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Gemm Learning is proud to announce that the winner of its 2020 Dyslexia Scholarship is Mara Land, an undergraduate at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C.

Gemm Learning has been providing a college scholarship for a student who has overcome APD or Dyslexia (or both) on the journey to college every year since 2013.

Here is the winning essay:

Living With Dyslexia by Mara A. Land

School was a Puzzle

School success is primarily based upon access to and expression of quality spoken and written English. Mishearing and guessing at instructions, asking for a slower repetition, choosing fewer and simpler words, recalling directions and sequencing differently, experiencing distraction by background noises and piecing together parts of conversations were some of my daily school challenges.

Assembling and re-assembling together parts of words and sentences, re-reading material again to make sense of information, taking frequent reading breaks because of fatigue all in the midst of dizzying classroom noise summarizes other school challenges I faced. School was a daily puzzle. I am single sided deaf and live with dyslexia, auditory processing deficits, ADHD and Tourette Syndrome.

Hearing Loss

In kindergarten, I was diagnosed with hearing loss. Classroom amplification, hearing aids, and sign language were not recommended and were, in fact, discouraged. Sitting in the front of the class, having instructions repeated and protecting my hearing ear by not playing musical instruments were three strategies recommended by the professionals as a way to cope.

What happened in my real life is that the teachers rarely repeated instructions, I did go on to play musical instruments including the piano, violin, and French horn because it didn’t seem reasonable to live sheltered and I learned that sitting in the front of the room was actually worse because I couldn’t see the faces of other students and I missed even more spoken words.

Diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADHD

Despite working extra hard at school and desiring to learn, my academic struggles increased. In 3rd grade I was privately tested and was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. Testing also showed a low IQ score.

No specific intervention was recommended other than I was told to work harder, which I did anyway to compensate, and my parents were told to read up on dyslexia and we were wished well by the test examiner. By middle school, the academic gap was wider. For support, I received outside tutoring, which was a repeat of instructions and not a solution.  By ninth grade I lost interest in school. My work ethic didn’t seem to be paying off.

Giving up seemed like a possibility. However, two things got me out of bed every morning: competitive swimming and learning to communicate in American Sign Language (ASL).

American Sign Language

Learning ASL came easily for me and by the end of 9th grade I became proficient. On a hunch, I requested an ASL interpreter for school to solve the communication access problems. Indeed, I was correct. “Mishearing” or piecing together spoken English became a thing of the past as I could more easily see the communication.

Because of my hearing loss, my brain naturally compensates through stronger visual perception.

At this time, I did not know I had a disorder in auditory processing: I just couldn’t fully hear. When my school administrators wanted to save money by eliminating my interpreter, they claimed I could “hear”.

Auditory Processing Disorder Treatment

Promptly, I saw an audiologist who explained that I have an auditory processing deficit due to hearing loss. The symptoms of hearing loss and auditory processing deficits overlap in that there’s hearing but not always processing of language, or understanding and remembering instructions, for example.

Wisely, the audiologist recommended brain training to help with higher order processing, memory, speed and attention. Despite having an interpreter, I was still struggling with slow reading and retention as well as with expressive writing.

When I started Gemm Learning exercises, I saw no connection to my reading skills; similarly, when I started learning ASL I saw no link to how it would benefit me at school. Fairly soon, I began to notice ever-so-small improvements: reading eased, writing wasn’t the same old battle, I was less flustered, recalling words no longer involved strain, and my grades improved.

Best of all, I scored high on the ACT which I attribute to Gemm Learning. I am now a freshman student in the Honors Program at Gallaudet University.