The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website defines dyslexia as a “brain-based type of learning disability specifically impairing a person’s ability to read.” It also can affect a person’s spelling, spoken language, and writing. Many people with dyslexia grow up feeling “stupid” after being teased as slow readers in school.
In a telephone interview, Johanna Hocker of Blue Earth, Minnesota, remembered her early experiences with dyslexia. “I just had a really, really, horrible time reading and spelling,” said Hocker, a retired psychologist in her late 60s. “The problem was I would flip numbers and letters. If the progression of letters was 1, 2, 3, 4, I might see 2, 1, 4, 3. It wasn’t I couldn’t do the math; it was just the numbers were scrambled.”
When Hocker was in fourth grade, her mother asked a teacher if Hocker was mentally retarded. The teacher pointed out many intelligent people, including Einstein, had failed school. Her mother didn’t buy that explanation because she had always equated spelling ability with intelligence.
One turning point came in sixth grade when her school began requiring a weekly spelling test for eligibility as a school crossing guard. Hocker said, “I’d be standing out there as a crossing guard and my friend (also a crossing guard) would be across the street. We’d practice spelling words out loud so I could pass the test and be eligible to be there the next time. I had motivation (to work harder at spelling) at that point.”
Even though having such a challenging time reading, “I still had the brains to be a ‘C’ student in high school,” she said, “but I would never raise my hand.”
She said many things have helped her cope with dyslexia. The first, and most significant, was purchasing a speed reading book from which she learned to read by phrases instead of individual words. Other help came years later from her training as a psychologist: bilateral stimulation, and taking the supplement ginkgo biloba. To help get herself through college and become a psychologist, she took written notes in class, typed them up at home, and organized them. She mulled the notes over “to get the information ingrained in me, like a cow chewing its cud,” she said. “Once it made sense, I didn’t have a problem giving (the information) back on a test.”