« Naivety | Main | The Scullery Maid »

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


By Johna Ferguson

Life puts many burdens on our shoulders as we grow up, but one has particularly plagued me from birth until now. I’m almost 80 but I’ve managed to get through bouts with cancer, PMR and even AVnode ablation, but this one has never left my side. It’s called dyslexia.

There are many theories abounding about its causes but most agree it is a developmental reading disorder that results from an inability to process graphic symbols. All that means is it is difficult to learn to read or spell correctly. Many words are upside down or backwards. Even numbers get involved in the process.

My dad, a doctor, first noticed it when I was just learning to talk. I couldn’t pronounce some words correctly no matter how often he said them; mayonnaise and elephant were most troublesome.

When I entered grade school, I couldn’t gain the concept of reading. When I heard the teacher read “Jane saw Spot,” I read it as “Jane was Spot.” I can’t possibly name all the terrible examples or experiences I had, but soon my mother took over and practically tutored me through grade and middle school.

She read all my lessons to me and then carefully went over them with me. If it was given to me orally, I could do okay, but when I wrote them down, what a mess. We were required to take Latin in ninth grade, and I just couldn’t cope with it so I was excused. But in high school we had to take two years of a foreign language if we wanted to go on to college.

I got my only D in Spanish. In Spanish II, the teacher understood I just couldn’t grasp it and passed me. Only with my mother’s help I graduated near the top of my class in high school and decided to apply for college. I wanted to go only one place, and that was Stanford. I didn’t want to go east to any of those fancy schools; I wanted to stay on the west coast and at a top university.

I was accepted by Stanford, but then suddenly changed my mind when I found my boy friend couldn’t afford to go there. He had to go to a state school, thus it was to be the University of Washington and I followed in his footsteps.

By then, I had taught myself to read and write slowly. I majored in sociology for it seemed the easiest; no math other than statistics, just two years of any science and no more years of struggling with a foreign language. In spite of working part-time during my four years in college, I managed to graduate with a very good grade point, enough to get me into graduate school. I enrolled to get a MSW, but in the meantime got married and then suddenly a pregnancy and had to drop out.

That child was a boy, a severe dyslexic also. The Seattle school system at that time did not recognize the handicap so he started regular school but when he couldn’t read by third grade, we send him to a private school where there were 14 instead of 25 children in the class. He did much better there but never really learned to read.

By then it was obvious our third son was also dyslexic, but still the Seattle school system balked at placing dyslexic children in any kind of handicapped category so again, an expensive private school where classes were smaller.

At his grade school, they offered a special reading tutor trained in teaching dyslexic children to read. By the time he reached high school he was able to read, albeit slowly, and went on to graduate from a small eastern college.

Now I suffer when typing. I know how to spell or look up most words in the dictionary but when I type them, I make errors and when I reread them, I fail to catch the mistakes. Luckily the computer catches most of them but I still reverse many words and especially numbers.

Don’t feel sorry for me for we all have our own crosses to bear. It’s my nemesis and although I can never conquer it, I keep trying.

So in reading any of my articles, if you decide I have used a word wrongly, just ignore it. At least you don’t have to struggle like my family does even with some of my spoken words. I’ll mean to say attaché case and instead say - at tai’ chi. Well, maybe you can get the idea.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I am part of your world as are several of my grandchildren. I had the blessing of parochial school and even though there really wasn't a "tag" for my problem the nuns worked very hard to set up up programs and habits that have served me well through life.
Now the parochial system is helping my grandson with computers. Like us he still has errors but nothing like the first 6 years in public school.
Thank you for your articles. I always go to them first thing.

It takes real courage to battle a handicap. I'm glad that you and your family were able to get help and be of help to each other.

I have a friend who is dyslexic, so I know how hard it can be for them in school. I wrote a post in 2005 about "adult-onset-dyslexia" and it still gets more hits than almost any other I've written!

Thank you for sharing your story. It must have been discouraging for you many times in your years at school. I have been aware of dyslexia, but to read your experiences has given me a new perspective and empathy for this challenge.

You touched me at my heart! One of my twin daughters is a severe dyslexic and like you and your mom school was a team effort. The age computers really changed things for my daughter and even today she will send emails to me to proof read. She is a teacher now and has such empathy for her struggling students.

I'm delighted to find another one of us here. I can't do math or languages, and to graduate from college here, I had to have a waver in math, statistics, and philosophy. To get the waver, I had to fail all those classes. Bravo to you.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment