very machista society.

I could read from a very young age. By the time I was about to enter kindergarten, I was pretty advanced for a four-year old. So the screening test to enter kinder shouldn’t have been an issue. Only, I couldn’t stand on one leg for five seconds at a time. And that was on the test.

In reality, my balance was horrible. I fell…a lot. “Ay, Veneranda!” was my mother’s constant exclamation. So ballet and tap it was for me. But it wasn’t just standing on one foot. I had problems hearing, but the tests never came up with anything no matter how many times I requested them. I couldn’t tell my left from my right. I couldn’t organize or tell time. Basic human functions that most people take for granted.

School was a breeze, at least when it came to certain things. I was in the gifted program. I was in computer classes. And I was in the top reading group in class. But the one thing that flummoxed me was handwriting. We had D’nealian Workbooks in first grade that drove me bonkers. I was left-handed to begin with. But there was something more. So I hatched a plan.

I would give my workbook to Vanessa Sportsman to finish for me. Then I would sneak her workbook into her cubby. I got away with it for a while until Mrs. Barnett clued in on my scheme. She marched me down to the principal’s office…but not before I ran around the classroom screaming. I knew that getting in trouble at school meant getting in trouble at home. And there was nothing the school could do to me that my mother couldn’t top by 25 percent. Really though, it was the shame that washed over me that fed my terror. I was six and I already knew what shame felt like.

That shame got worse as time went on. In third grade I was so bad at keeping track of my homework that I got after school detention for a whole week. By sixth grade I was copying Dino Hainline’s spelling homework. And by freshman year of high school, I’d stopped reading for class altogether. The same question perpetually plagued me. If I was so smart, why was I so stupid and lazy?

Here are some of my standardized test scores from my time in school:

If you don’t feel like combing through all of that, basically, I was really fucking good at tests. Again and again I asked myself, as did many other people, “Why can’t you get your shit together?” My scores were so gooooooood! Why would any one of my teachers send me in for dyslexia screening? If I was dyslexic, for sure it would have shown up in my test results. And yet that is exactly what I have. It was just a bit, well, stealthy.

I only found out this year after having Celia Concannon tell me that my spelling was erratic, and then coincidentally by listening to this podcast: How Stuff Works: Dyslexia.

I started Googling (or Goggling as I just wrote and then corrected on my phone…I write almost exclusively on my phone with two thumbs because it’s the only way I can really write well…I’ve heard so much shit about that but so what…it works, sort of). I combed through articles about stealth dyslexia and fMRIs until it finally made sense.

This New Yorker article is pretty interesting with regard to neurological mapping: How Children Learn To Read.

Stealth Dyslexics are dyslexics who have basic problems with language processing but excel in reading comprehension. They succeed in spite of cognitive disabilities. And they are the key to helping children. How? Let’s proceed.

Using functional MRIs, scientists have been able to measure white matter in the brain’s left temporoparietal region. White matter connects the different parts of the brain like an information super highway. What with the what now?

See, up until recently, there was no sure way to predict which children with dyslexia would improve their skills. Not behavioral tests or written I.Q. assessments. But by looking at brains, they found a 90% correlation between increased white matter and success.

Moreover, it turns out stealth dyslexics have exceptionally well-developed dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes. This is the part of the brain that manages executive functions and self-control. More on that below.

Ok, so we have white matter growth and developed executive functioning both pointing towards success. How do we use this information to help people with a varied set of language based cognition deficits? With the information we already know and are ever discovering about how to grow white matter and how to build executive functioning in the brain.

Yeah, it’s totally doable. White matter has been shown to grow in lab rats’ brains after being put in enriched chemical environments. It’s called white matter plasticity. And it can be triggered in humans in all sorts of ways. Like learning how to juggle, or having sex, or doing mushrooms, or practicing yoga.

As for executive functioning, well, that’s one of the primary foci of autism therapy. Executive functioning is a lot of things–everything from remembering to brush your teeth to creating and maintaining meaningful relationships. And there’s a lot of work being done on how to bolster this type of thinking.

By looking at people who’ve succeeded in the face of adversity, we are finding all sorts of way of tackling problems. And the evidence thus far leads neuroscientists and behaviorist to believe that brain pliability and education can be the key to helping people succeed with language based barriers. How cool is that?

What does this mean for me? A whole lot. Dyslexia, autism and bipolar disorder are all brain malfunctions that occur in brain synapses. White matter. My magnificent brain manages to overcome and compensate for problems by growing and changing. It’s a glorious catastrophe. A tragic miracle. A beautiful anomaly. A wonder named Veneranda.

Here’s a great bullet point list of a lot of the challenges I deal with: Are You A Stealth Dyslexic?

I’m not going to say that the diagnosis of dyslexia is a panacea. But it’s meant a lot for me. As a writer, I’ve always harbored self-loathing because my editing sucks. My work is sloppy. My legal career was a constant fight against partners’ red pens. I was clinically lazy. I was lacking in common sense and a work ethic. I was dumb. I was a bad employee. I was a fraud.

I don’t feel that way now. Knowing I have dyslexia doesn’t suddenly make my spelling and editing better. It doesn’t make me more organized or able to schedule time sensitive things better. But knowing I have issues means I can tackle them with more patience and less self-loathing. I can forgive myself for cock ups. I can allow extra time for things that would have me flummoxed under pressure. And I can ask for help.

I do that now. I ask for help. Automated call systems are my nemeses. I can memorize a lot of things, but my problems with auditory processing, passwords and long strings of numbers make paying bills online and over the phone a total bitch. I push wrong numbers and have to start over and then get anxious and then feel stupid. I forget passwords. I can’t do the “I’m Not A Robot” test on the first try. So I push zero as many times as I have to in order to get to a human being. And I tell them I’m dyslexic and together we solve my problem.

The world is not going to bend to my will. I know that. But I also know that I’m charismatic and persuasive. And whatever I can use to my advantage, I will. It’s not manipulation. It’s survival. At the end of the day, that’s the goal. And maybe just a little peace. Or, as I am wont to write, peas.

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