Category Archives: Dysgraphia

KUT series on dyslexia in Austin

Ben Shrader talks about dyslexia in his Sound of Reading film about Learning Ally.

Ben Shrader talks about dyslexia in his Sound of Reading film about Learning Ally.

During National Dyslexia Awareness Month, KUT, our Austin NPR station, broadcast a series of interviews about dyslexia, and I was invited to be part of the series after they saw my Sound of Reading film about Learning Ally (formerly known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic).

I had a nice time talking with KUT reporter Ms. Kate McGee about my experiences with dyslexia, and how dyslexic students have to work hard and take an active role to get the right accommodations they need for learning. If they don’t get the help they need for everything that involves reading, including writing and math, students could crash.

After donning headphones, we talked for more than 30 minutes in the KUT studios, which was near the KLRU studios where I had an interview a few months ago with Central Texas Gardener about my work to help educate kids of all ages about invasive species.

One of the hardest things dyslexic students need to do is come to grips with their dyslexia. When I was younger, I didn’t want to be known of as a dyslexic, but as I found things that I liked and was good at, I felt better about myself. Once dyslexic students recognize that they have talents and challenges that other students don’t have, they’ll have great success in life.

Here’s my interview with KUT:

Additional KUT interviews about dyslexia and dysgraphia:

Thanks Ms. McGee and KUT for the chance to talk about dyslexia and help encourage dyslexic students to know that they’ll have success in life.

Your friend,


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Filed under Dysgraphia, Dyslexia, Kate McGee, KLRU, KUT, Learning Ally, National Dyslexia Awareness Month, NPR, The Sound of Reading

How To Make Paper Journals Dyslexic Friendly

My Notebook, Pen, and iPad

It may seem funny to talk about technology in one breath and then mention pen and paper in the other, but they really can work together. For most everything I do, I use some form of technology – my Victor Reader Stream, a laptop, an iPad or an iPhone – but sometimes , well almost daily actually, I still enjoy writing something down into my old-fashioned journal.

My journal is a small leather three-ring binder with lined paper which is actually three generations old. I found it tucked away in my dresser draw in my room where my Mom had saved it for me. She used it as a kid and her Mom used it before her.  I think that fact that it was old and looked different than other notebooks was part of it’s appeal.  Even though I am a 21st century kid, I like old-fashioned things.

Handwriting and Spelling – Always a Challenge

Mind you, this was not something I took to immediately. Having dyslexia, compounded with dysgraphia, has always made handwriting and spelling very challenging for me. But I loved the idea of having a private journal where I could scribble (literally!) my secret notes. I think it started around the time I read (thank you Learning Ally!) the first book in The 39 Clues Series.

I was jotting down “clues” in my journal, ripping them out, and hiding them around the house. (My parents are still finding them and that was a few years ago!)  They were far from perfect, often misspelled notes, usually with a hand sketched picture for clarification, but suddenly writing was fun and not a chore.

My early attempts at writing – a “Clue” from The 39 Clues.

How Technology Can Help

But where my writing style differs from most kids, is that I use a combination of paper, pen…and technology to jot down my thoughts.  If I’m at home, I’ll prop the iPad in front of me as I write in my journal.  I start to write, and as I think of a word that I don’t know how to spell, I use the iPad Dictation Mode to record it.  The word will pop up on the screen and then I’ll use the text reader to read it back to me to make sure it’s the right word that I want to use.  If it is, then I copy it into my journal.

Here I am getting ready to write in my journal with the iPad ready to help.

The reason that I have the iPad read the word back to me is because  – although it’s a great tool – it’s not perfect.  Sometimes I might dictate a word, but the iPad hears it slightly differently and puts a different word on the screen…but I can’t always read it well enough to tell the difference.  Having the iPad read it back to me lets me know that the iPad understood me correctly and I am copying the right word that I want to use.

Write or Right?  Which One Is it?  How “ing” came to the rescue.

Oh!  But this just made me think of something important.  What about words that sound the same but are spelled differently such as “write” and “right”! How does the iPad know what to “write” so that I use the “right” word.  Well, it doesn’t.  But that’s OK.  Let me explain.

I may not know that the spelling of a same sounding word with different meanings might have different spellings, but I make the educated guess that it does, so I usually add “ing” to the word I dictate.  If I say “writing”, the iPad will usually not type out “righting”, (yes, “righting” is a word but it is less common, so the iPad will usually go with the more common word which is usually the word I’m looking for), so I know I have the “right” word to “write”.

The same is true with words like pear and pare.  I would have no idea how to spell either of these, and I wouldn’t even really know that they are spelled differently, but if I use my trick and add “ing” to the word, the iPad will type paring not pearing.  So then I know that the word on my iPad screen means “a pair” and the other is a fruit.  Clever, huh? 😉

But It’s All Worth It

Having to use the iPad to help me write in my journal may be an extra step compared to what other kids might have to do, but I actually find it fun because it gives me the freedom to be able to write down my own thoughts, in my own hand…and without having to call out, “Mom, how do you spell…”

And it’s a much more fun way to practice handwriting than writing the same letter over and over again.  And speaking of practice, keeping my journal has actually helped to improve my handwriting.

And one other thing I would like to share that you might be wondering about.  Why do I use a pen instead of pencil?  Wouldn’t it be easier to erase, if I used a pencil?  Well, that’s true but I like a pen for two reasons.

One, a pen is more scientific.  Scientist always write in pen in their scientific notebooks for the very reason that it can’t be erased.

And second, I simply like the weight of a pen – preferably a substantial, thick, heavy weighted pen as opposed to a light weight pencil.  It just makes writing easier for me.  I thought it was just me, but I learned that people with dyslexia often do finding writing easier when their writing instrument of choice is weighted.

So if you struggle with handwriting like me, why not try writing in a journal.  You might find it fun.  And your handwriting might improve as well.  I love the fact that I can neatly (relatively!) write my name and phone number on a piece of paper and hand it to a girl proudly! 🙂

Be sure to visit the Dyslexia page of my blog to read my other posts including:

Your friend,


Filed under Dysgraphia, Dyslexia, Handwriting, Learning Ally, Victor Reader Stream, Weighted Pen

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