Thursday, March 17, 2011

A letter to dyslexic children from Vice President Nelson Rockefeller

Shortly after I was diacnosed with dyslexia, my mother sat me down and read me a letter from former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to dyslexic children. I remember feeling very empowered after hearing the letter. In the middle of a very stressful and confusing time in my life, I caught a glimps of hope that maybe life didn’t have to end after getting labled dyslexic.

I’m now in the middle of writing a young adult novel staring a dyslexic teenager. In the novel, she is read an excerpt of this same letter that inspired me so much as a child. It actually took me quite a while to track down the passage. So I decided to post the full text here. I’m trusting Rockefeller will approve of me continuing to spread his message.

So without further ado: A letter to dyslexic children from Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.

For I was one of the “puzzle children” myself—a dyslexic, or “reverse reader”—and I still have a hard time reading today.

But after coping with this problem for more than 60 years, I have a message of encouragement for children with learning disabilities—and their parents.

Based on my own experience, my message to dyslexic children is this:Don’t accept anyone’s verdict that you are lazy, stupid, or retarded. You may very well be smarter that most other children your age.

Just remember Woodrow Wilson, Albert Einstein, and Leonardo da Vinci also had tough problems with their reading.

You can learn to cope with your problem and turn your so called disability into a positive advantage.

Dyslexia forced me to develop powers of concentration that have been invaluable throughout my career in business, philanthropy, and public life.

And I’ve done an enormous amount of reading and public speaking, especially in political campaigns for Governor of New York and President of the United States.

No one had ever heard of dyslexia when I discovered as a boy, along about the third grade, that reading was such a difficult chore that I was in the bottom one-third of my class.

None of the educational, medical and psychological help available today for dyslexics was available in those days.

We had no special teachers or tutors, no special classes or courses, no special methods of teaching—because nobody understood our problem.

Along with an estimated three million other children, I just struggled to understand words that seemed to garble before my eyes, numbers that came our backwards, sentences that were hard to grasp.

And so I accepted the verdict of the IQ tests that I wasn’t as bright as most of the rest of my class at the Lincoln School in New York City.

Fortunately for me, the school (though it never taught me to spell) was an experimental, progressive institution with the flexibility to let you develop your own interests and follow them.More to the point, I had a wise and understanding counselor in Dr. Otis W. Caldwell, the headmaster.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “just because you’re in the lower third of the class. You’ve got the intelligence. If you just work harder and concentrate more, you can make it.”So I learned, through self-discipline, to concentrate, which in my opinion is essential for a dyslexic.

While I could speak better French than the teacher, because I’d learned it as a child, I couldn’t conjugate the verbs; I did flunk Spanish—but now can speak it fluently because I learned it by ear, later, at the Berlitz School.

My best subject was mathematics: I understood concepts well beyond my grade level. But it took only one reversed number in a column of figures to cause havoc.

When I came close to flunking out in the ninth grade—because I didn’t work very hard that year—I decided that I had better follow Dr. Caldwell’s advice if I wanted to go to college.I even told my high school girl friend that we would have to stop dating so I could spend the time studying in order to get into Dartmouth.And I made it by the skin of my teeth.

I made it simply by working harder and longer that the rest—eventually learning to concentrate sufficiently to compensate for my dyslexia in reading.

I adopted a regimen of getting up at 5 a.m. to study, and studying without fail. And thanks to my concentration and the very competitive nature I was born with, I found my academic performance gradually improving.

In my freshman year at Dartmouth, I was even admitted to a third-year physics course. And in the middle of my sophomore year, I received two A’s and three B’s for the first semester. My father’s letters were filled with joy and astonishment.

I owe a great debt to my professors and to President Ernest M. Hopkins. I had met Dr. Hopkins earlier and was so impresses that I made Dartmouth my goal. Most of all, however, I think I owe my academic improvement to my roommate, Johnny French.

Johnny and I were exact opposites. He was reticent, and had the highest IQ in the class. To me, he was that maddening type who got straight A’s with only occasional reference to books or classes. He was absolutely disgusted by my study habits—anybody who got up at 5 in the morning to hit the books was, well, peculiar.

Inevitably, Johnny made Phi Beta Kappa in our junior year, but my competitive instincts kept me going. We were both elected to senior fellowships and I made Phi Beta Kappa in my senior year.Johnny, of course, had the last word. He announced that he would never ware his PBK key again—that it had lost all meaning.

Looking back over the years, I remember vividly the pain and mortification I felt as a boy of 8, when I was assigned to read a short passage of Scripture at a community vesper service during summer vacation in Main—and did a thoroughly miserable job of it.

I know what a dyslexic child goes through—the frustration of not being able to do what other children co easily, the humiliation of being thought not too bright when such is not the case at all.
My personal discoveries as to what is required to cope with dyslexia could be summarized in these admonitions to the individual dyslexic:
- Accept the fact that you have a problem—don’t just try to hide it.
- Refuse to feel sorry for yourself.
- Realize that you don’t have an excuse—you have a challenge.
- Face the challenge.
- Work harder and learn mental discipline—the capacity for total concentration—and
- Never Quit.

If it helps a dyslexic to know I went through the same thing…
- But can conduct press conferences today in three languages…
- And can read a speech on television (Though I may have to rehearse it six times…With my script in large type…And my sentences broken into segments like these…And long words broken into syllables)…
- And to win Congressional confirmation as Vice President of the United States…

Then I hope the telling of my story as a dyslexic child could be an inspiration to the “puzzle children”—for that’s what I really care about.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What I'm Writing

I’ve been meeting several other aspiring writers lately, usually though my other correctly spelled blog where nobody knows I’m lysdexic. I’ve been talking to one of my new writing buddies quite a bit about my current project (The latest attempt at a YA novel with a dyslexic main character). In a recent email, she said, “You seem really knowledgeable about the issue, and very sensitive about it. Are you a special ed teacher yourself?”

Instead of emailing her back with a simple NO, I’ve decided to post my full response here.

I'm not a special ed teacher, I'm dyslexic. I had a lot of suport as a kid, several hundred hours of tutoring and an endless stream of audio books, but I didn't really get to the point where I could read actual books until I was in my 20's. I still listen to ten audio books for every one book I read. I think my inability to read as a kid drove me to invent stories of my own. Even though there were years when I never really expected to ever learn how to read, I've always wanted to be a writer.

Learning disabilities never really go away. That's the main thing I want to convey in this book. Stories about dyslexia all go the same way: kid can't read, kid is diagnosed with dyslexia, everyone lives happily ever after, the end. But that's not true. I've known for a long time that I needed to write an honest story about dyslexia, but it's a hard story to tell. This book is actually my third serious attempt.

A couple years ago, I gave up and started writing other contemperary YA stories about literate characters. I learned a lot about writing and story structure in the process. Some of the stuff I wrote was crap, but the story I'd been working on up until a month ago had a lot of promise.

Then three weeks ago, it just hit me. I figured out how to tell this story in a way that will work. So I tabled my old project and have been writing like a mad woman ever since. This project is far less autobiagraphical than my earlier attempts, which works better for the overall story arch, but also makes me kind of nervious. I want to be honest and accurate, even though I'm totally making stuff up.

Dyslexia is genetic, so I have a ton of dyslexic relatives. They were pretty much my only beta readers on my earlier attempts, which is good and bad. I definately want other dyslexics to look at it and say, "yes, that's accurate." But the functionally illiterate aren't generally the best judges of effective story structure. I'm sure I'll attempt to con one or two of my relatives into looking this book over, but I'm not writing it for them. I want people that don't know anything about dyslexia to read this story and relate to the characters. Thus, I need you.

Aren't you excited. You now have a critique partner who can't spell.

Joke of the Day

Dyslexics of the world UNTIE.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Free Book Giveaway

Now that I’ve decided to start blogging here again, I have to figure out how to manage two blogs at once. Instead of posting something on both blogs everyday, I’m going to aim to have two or three blog posts per week on each site. I will try to taylor the posts so this blog focusses primarily on issues related to dyslexia, reading, spelling, and to some extent writing.

My other blog (My Life In Fiction) will focus more on book reviews and witing. When there are big happenings in the works, I’ll try to post them in both places. One “big happening” I want the readers of this blog to know about is a contest I’m having on my other blog. If you want to join, head on over and you might just win a free book.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I’m Writing Again

I never really stopped writing. I just stopped writing here.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve blogged here, let me re-introduce myself. I’m a dyslexic engineer who dreams about being ya author. I started this blog when I was working on a book about dyslexia—trying to build a platform and all that good stuff.

The thing is, dyslexia is complicated. I’m dyslexic. All my family is dyslexic. I know a lot about it. But I’m not always sure how to write about it. After a few failed attempts, I started writing about non-dyslexic characters. Then I got to the point where I was ready to start querying my books about non-dyslexic characters.

That’s when it hit me. Sreaming “I CAN’T SPELL” all over the internet might not be the best move for an aspiring writer. If an agent or editor googled me, did I really want THIS blog to be the first thing they saw? I didn’t take this blog down or anything. I mean people love dyslexia jokes, even without posting in almost a year, I’m still getting as many as fifty hits a day. I just started another blog where I actually run spell check and pretend like I’ve “read” all the audio books I listen too.

But I started writing again—a new project, about a dyslexic fifteen year old. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and I’m not just being egotistical. This story is good. I needed to write other stuff and listen to a couple hundred more audio books to figure out what I was doing. But this is MY STORY. It’s the story that I was born to tell. And I’ve finally found the words to tell it.

So having a “platform” might not be such a bad thing now. Having a popular “dyslexia blog” is probably really good, if I’m going to be querying a “dyslexia book” soon. Not to soon though. There is a lot of revising and editing in my future. But there will also be a lot of thinking about dyslexia in my future. So I might as well write about it here.

Joke of the Day
What do you get when you cross a dyslexic, an insominac, and an ignostic?
Someone who stays up all night wondering if there's a DOG.