Occasionally, I feel especially inspired after interviewing a person for my column. And this was one such instance.
First, a definition: The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a lifelong “language-based learning disability” that can result in people having difficulties with reading, spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Some people mistakenly believe dyslexia is caused by a lack of intelligence or desire to learn.
Recently, I happened upon the inspiring story of 51-year-old Peter Titlebaum of Dayton, Ohio, and telephoned to learn about his lifelong experiences with dyslexia. He began his tale by saying: “In third grade (about 1968), I was pulled out of the school system and put into a special school with ‘mentally retarded’ kids and kids with discipline problems.”
Although researchers have known about dyslexia more than a century, schools in the 1960s hadn’t yet discovered how to effectively diagnose and intervene. Titlebaum couldn’t write or read well. He stayed in that special school two years until fifth grade, when his mother finally succeeded in getting him back into a “regular” elementary school.
“I had a very supportive mother and father,” said Titlebaum. “My mother was a tutor in the school system and told me I was smart. Education was important to her and she was going to make sure education would be held (in high esteem) in our family.”
But when Titlebaum returned to the regular elementary school, the other students picked on him because he’d ridden the “special” school bus to the “special” school for two years. “Nothing like making a kid stick out and giving other kids a reason to pick on him,” he said.
Eventually, he learned a teacher had said this about him: “It doesn’t matter what Peter does (in school) because he won’t be doing better than a C.” And he remembered another teacher saying her class couldn’t leave one afternoon until Titlebaum finished reading out loud a section of text. He lacked confidence in his reading ability and often felt the weight of public pressure.
What held him together throughout high school was sports. He made a name for himself as a track sprinter, which gave him standing with other students even though he had such trouble reading and writing.
Next week, learn how Peter Titlebaum with dyslexia became Dr. Peter Titlebaum, perhaps the nation’s foremost expert in his chosen academic field.