A golden anniversary is an amazing milestone to reach in any relationship. It is even more remarkable when your marriage is to Dyslexia. Although this can be a challenging relationship, you can learn to work together to create success. Please join me on my 50-year journey with Dyslexia.
My relationship with Dyslexia began in 1963. My mother spoke to our family doctor, Dr. Gregory, because she was concerned that I was struggling in school with reading and writing. Initially he sent us to an eye doctor to check my vision. After a comprehensive assessment, I was diagnosed with a “lazy eye.” To treat this condition, a special screen was attached to our family’s 19” black and white TV set. I had to wear huge glasses that swallowed my face like the ones from the first iMax movies. To see the whole TV screen, I had to concentrate on using both eyes, or half the screen went black. Even watching TV became work. My eye did get stronger but my reading and handwriting did not improve. In fact it got worse, and because of this, I began to fake asthma attacks to stay home from school to avoid feeling anxious and humiliated.
Next, my mom and I were sent to a Neurologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston. After a lot of poking and prodding and having to stand around in my underwear, my mom and a strange doctor talked about me like I was invisible. From there, we were referred to the Reading Research Institute in Wellesley, Massachusetts. At the Institute, I met Dr. Charles Drake, who would go on to establish the acclaimed Landmark School in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1971. After a battery of psychological tests, he reported his finding to us. “You have Dyslexia.” With those words, Dyslexia became my silent partner. Dr. Drake advised me, “Your relationship with Dyslexia is not going to be easy, but with hard work you will learn to flourish together.” Dr. Drake should know, he was happily married to Dyslexia too.
Sadly, my teachers and principal had no concept of Dyslexia and refused to accommodate us. For them, my diagnosis was just an excuse for being stupid and lazy. Their answer was always, “just try harder.” I tried and tried and nothing changed. This became a frustrating, vicious cycle. Albert Einstein best describes this pattern, “ Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” I quickly learned, it was best to try to keep Dyslexia “in the closet.” However, as the school years continued, I could no longer hide my Dyslexia. Red marks slashed across my papers and kids giggled as I stumbled to read aloud. Peering over the shoulder of the girl in front of me, I compared my small insignificant blue star to her giant golden seal. I felt ashamed and defective. Dyslexia and I wrestled and clashed through the school years and what resulted was a lot of scrapes and scarring. I blamed Dyslexia for all my bad grades, a 714 combined on the SAT’s, and the rejection of every college I applied to except for my father’s alma mater. To say I was in a dysfunctional relationship was an understatement. I hated Dyslexia, but a divorce for irreconcilable differences was impossible.
What do you do when it seems like the world is against you? Where do you find the strength to keep going? The key to my survival was finding mentors and advocates. They coached me to stand strong when nobody else believed in me. The two most important people were Dr. Gregory and my mom. On the one hand, Dr. Gregory was my mentor. I became his little apprentice. I would spend time after school sitting on his knee while he stitched up cut fingers, looked under the microscope at blood cells and read chest x-rays. When I was with him, I felt excited and smart. On the other hand, my mom was my advocate. She fought the school system every step of the way. When they tried to hold me back a grade or limit my future by pulling me out of the college track, they invited a battle that they would never win. My mom was an unyielding force, but I was still in the trenches.
To hold my ground at school, I had to sacrifice playtime for tutoring. Saturday morning cartoons were traded for tedious drills. Strict nuns in their scary habits and shiny black shoes instructed me at the Cardinal Cushing Reading Clinic in Boston. My reward for enduring the tutoring was riding the subway home alone from Boston. For me the Boston subway system was an amusement park. I bought my token from the man in the booth, inserted my coin, pushed through the turnstile and entered a magical wonderland of adventure. I loved riding in the front of the trains and trolleys, imagining I was the conductor driving through the symphony of orchestrated lights. Between stops, I slid down the escalator handrails and raced back up the descending stairs. Fresh-popped popcorn was a common treat at the Government Center T stop, as well as weaving between people to catch the next trolley. When I was in the subway, I was free, independent, and in control.
If school and tutoring was not challenging enough, Hebrew school and my Bar Mitzvah became an impossible burden. After a long day struggling through school, I went home and traded my school books for Hebrew books. Mrs. Gutell whisked us away in her carpool to the next town. Reading English from left to right was difficult, but reading Hebrew from right to left became my worst nightmare. In my second year of Hebrew school, Dyslexia and I could not take it any longer, so we dropped out and my mother acquired a tape recorder and another tutor. Mr. Copeland was a rather portly, older gentleman with suspenders who taught at MIT. Each week he recorded a couple of new lines for me to learn and practice. I listened to the recordings over and over again. Eventually, I memorized my entire Bar Mitzvah and proudly delivered it in front of my family, friends and the temple congregation.
I made my next breakthrough with Dyslexia my first year in college studying to be a respiratory therapist. At the end of my first semester, I volunteered at my local hospital in the Respiratory Therapy Department, and this became my classroom. Watching the respiratory therapists controlling the life support machines, treating asthmatics, and bag breathing patients during a “Code Blue” became my best way of learning. Once I made the connection between the real world and what I was studying, there was no looking back for me. I began to stop blaming Dyslexia for holding me back, and with that I moved forward - fast forward.
With these learning strategies in hand, together we completed Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and all of the coursework toward a Ph.D. At 24, I was named the youngest Assistant Professor at Quinnipiac University. By 28, I was the Chairman of our Department. After that, I worked in the medical device market collaborating with Anesthesiologists. Now, I am CEO of my own company building the super-computers that scientists use to accelerate discovery. For those who knew about my Dyslexia and me, they continually commented about and complemented our accomplishments. However, I still felt I was in a struggling relationship.
They say when the student is ready the teacher will appear. One day my sister shared a book call The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. Drs. Brock and Fernette Edie’s words artfully reinforced that a relationship with Dyslexia is a blessing. For the first time, in my life, I fully accepted my Dyslexia. It reminds me of a verse from the David Crosby song, Long Time Gone. "But you know, the darkest hour, is always just before the dawn.” Now I reflect on my first fifty years with Dyslexia. A long time has gone, but the dawn has risen on my next fifty years. Moving forward, I embrace Dyslexia as my amazing gift, and I hope my journey shows others with Dyslexia a path to acceptance and empowerment.
I hope Stan's story inspires you, too, to recognize the gifts in dyslexia.
I hope Stan's story inspires you, too, to recognize the gifts in dyslexia.