Decoding aixelsyD

Photo by Dara Levy

“You’re doing it wrong,” confused students told senior Ellie Vincent as she sat in class decoding words seven years ago. Vincent, frustrated with watching her fellow classmates race ahead of her in reading, had devised a new method to help her read. By reading each word backwards, from right to left, instead of the traditional left to right, Vincent was finally able to see the meaning behind the jumbled mess of letters on the board. However, other students and teachers struggled to understand Vincent’s strategies or recognize the dyslexia that made her process language so differently.

Dyslexia, according to Nichole Freije, executive director of the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana, is a language-based learning disorder that affects one in five Americans and involves an individual’s understanding of spoken and written language.

Freije said, however, that despite common beliefs, dyslexia is not merely limited to inversing letters or confusing similar words, but it includes a wide variety of symptoms that individual dyslexic students perceive differently.

“Inversing words and letters are common things that people know about, but these aren’t the only ones,” Freije said. “There are many different indicators of dyslexia, such as difficulty expressing thoughts or following directions, because dyslexia takes different forms in different people. Also, as a language-based difficulty, dyslexia involves reading, writing, speaking and listening.”

Vincent, however, said she only struggles with the reading, writing and spelling aspects of dyslexia.

“Notes and writing take me a lot longer,” Vincent said. “If I ever have to write anything by hand, I have to rethink my word choice a bit because I get confused with the spelling of a lot of big words.”

Despite her difficulties with reading, writing and spelling due to dyslexia, Vincent still maintains high grades in many higher-level IB classes, including IB Biology, IB Music Theory, IB Spanish 5, IB History of the Americas, IB Math Studies and IB English. Succeeding in difficult classes, Vincent said, has taught her to be proud of her accomplishments and her dyslexia.

“I realized that (dyslexia) isn’t something that I should be ashamed of,” she said. “I’ve come to terms with it and have been able to deal with it on my own. It’s also made me even prouder about what I’ve achieved because many people in the higher-level classes that I take struggle with it even without any disabilities. The fact that I’m able to do everything even with dyslexia just makes me more proud of my accomplishments.”

“I realized that (dyslexia) isn’t something that I should be ashamed of,” she said. “I’ve come to terms with it and have been able to deal with it on my own.”Senior Ellie Vincent

Vincent’s father, William Vincent, also said he is proud of what his daughter has accomplished even with her dyslexia.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the way that Ellie has handled her dyslexia,” he said. “She does very well in school, and she’s always reading, so I think she’s managed to work around the problem really well.”

According to Freije, many carry the misconception that students with dyslexia are unintelligent and have low IQs. However, Freije said dyslexia has no effect on IQ and dyslexic students are just as capable as other students. Although others may have lower expectations for students with dyslexia, Freije said dyslexics like Vincent are capable of much more.

“Students with dyslexia are capable of so much, and I think a lot of people don’t understand just how intelligent they are,” Freije said. “People with dyslexia can be just as successful and intelligent and accomplished as anyone without dyslexia, and others need to understand that. Don’t expect any less of individuals with dyslexia because that is a disservice to them. Dyslexia doesn’t define the individual, so we should not base our expectations of someone on it.”

Likewise, Ellie said her experience with dyslexia has showed her that she is capable of rising above the expectations of others that may be limited due to misconceptions about dyslexia.

“At first, I kind of wanted to give up, but when I figured out exactly what dyslexia is, I got over it,” Vincent said. “I found that training to deal with something you’re struggling with can help you in the long-run and make it so that you can break the expectations of others and do anything that anyone else can.”

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Christine Fernando