5 Special Educators share their Dyslexia Stories

“She looked at me kindly and said, ‘Now I want an honest answer. Do you find reading difficult?’”

For a recent dyslexia book giveaway, we asked you to share your dyslexia stories.

From you we learned about the difference a single teacher can make. We read of the power of parent advocacy.

We read stories of perseverance and self-taught strategies that led to success. We read of struggle, but also ways around that struggle.

We read of strength.

Below are five extraordinary stories from five people who either have dyslexia or a loved one with dyslexia.

Remarkably, all five of them work in special education and spend their days teaching children with disabilities similar to their own.

A big thank you to everyone who shared their stories! They made us laugh, they made us smile, and they made our hearts grow a little bit bigger.

1. This educator explains the dyslexia symptom map on her fridge.

Haley Slater

Haley Slater, a special education teacher in Chehalis School district, wrote:

Dyslexia impacts almost all of my students on a daily basis.

I have participated in many dyslexia trainings and professional development opportunities. I have learned how to provide appropriate accommodations, how to teach phonemic awareness and phonological awareness skills, and teach students to use assistive technology to access their grade level materials.

I felt like I had a good understanding of its effects on my students, but I never thought about how it affected adults until I met my husband. He has dyslexia and he opened my eyes to how he has had to cope and made accommodations for himself throughout the years.

He was held back in second grade. He used his second round of second grade to study the dictionary and memorize the shapes of letters and words.

When he reads words, he does not sound them out. He looks at the entire word and can recognize it based on how the word looks when certain letters are next to one another. He still struggles with reading and spelling but he has found numerous ways to work with his dyslexia or work around it. He accesses books through audio books and learns through watching videos.

He is incredibly smart and talented and dyslexia is just one of the many interesting things about him.

Dyslexia was a topic of conversation for us when we first began talking to one another. We discussed the symptoms one might have if they have dyslexia. Working memory issues, trouble with directions, trouble remembering dates, difficulty hearing sounds, and a number of other things.

He related to most of these symptoms and said that he has always suspected dyslexia may be what has affected his reading his entire life.

We have been married now for a year, and the original symptom map that we discussed when we first began talking to each other is now a permanent fixture on our fridge, laminated, and referenced often.

2. This educator shared a story of a college professor who changed her life.

VeLynda Hubband

VeLynda Hubband, a special education teacher at Rochester Middle School, wrote:

All my life as a student I struggled with reading. The teachers at school didn’t know how to help me. They tried everything, but nothing seemed to work.

During my freshman year of College, my English professor noticed I was struggling. Really struggling. One day she asked me to stay after class. She was a sweet woman robustly clothed in old-world charm – a dress, kitten heel pumps, and stockings.

She looked at me kindly and said, “Now I want an honest answer. Do you find reading difficult?”

I met her gaze and my heart raced. ¨Yes”, I admitted. “I have always struggled. When I read, the words move around the page. I flip letters. I know my spelling is bad. I was never diagnosed with dyslexia because my parents couldn’t afford testing.¨

After that candid conversation, Mrs. Stringer began to teach me strategies for reading. With her encouragement and help, I read 30 books in 6 months. That was so huge for me! I thought I would never enjoy reading.

In high school, I barely passed all my classes. But in college, I graduated with honors and at the top of my class. I went to college to be a police officer but changed my major to special education teacher after my freshman year.

Mrs. Stringer helped me more than she would ever know. Because of her, I am now a special education teacher at a middle school. I work with students who struggle with reading. Many of my students have dyslexia. I am able to understand and relate to them. I show them that they can keep going.

I still carry my struggles. They creep up from time to time. But I more importantly carry my successes with me, too.

I have my bachelors in Special Education and my masters in English Language Learners. I let my students know, if I can use struggles to help me with my reading – they can too!

3. This educator wrote beautifully of turtles, writing backwards, and her students’ gifts.

Rose Johnson

Rose Johnson, a special education teacher at Jordan Middle School, wrote:

Growing up in the 70s as a “turtle” amongst robins, blue jays and eagles literally had me crawling inside my shell.

I spent many days at recess sitting at my unorganized desk completing homework I had either done incorrectly or had not completed because I did not understand.

I knew my teachers appreciated my wit and personality and had high expectations due to the progress made by one of my eight older siblings, but I also knew it was frustrating for them to not see me progress at the level of the other students, especially when my Iowa Basic Test Scores were reported back.

Then, one day I was sent to the coat closet with two male classmates. We were the “turtle” group. I am unsure to this day if the boys selected our reading group name or if that was a school name for our group, but, for several years, Mrs. Jansen, a Title One teacher, used a variety of new ways to develop my basic reading skills and always with a smile. She painted my shell in a way others could not because I learned in a different way.

As my reading skills developed I found other strengths. I had an appreciation for my uncanny ability to write backwards since that is what often occurred as my eyes traveled across the page. I found other kids were impressed with this talent and wanted me to teach them.

I read all the fairytale books at the public library in sixth grade and was able to read “in my head” with some great character voices. Later I turned those character voices into singing and acting in school plays, Speech, and choir contests.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that my mother shared her family’s educational story. My grandfather was illiterate, so my grandmother would read him the newspaper everyday. His inability to read made life a struggle emotionally as well as financially.

My mother spoke of her love of learning, but she had to drop out after eighth grade because she became ill with pneumonia and had to go work at the hospital to pay for her medical bills. It was important to both her and my father that each of their children graduated high school.

Now, as a teacher of students who learn in different ways I share my struggles with my students and show them how I can write backwards. I let them know that one day, which I hope is soon, they will also learn how they learn best and what strengths they have.

While I want to see the academic progress, it is equally as important to me to see them love themselves for the way they are and the gifts they have to share with the world.

I have dyslexia. It is a gift. While it didn’t always feel that was the case, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

4. This educator told of the “crappy” paper she wrote for psychology class and teaching with love and sarcasm.

Adrian Smith

Adrian Smith, a special education teacher at Ponder High school, wrote:

I was a struggling reader. It was not until I was in Middle School that I was actually diagnosed with dyslexia.

I come from a family of scholars who all had a passion for reading and writing. I did not enjoy reading because I couldn’t seem to get the words to stop jumping on the page. When I finally got a sentence read, I had no idea what I had just read. My comprehension was very low.

I enjoyed writing and was creative with storytelling, but my spelling was so terrible that I feared having other people read my work, even as a young adult.

I took my first psychology class at a community college. I wrote a paper about ADD that had great points, the problem was instead of using the word deficit I wrote defecate throughout the entire paper!

Thankfully my sister proofread it and immediately noticed my error.

Talk about writing a crappy paper!

We laughed so much over the situation and still enjoy a chuckle today. Even through the laughter, I have to admit it made me feel so stupid.

How was I ever going to make it through college?

I continued to feel like I was not as smart as everyone else.

Through hard work and determination, I did make it through school and am living my dream of teaching Special Education. My struggles with learning have helped me to understand where my students are coming from.

I have to work harder than others but it makes me passionate about teaching, especially teaching struggling readers. I might not be able to pick out the misspelled word when given a choice of three, but I have learned to use strategies to help me overcome my weaknesses.

My interpersonal skills are very strong. I have the ability to connect with just about anyone. I see the world through a different lens and dyslexia helped me to be able to do this.

Through love and sarcasm, I am able to reach my students and help them overcome their learning disabilities as well.

5. This mother and dyslexia task force member wrote of how her advocacy efforts impacted an entire school district.

Lori Parra

Lori Parra, an education assistant for students with severe disabilities at San Bernardino City Unified School District, wrote:

Our daughter fell under the umbrella of specific learning disability (ADHD) in her IEP since 2nd grade.

When she hit middle school, she was struggling a lot with now having 7 different classes/teachers. We had her evaluated again from the outside psychologist & finally was diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia & ADHD which made a huge difference in finally understanding her struggles.

I educated myself better of understanding what dyslexia is and was able to get more accommodations for our daughter to help support her needs.

My husband & I presented Don Johnston apps (Snap&Read, Co:Writer Universal) to my daughter’s special education director about how helpful it’s been for our daughter.

I’ve pushed for more struggling students who fall into the same category as my daughter in an IEP to have these apps from Don Johnston to help support them.

Our SPED Director was able to get the license for our entire school district!

I myself struggled in school growing up & educating myself that dyslexia is inherited from family members who have dyslexia. \

I’m grateful to finally be hired in our school district and be on our dyslexia task force team & help our special education department with putting together a pamphlet on dyslexia for our special education partners, so they can educate themselves on dyslexia & what programs we have to help support our struggling students.