2021 Scholarship Recipient, William Smallwood

Every year Gemm Learning awards an APD/Dyslexia Scholarship annually based on essays received about living with APD or dyslexia. This essay won in 2021. More on the Gemm Learning scholarship here.

Here is William’s essay.

In 2009, I discovered I was different from other students, but I certainly didn’t understand how this difference would affect the rest of my life. First grade is the year most students learn to read, and the majority of my class was on track and improving daily with their reading skills. For me, this was not the case. While most of the class was reading at a normal first grade Lexile level of 450-500, my reading level was at 120-220. However, even with this below-average reading level, I excelled in other areas of school like math and science. As time passed, my teacher and my parents started to get concerned, and they discussed the possibility that I may have dyslexia. As it turned out their initial thought was correct, as the testing confirmed that I was in fact dyslexic. This diagnosis meant that I would have to work twice as hard as other students to get A’s and find different ways to study because my brain works differently, and I had to understand how to adapt.

I learned that my brain can’t connect the sounds made up by the words with the letters that should correspond to the sound. Dyslexia causes my brain to switch letters and move letters from one line to another: for example, I not only have a tendency to switch B’s to D’s but I have issues identifying common words such as know, now, knew, and new. When I read text, letters jump from lines below to the lines I am reading which makes it extremely difficult recognizing and defining words. It has taken many years for me to fully understand how my brain works. When it comes to studying, I know I can’t wait until the night before a test to start studying; I must start studying at least a week before a test. If a test has anything to do with vocabulary, the best way for me to retain the information is to make flashcards in different colors. Color coordinating the vocabulary terms enhances my ability to process new information.

Although there are challenges to being dyslexic, I refuse to let it hold me back, and I have found some positive aspects. I am extremely creative and see the world differently. In high school, I was able to take the most advanced art classes my school offered, and my teachers entered me into several statewide competitions over the years. While art is important to me, I also was able to take a rigorous academic class load in high school and graduated in the top 5% of my class, #34 out of 602 students. I was also honored to be a US Presidential Scholar semi-finalist for the State of Georgia.

I am currently a freshman student at the University of Georgia. The major I intend on studying is exercise and sport science. After I complete my bachelor’s degree, I plan attending medical school, so I can follow my dream to become a surgeon.

Dyslexia has not held me back, and it has not defined me. Instead, it has taught me that being different and learning differently is sometimes better than being “normal.”