What is Dyslexia?…And What Does It Mean To Me?

“You should prefer a good scientist without literary abilities
than a literate one without scientific skills.”
Leonardo da Vinci, Dyslexic

Listening to my 8th grade science textbook using my Victor Reader Stream.

Today, I’m expanding my blog beyond my usual invasive species and scientific posts (but don’t worry, invasive species and science will still be my primary focus!…and in a way, this is a bit scientific too), to share a story with you about a topic that is near and dear to my heart…dyslexia.  Why dyslexia?  Well, because I have dyslexia.

So What Exactly is Dyslexia?

First, what is dyslexia?  To put it quite simply, all it means in Latin is “trouble with words”.  Sounds so simple but it really isn’t.  Just ask anyone with dyslexia who has tried to learn how to read!

From the Wikipedia definition, dyslexia is a very broad term defining a learning difference that impairs a person’s reading fluency,  accuracy, or comprehension.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Some of us with dyslexia can also have problems with handwriting – dysgraphia, and still others can also have challenges with math – dyscalculia.  I have struggles with both.

So how many of us have dyslexia?  Well, there really isn’t any definitive number but the National Institutes of Health estimate that about 15% of the world’s population has dyslexia.  That’s about 1 billion people!  But the good news is that people with dyslexia often have above average intelligence and are great at “thinking outside the box”.  So maybe I should say “that’s about 1 billion smart people!”

And So My Story Begins…

Young Commander Ben – Invasive Hunter!

My story starts way back when I was in kindergarten.  My teacher noticed how well I spoke and what a great vocabulary I had (traits not uncommon in people who have dyslexia), but at the same time how I struggled to recognizing the letters of the alphabet.  My school contacted my Mom, who had me tested, and sure enough…I had dyslexia.  Right away, my parents made arrangements for me to be taught how to read by a Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT).

Why right away?  Because according to dyslexia experts, such as Dr. Sally Shaywitz, M.D. at Yale University’s Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, early intervention is so important for helping kids with dyslexia learn how to read.

I spent 8 years working with a CALT and am now able to read…slowly.  Over the years, my reading teachers used a variety of Orton-Gillingham based multi-sensory approaches to teach me how to read.   “Multi-sensory” basically means  teaching visual, auditory, and tactile elements all together to help improve memory and learning.

For example, when I was little, my teacher would have me put plastic alphabet letters in order, then have me say each letter’s name and make its sound, then trace the letters with my finger.  These multi-sensory types of programs have been proven successful for about 70 years when teaching people with dyslexia how to read.

But With Reading Slowly, How Did I Keep Up With My Schoolwork?

Victor Reader Stream and Audio SD Cards

So how did I manage with my studies all these years?  And how did I keep up with my grade level reading?  That’s where Learning Ally comes in.  (Formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic.)  This is such a great organization of wonderful people who volunteer their time to read and record text books so that kids…and adults too…can have all the reading materials they need to stay informed.

Thanks to advances in technology, it’s as simple as picking out the book I need from the Learning Ally online catalog at their website, and then downloading it to an SD card.  Then I insert the card into my external reader, which is about the size of a small handheld tape player, called a “Victor Reader Stream” made by the HumanWare company.

This is the Learning Ally app for the iPhone.

There are also other ways I can listen to books, as with the Learning Ally app for mobile devices such as the iPhone, or on my laptop, but I really like the Stream because it can take a lot of battle damage which comes in handy on my invasive hunts! 😉

But What About Other Kinds Of Reading…And How About Writing?

iPad Dictation Mode

But what if I want to read something on the Internet?  And what about all the typing I have to do?  Not just for school but for my blog too!  Well, I’m so happy that I live in the 21st century!  Thanks to text readers and voice-to-text software, life is a lot easier for me now than before these inventions.  They’re not perfect, but they get better and better every year.

Here I am using the iPad Text to Speech function.

The latest Apple iPad has a text reader that sounds quite good.  All I have to do is highlight what I want to read, as you can see in the picture above, and then tap on the “speak” icon. The voice is a bit computerized sounding but it is very clear and easy to understand.

The iPad also has a small microphone icon – dictation mode –  that is a very reliable voice-to-text tool.  This is great because typing can be a bit of a challenge for me. (And don’t getting me started talking about how hard handwriting can be…)   Oh! And Siri on the iPhone is amazing!

Here I am using the iPad Diction Mode.

I Wouldn’t Change A Thing

It’s been a hard road for me but I wouldn’t change a thing because having dyslexia is part of who I am.  And I like to think that it has made me both tenacious when it comes to life in general, and empathetic to understanding the various struggles others have in their own lives.

But most important, I learned early on that the key to working with my dyslexia was to always persevere and never give up…and be eternally grateful for spell check! 😉  I think that’s something many of us can agree upon regardless of how well we read and spell.

But even more than spell check, it’s my parents to whom I’m really eternally grateful.  I can’t begin to thank them for all they have done for me.  They are so supportive and always there for me, making any sacrifices necessary when it comes to helping me get the help I need.  And they are always there to encourage me and reassure me that I can do anything I put my  mind to.

So, What’s Next?

Over the next few days, here on my blog, I’ll be sharing some stories and videos about my adventures with dyslexia.  I’m a very positive person 🙂 , and I think that I have always tried to maintain a good sense of humor about having dyslexia, so hopefully you’ll find my stories and videos, not only educational, but fun and entertaining too!

I really hope this information I’m sharing will help people with dyslexia stay informed about all the technology available to make our lives easier.  (And I hope that even folks without dyslexia, or teachers who work with kids who have dyslexia, will find this information useful!)  But most important, I hope that I can inspire other kids who have dyslexia to know that anything is possible and to never become discouraged.   We can achieve whatever we set our minds to!

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.
The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Thomas Edison, Dyslexic

Be sure to visit the Dyslexia page of my blog to read all my posts on this subject.

See you soon.

Your friend,


Filed under Academic Language Therapy Association, Apple, Certified Academic Language Reading Therapist, Certified Academic Language Therapist, Dictation, Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyslexia, Famous Dyslexics, HumanWare, iPad, iPhone, Learning Ally, Learning Ally app, Leonardo da Vinci, multi-sensory learning, National Institutes of Health, Orton Gillingham, Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, Siri, Thomas Edison, Victor Reader Stream, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity

17 responses to “What is Dyslexia?…And What Does It Mean To Me?

  1. I can’t tell you how proud I am of you, Ben! Good for you for sharing your story…you WILL help others! You are an amazing young man, and I’m so glad to know you. We’re looking forward to visiting you and your parents soon.

    Your friend,

    • Hi Miss Sheryl,

      Thank you so much for your kind words! They really mean a lot to me. I’m hoping that my future dyslexia posts and videos will help to inspire other kids who have learning differences.

      Looking forward to seeing you and Mr. Rodgers soon!

      Your friend,

  2. Learning Ally’s staff and volunteers are very proud to be part of your journey, and we appreciate your persuasive and insightful way of sharing something that is so important for the public to hear.

    • Hi Mr. Sprei,

      Thanks so much for visiting my blog and for your wonderful comment! Learning Ally is such a wonderful service and if it wasn’t for it, I couldn’t have nearly had the success I’ve had and “read” all the wonderful books I’ve enjoyed.

      Thanks so much for all you and Learning Ally do. You and all the volunteers are the best!

      Your friend,

  3. Eileen Thoma

    Well said! I plan to share your blog with the students struggling with reading problems that I help diagnosis. Thank you for this gift of an essay. No matter what you become, I can see a very bright future for you!

    • Hi Miss Thoma,

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving such a great comment!
      I really hope that your students enjoy my blog post. Let then know that I’ll be writing lots more about my adventures with dyslexia. Hope sharing my stories will help them feel encouraged and also laugh (and maybe even relate) at at some of my word mishaps!

      Your friend,


  4. Holly

    I have an 8 year old boy who is going to appreciate this blog when he gets home from school today. Blogs like these will inspire and build confidence for other kids (and parents). Thank you for sharing your blog and you are such an inspiring boy!

    • TJ

      Dear Ben, I am TJ and I have dyslexia too. I am going through the same multi-sensory program too. My mom got me an Ipad and I listen and read books from there too. I enjoyed your story.

      • Hi TJ,

        I’m really glad you enjoyed my story! The iPad is a great tool. I use it everyday too. Since you’re younger than me, your going to have even more advanced technology to help you as you go through school.

        Kids with dyslexia are usually especially good at a few particular skills. I like to act, sing, and do Tae Kwon Do. Do you like sports or music? Or maybe you have a special hobby you’re really good at? I’d love to hear about it.

        Good luck with your reading program. I know you are going to go on to do great things.

        Thanks again for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. It’s great to hear from my readers as well as other kids who have dyslexia.

        Your friend,

    • Hi Holly,

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for your kind comment. Your words mean a lot to me.

      I got your son’s comment too! I really hope that I can inspire and build confidence in kids who have dyslexia and other learning differences. I remember when I was 8. It was rough at times having dyslexia – being different than the other kids – but my parents were always there to cheer me on. It made all the difference in the world. TJ is lucky to have such a great mom like you!

      Your friend,

  5. Bess Cain

    I look forward to sharing this with my students Ben! Thanks for sharing and all the best in your continued SUCCESS!

  6. Thank you so much for your blog. It is very helpful to me as a teacher.

  7. I love your story and upbeat attitude. I’m very curious about the microphone for dictation on the iPad. Which generation iPad has this? Mine is an iPad 2, but I think the students I work with have access to newer ones. I can’t find a microphone feature on my iPad. Thanks!

    • Hi Nancy,

      Thanks so much! Apple is so amazing.

      What’s so fantastic about the latest accessibility features on the Apple iPad and iPhone with iOS 8 is that not only do you have voice to text, you also have text to speech, suggested words in iMessage, and now you can even record your own messages and send them through iMessage. I really like this feature because it makes it so easy not having to correct words or having the wrong word.

      You friend,

  8. B. Martin

    What an inspiration you are, Ben! My 9 year old daughter has dyslexia, and this is so encouraging to read! 😊

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