I was born left-handed. And that’s not all. It was perhaps a sign of other things to come, namely dyslexia, the catch-all term for a learning disability.
I remember being in junior school playing with my friends and doing what kids do, when the chatter began. Soon I was leaving school in the middle of the day to get tests done. At one point, I was at a hospital clinic with warm electrodes stuck in my scalp while they did a bunch of cognitive tests on me. Then, after grade three, I think (I can’t honestly remember), I stopped going to the school up the street from my home, and a yellow school bus came to pick me up. That first day, I got off the bus and tried to find my way through my new school to my classroom. I got lost and wandered the hallways, crying.
Eventually, I was found and introduced to the special ed class, my tears not yet dry. I remember meeting my classmates and thinking, “Now these kids have problems.” And a few did have some pretty serious developmental issues. I imagine most of us were there with the hope that one day we’d be functional enough to rejoin the masses. Over time, we became something of a tight-knit group.
I don’t think I felt overly burdened by my learning challenges. I didn’t read things backward, but my reading was (and is) slow, my spelling and handwriting atrocious, and sometimes I’d experience a sort of cognitive disconnect between words and meaning. Admittedly, I would occasionally get so frustrated with math or French that I’d throw minor (major) tantrums, screaming and chucking my books against the wall. I knew enough to know I wasn’t getting it, and that upset me deeply.
While in my “special” classroom, I worked really hard so that I wouldn’t have to stay there forever. I just wanted to be normal (whatever that means). When I finally rejoined the regular school stream in grade 5, I continued going to a special ed lab for extra help. Finally, when it came to high school, I had the option of going to a school with a special ed unit or one that didn’t (where my sisters were attending). I made the conscious choice to go to a regular school without the support. I would just have to work really hard. And I did (most of the time). In grade 9, my marks were consistently in the low 60s. By the time I graduated, I was just shy of an 80% average (not that grades necessarily reflect smarts).
Rarely, did I use my dyslexia as a crutch. Several times in university my peers told me I could request more time to write papers or take exams. I never did, because I didn’t really feel disadvantaged. Drive is what delivered me from being a C student in first year university to graduating with honours standing.
I remember being in my twenties and telling a friend about my learning disability, and he hushed me and looked over his shoulder, as if afraid someone would overhear my shameful condition and condemn me to a nuthouse. But I’ve never really been embarrassed about it (well, maybe a little as a kid). It was something I could joke about, work around, and use to fortify me for the challenges ahead. Truthfully, what started as a “weakness” actually gave me the tenacity and discipline to stick with things — like my book project, which took over 20 years to see the light of day (You can find my political thriller Josef’s Lair online as a paperback/ebook at Amazon or as an ebook at Indigo, Kobo, and ibooks).
In the end, adversity isn’t a bad thing, if we learn to transform those challenges into opportunities for growth.
Postscript: Unlike the 1970s and 80s when I went to school, I think the current health and education system is better equipped to understand the full spectrum of learning disabilities out there, and there are now advanced toolsets that allow kids and even adults like me to tackle some of our cognitive weak spots.