In her essay, “Living with Dyslexia,” Gemm Learning’s 2016 Winter Dyslexia Scholarship recipient, Desiree’ McHellon, describes her early struggles with dyslexia, how she built confidence, and what she has learned from living with the disability.
One of my most significant life challenges has been overcoming dyslexia. I recall being diagnosed while in the second grade. At the time, I did not quite understand what being dyslexic meant or that I would now be branded with a label of a learning disability. However, I understood the way I learned was different from other second graders. Other kids teased me due to my struggle with reading so much that I grew to disliking books and school. Reading aloud triggered emotions such as shame, embarrassment, and fear, fueled by watching the reaction of people as I stumbled and stuttered trying to interpret the words. Writing elicited feelings of frustration, anger, and overwhelming anxiety because my thoughts were not usually communicated due my tendency to misspell so many words. Friends who attempted to help only increased my complex emotional storm. My schoolwork consisted of a repetitive reading and writing cycle, which I found frustrating, because I wanted to get it all right the first time around.
My memories are full of people reassuring that I was such a bright kid, but I never felt that way. For a long time, I believed people were wrong about my intelligence and that they were looking for ways to enhance my self-esteem. Success and confidence walked into my life in the fourth grade when I attended a private school for children with learning disabilities. I was able to receive the help I needed through the hard work and additional efforts from parents and teachers. By the time I reached my mid-year seventh grade, I had acquired a ninth grade reading level, which was quite a big accomplishment for me.
However, my junior year of public high school brought many challenges. I was constantly seeking ways to improve myself, so I elected to enroll in an advanced placement English class, which involved my favorite subject in school. I received a “D” on my first course paper. Devastated, I began to question my intelligence again. Since being enrolled in private school, I had never received anything below a “B” on my essays. I was extremely upset, so I began to wonder if the problem was my dyslexia. The teacher began to challenge us to write all our essays in class while being timed. I struggled with thoughts of giving up, because I felt like I could not keep up or pass her class. In the end, I did to stick with the class, and I began to work harder to receive a better grade in her class. By the end of the semester, I was receiving high grades on my essays, and there was no question in my mind that despite my dyslexia I could do advanced course work.
Today, I am a college student who mentors other students and provides motivational talks about living with disabilities. I always mention its effects on the lives of people who have dyslexia and how to overcome barriers related to their disability. As part of a mentoring group, I found sharing helps increase my confidence. My disability brings challenges, because I still struggle with reading out loud, and I utilize accommodation in order to meet the demand of my course load. I do not mind, because my dyslexia does not define me. My dyslexia has taught me resilience, perseverance, and endurance, because the best things in life are a challenge.
Desiree’ McHellon is a sophomore at Auburn University at Montgomery studying psychology.