The Voice of Experience


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The Voice of Experience: An Interview with an Adult with Dyslexia


“I want more out of life. That’s why…I want to learn how to read and write.”


IDA Southwest
Tell us a little about yourself.

N
I am 58 years old, with three grown children and two grandsons. I was evaluated by an educational diagnostician for the first time in 2011, and found out then that I am severely dyslexic. By that time I had already begun my reading classes [multisensory language therapy] at the UNM-Taos Adult Learning Center.


IDA Southwest
What led you to seek help at the Adult Learning Center?

N
I never knew there was a name for my reading and spelling problem. I just kept hoping things would get easier. After moving back to the States (N. lived for 19 years in Mexico], I enrolled in a Medical Billing and Insurance Coding program at United Education Institute in Chula Vista, California. I had a 3.57 grade point average when I graduated in 2008, and did well during my internship. But when I started working in this field, I found out there was a lot more report writing than I had expected so I got a job at a department store instead.

Then once I moved to New Mexico, I was doing hospice volunteering. A friend of mine suggested that I should take the CNA [Certified Nursing Assistant] class so that way I could make extra money. I decided to take the class but I didn’t know that it involved taking a state test. I went to class but I couldn’t take notes. I had to copy notes from another student, faking it and telling her I was just checking out her work. It took me four times to memorize the book. When I went to take the state test, it was on a computer. The test had lots of things on it that I hadn’t memorized so I had to scroll back and forth on the test. Everyone left the test center before me. I did end up passing the exam by luck. The other part of the state test was hands-on and that was easy. I cried because I was so happy I had passed the test.

After that I decided that I would go take a reading class because I had had such a hard time with both the realities of medical billing and then the CNA class and exam. I went to the UNM-Taos Adult Learning Center and was put in a group where the teacher asked us to read and write a report. I couldn’t. So she asked the student next to me to help me read, and I said to myself, “Here we go again.” When I told a friend in yoga [a retired teacher] about how I wanted to go back to school, I said, “I must have a reading disability.” That friend started making phone calls to some teachers she knew who worked with students with dyslexia. One had just retired and she volunteered to work at the Adult Learning Center so she could help me.


IDA Southwest
How has the reading therapy helped you?

N
At first when I started this program, I thought that I was going to change and lose who I am but it has just opened my world more. I am now aware of how I learn. I know I have a strong visual memory which is how I faked it in school. I could memorize lots of words but I didn’t know what they meant. I didn’t know letters even had sounds. I didn’t know about syllables.

I also found out that I didn’t hear sounds well so I was never sure what people were saying. Learning how to read has helped me to speak more clearly and has given me more confidence.


IDA Southwest
How often do you attend classes?

N
I first started therapy with four days a week. At first I thought it was a lot but as time went on, I realized I needed it. Now I go three times a week. One day a week would never have helped me, not even two days. I need a constant repeating of a pattern before I get it. Sometimes I need to work for a week or more just on one sound, like the ar in dollar.   That was hard for me.


IDA Southwest
How did you manage to graduate from high school?

N
I had a counselor who helped do my homework. [That was long before minimum competency tests.]


IDA Southwest
You said you’ve worked in retail for years. How did you manage on –the- job reading?

N
First of all, I knew the merchandise well and could help people with that. But if someone asked me to read a label, I would fake it. I would tell them that I left my reading glasses at home, and then tell them to ask someone else to read the label. Now it’s exciting that I can read labels.


IDA Southwest
In your new job as a cashier in a grocery store, how are you managing?

N
Well, it’s a good job; the first one I’ve had that gives paid vacations and benefits. Plus, I’m good at numbers. I easily memorized the numbers and codes of all the things we sell. If I do have to write something down, one of the other cashiers helps me. They know about my learning disability. They think it’s wonderful because I’m learning how to read and write. When I ask them about different words and what they mean, I know they have fun teaching me.


IDA Southwest
You lived in Mexico for 20 years. What was that like? Did you learn Spanish?

N
I lived there but never learned to speak Spanish. I took lessons but they didn’t help me. My three children all learned to speak Spanish and so my family wondered why I didn’t learn. I learned just the basic words, like manners, how to get around, how to pay bills but no real conversation.


IDA Southwest
Is anyone in your family dyslexic?

N
I think my mother might have been but she died years ago so I don’t know for sure. My 9 year old grandson has also been diagnosed with dyslexia. He has an above average IQ and a good vocabulary, and he’s getting help from a dyslexia therapist. His little brother is almost two years old and he doesn’t speak at all. I remember my mother saying I was like that. She took me to a doctor who told her not to talk for me so that I would learn to talk. She said I just pointed to things for a long time.


IDA Southwest
When you were raising your children, did anyone in your family know you couldn’t read?

N
I never told anyone. My daughter told me recently that she wondered why I never read books to her. She said I would start reading a book and then I would create my own story. Now I can read to my grandson, and because we are both learning the same way, I can help him with his sounds and syllables. In fact, sometimes he helps me, explaining things – like when does n say /ng/ – in his own words. It’s good because we both understand each other and know what vowels, consonants, and syllables mean.


IDA Southwest
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

N
I remember that when I was little and I learned to ride a bike, I used to go to the public library to listen to classical music and to look at books. I never told my family about this. I was very young and I wanted to know so many things. I loved words but I couldn’t read them.   I still love words. I also love to play chess with my grandson who is dyslexic.


IDA Southwest
You are very open about your dyslexia and your struggles in reading and writing. Why is that?

N
When I started working with my dyslexia therapist, it was the first time I had a name for the hidden disability that had affected my learning all my life. And, it was the first time I had someone who was willing to help me learn, and someone who believed I am able to learn. It was very difficult to tackle a problem like this at my age but I did it for myself and for my grandson, and for other people who have dyslexia. I wouldn’t be able to speak in front of large groups like I do – to get out the message about dyslexia – if this therapy wasn’t helping me. I am learning to read and write and speak better. We need more teachers who understand dyslexia not only to catch it early in young children but also to help adults like me who have never had the help we have needed.


IDA Southwest
Finally, did you ever just think of using technology to help you with reading and writing?

N
Well, I first bought a Kindle after my therapist showed me hers. But at the time I got it, I couldn’t read as well as I can now, and so there wasn’t much on it for me to read. I tried Voice Enabled, but that voice was hard to follow. Now I have an iPad 3. It has helped me when I’ve wanted to read something that is difficult because I can get it to speak to me. I can also hear how to say words on the dictionary and read about what they mean. I just learned how to order audiobooks for my grandson so he can listen to good books instead of using my iPad for just games.


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