I am dyslexic. I am not dumb. Yes, I can read. No, I do not stutter. October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month and it is time we take away the stigma that comes with being diagnosed with this disability.

Born and raised in Miami, Florida, I was never properly diagnosed with dyslexia. I moved from school to school because it was very difficult to function in the standard classroom environment. In elementary school, I felt anxious, frustrated, nervous and often bored because I was unable to retain or comprehend a page of content. Feelings of insecurity set in and it led me to act out. I passed the 1st and 2nd grades, but almost failed the third.

Each week in grammar school, I would study ten spelling words during the week, and the night before the test had learned each of them. However, the next day when it was time for testing, I was unable to remember them all. I would study for hours for a test and then make a C- or fail. I did a lot of extra makeup work to make the grades I needed to be promoted.

I was terribly self-conscious and embarrassed by my poor achievements. I knew my teachers and the other students looked down on me and I was dubbed as being slow or dumb. I really wanted to make my parents proud of me by getting good grades, but the A's never came. We didn’t understand why I studied so hard but couldn’t produce.

Undiagnosed, I really have no idea how I was able to finish High School. I thought about dropping out of school, but my father insisted that dropping out was not an option. In 1996, I graduated from Miami Douglas McArthur High School with grades ranging from a B- to C-.

It wasn’t until college that I started to understand my disability and get help. I joined a support group at the local library that was helpful. It allowed me to express my frustrations out loud and among those who were dealing with a learning disability, as well. The group suggested that I get tested to see why I was having difficulty retaining information and once I knew I had a learning disability, a counselor suggested I get a tutor.  I also purchased Hooked on Phonics for myself and its visualizing and audio exercises helped. I was always told I was a great speaker, I just couldn’t write that well. With the aid of the group, the tutor and Hooked on Phonics, I began to comprehend what I was learning and how to apply it.

As an adult I learned even more about my disability when my son was diagnosed with dyslexia in the third grade.

About 5% to 10% of all school children in the U.S. have learning disabilities and dyslexia is the most common type. Some signs are children having problems processing the information they see when looking at a word, trouble connecting the sound made by a specific letter or deciphering the sounds of all the letters together that form a word. Given these challenges, children with dyslexia often also have trouble with writing, spelling, speaking, and math. While dyslexia is a lifelong learning disability, early and effective intervention can help a child keep up and retain their grade level in school, as well as minimize the negative effects dyslexia can have such as low self-esteem. 

As a mom, I was able to engage my son and be proactive about having him assessed once I saw his grades were suffering.  I requested a 504 plan for him, which is a plan developed by schools and parents to support the educational needs of a K–12 student with a disability that “substantially limits one or more major life activity” such as: learning, speaking, listening, reading, writing, concentrating, caring for oneself, etc. Schools that receive federal funding are obligated to serve students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These plans offer support and accommodations daily and especially during test-taking to help the child. Support includes dividing reading and writing assignments into smaller parts, giving extra time to read during class and test taking, provide note-taker when class work requires prolonged period of writing and reading aloud sometimes in addition to providing computers for the use of school work.

Parents must remember that dyslexia and intelligence are NOT connected. Many dyslexic individuals are very bright and creative who will accomplish amazing things as adults.

As many as 15 percent of the world’s population exhibits some of the symptoms of dyslexia, according to the International Dyslexia Association, and not surprisingly, a great number of them are highly creative and famous figures— Steve Jobs, Stephen Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Rex Ryan, Muhammad Ali, and me, Estella Dior. I have served as a panelist on Teen Talk with Black Entertainment Television, founded several non-profit organizations for women and girls, contributed to an anthology, Everyday Grace, Everyday Miracles, written a own novel, Crowned, and I am an award-winning member of Toastmasters International.

As a dyslexic person, I understand that the learning process is ongoing. Though there is no cure, I continuously strive to improve. With support, patience and understanding, any person with dyslexia can succeed.

For more information on dyslexia, please visit the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

–As told to Dawn Michelle Hardy