Category Archives: Certified Academic Language Therapist

What Steven Spielberg, Movie Making, Dyslexia…and Me…Have in Common

Director Steven Spielberg
Photo Credit: Wikipedia and the Department of Defense

Steven Spielberg is famous for making movies. Most people know that. But there may be something that you don’t know about him. Steven Spielberg has dyslexia.

As a movie maker myself – OK a young, hopefully up and coming movie maker 😉 – I was so intrigued when I learned this new bit of information. Besides great filming making ability ;-), Steven Spielberg and I both have something else in common…dyslexia! 😉

Here I am at the premiere of my “Native Plant Avengers” video at the Lights Camera Help Focus on Good Film Festival.

A Rough Beginning

It turns out that Mr. Spielberg was bullied in school for being about two years behind his classmates in reading ability. Boy, can I relate. It took me over two years just to learn the alphabet! As I have shared in an earlier post, I could speak well for my age and had a great vocabulary, but I could not read at all when I was six, seven and not even by eight years old.

By the time I was about nine, all the other kids in the neighborhood were reading well…but not me. I could read a few words but not many. My skill was more like that of someone in kindergarten, at best. And I had already been in reading therapy for four years – what felt like a life time (at least to a kid). It wasn’t until about the age of 10 that I could start to recognize words.

It All Started in Kindergarten…

When I was six I started kindergarten as the smart kid but within a month I was the kid who couldn’t learn how to read, the kid who was no longer smart, the kid with a disability. How could this be?  Inside, I knew I was smart.  I was often the brunt of jokes but what hurt me the most was when well meaning teachers and other adults would whisper about me to one and other, “He has a disability…” Oh how bad that made me feel. They may have thought I couldn’t hear, but I heard.

I heard a lot of whispers. It was as though many adults had put me in a box that I could never get out of. They took away my hope and made me feel like some kind of weirdo. There is so much emphasis put on learning how to read as the road to success…that if you can’t read, people “write” you off.  In a kinder world it would be better not to label anyone disabled but instead to focus on what they can do – what they are good at. Everyone – no matter what – has something to offer to make society better.

High Block Protects the Face Very Well

I felt so alone and so sad when I was at school. I was only six and I already hated school. I was bullied so much on the playground and even got knocked out once.  It must have been quite a scene because I remember the school had to call my Mom who rushed right over. I was fine, but after that incident my Mom enrolled my in Taekwondo so I could learn how to defend my self.

I’ve never been a fighter but Taekwondo gave me so much confidence. Confidence in myself and the discovery that I was good at a sport! If it wasn’t for my parents, I don’t know what would have happened to me…in more ways than one!  I’m so grateful to my Mom, and my Dad too, who always stuck up for me and told me that I could do anything I wanted.

It’s Not A Disability!

My Mom also explained to me that I just learned differently. A learning difference.  That was a lot better than a disability.  My Mom never said I had a disability. I can’t begin to tell you how much that meant to me. It changed my life. When she said that I learned differently, I was relieved.  Don’t get me wrong, at the time different wasn’t great but it was better.  No six year old wants to be different, but at least it restored my hope.  Different didn’t mean I couldn’t succeed.   It just freed me to learn at my own pace…my own ability (not dis-ability). It’s really the time I can pinpoint to when I developed my optimistic spirit. I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been to have my Mom in my corner. She is really the right mom for me! 🙂

A Bright Future

As I find out more about famous people who have dyslexia – especially creative movie makers like Steven Spielberg – it gives me a great deal of hope about my future.  Along with a certified academic language therapist, numerous other tutors, and my Mom, who has homeschooled me for the past seven and a half years, I can finally read.  Yes, slowly – and I still have to sound out a lot of words. But that’s OK because I can finally do something that most kids have been able to do all along…read. Yes, maybe it was easy for them to get there but I caught up over time. Well, sort of caught up but I can read well enough to “get around town” as my Mom says. 😉 And now I don’t feel so different.  I feel special.  Special because I’m me.  I may have dyslexia but in a way I think it has also given me a very creative mind.

Indiana Jones – A Dyslexic’s Creation

And speaking of creative minds, Steven Spielberg definitely has one too!  One of my favorite movies is Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Indian Jones, his hat, and his whip are one of the coolest teams in history!  I look forward to the day when I can make action movies like that. 🙂  Hmmm…Commander Ben and the Raiders of the Lost Plants! 😉

It took a lot of hard work (and some rough patches here and there) to get where I am now. But along the way I also discovered all the other wonderful ways in which my brain works!  As I leave homeschooling behind, I can’t wait to start high school next year.  I have a lot to bring to my new school. I’m smart, creative, athletic, outgoing, friendly…and an all around nice guy…and I’m not disabled…I just learn differently! 😉

Ben 🙂 Age 14

The Future “Sounds” Bright

So if you have dyslexia, don’t worry.  There are bumps along the way but it does get easier.  We dyslexics have something special! 🙂  And remember, technology improves everyday putting us on a more even playing field with other kids.  Just five years ago, it would have been hard for me to do this blog because voice-to-text technology was no where near as good as it is today.  Who knows what amazing technologies await us in the future!

Your friend,
Ben

P.S. October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month! Happy October!

Leave a comment

Filed under Bullied, Certified Academic Language Therapist, Certified Academic Language Therapist, disability, Dyslexia, Indiana Jones, Learning difference, National Dyslexia Awareness Month, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Reading, Steven Spielberg, Steven Spielberg, Taekwondo

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,
Ben

17 Comments

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