Dyslexic, Not Stupid - An Interview with Abby
A lovely young college student named Abby contacted us a few months ago to share her appreciation for Headstrong Nation and our work in the dyslexic community. We were interested in learning more about Abby’s experiences as a college student with Dyslexia, and our interview with her follows.
Headstrong Nation: Tell us a little about your academic life before you were identified with dyslexia.
Abby: I feel like I have always liked school; I really have. I liked learning things and being in the classroom with my friends. I always wanted to please my teacher, which I guess made things easy on my parents. I honestly wanted to do well in school because I wanted my teachers to think highly of me. I had a lot of trouble with writing, and because we were young everything was handwritten, not typed. We had to write these journal entries, and I always had such a hard time with them. I had a really hard time remembering which way the letters went, and spelling was something I was certain I would never understand. As time went by, reading became a huge problem, too. I could see the words, and I could read them fairly well, but I had a really hard time understanding what was going on in the story. It was a comprehension problem. My mom and I once read the same book, and when we finished, each of us came out with two very different stories. As school continued math got harder, reading got harder, understanding text got harder, and it seemed like everything was taking me ten times more effort than it took everyone else. Grammar was the hardest. I mean, if I could barely understand the words themselves, then how on earth was I going to understand how to place commas, use proper sentence structure, and all that other nonsense?
Headstrong Nation: After you were identified with dyslexia, was it freeing in any way to know that what you were experiencing actually had a name?
Abby: Having a disability with a name wasn't freeing to me; it wasn't much of anything. It was a lot more like, “well at least people can’t say I’m stupid.” There was always the assumption that I was dyslexic. I showed lots of the classic signs when I was kid, and it was easier to say, “I'm dyslexic” to my peers than “I have a learning disability that relates to my processing and sequencing of things.” People tended to have an idea of what being dyslexic meant rather than my long official title before identification. By the time I was officially identified, I had already come up with a huge number of coping strategies, so I can’t even say that having a name for it meant that other people knew how to help me. I always knew how to tell people what I needed for them to help me.
Headstrong Nation: How has your college experience been so far?
Abby: Academically, college has been great! I am doing better in college than I did in high school. I disclosed my needs to the school upfront, and they have been super fantastic about the whole thing. I chose this school after attending an open house here when I was a senior in high school. I took a tour and I walked up to the student services table and told them what my needs were and what my head looked like from a learning perspective. A college representative looked at me and said, “I've seen lots of students with things like this. We have lots of tools to help you, if you reach out to us." I applied to this school because of that interaction, and they have held true with their promise. I love being here. My professors, who are all Psychology professors, understand and respect my disability. They challenge and inspire me to the extent that I go out and do my own research and come back all excited to share what I have found! (I am a total nerd sometimes, but if I hadn't done so much research I wouldn't be writing to you now!)
Headstrong Nation: What are some of the favorite tools that you use?
Abby: I have a plethora of tools. My favorite is spell check, with an added twist my dad told me to try. Spell check will tell me I have a word wrong, then I mess around with it to see if I can make it correct, if I can’t after 60 seconds or so, I then fix it by having spell check do it. Often I find that I know the correct letters are there, but not what order they go in, so this helps a lot. Also, having access to a keyboard has been my saving grace. At 20 years old, when writing by hand, I still sometimes write backward. Having a keyboard limits my mistakes to spelling and spacing. Having access to audio books is another tool that has saved my life as student. I haven’t needed to use them as much in college, but in high school audio books were what got me through most of my reading assignments and some of my free reading too.
Headstrong Nation: Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy?
Abby: I love to scuba dive. I took SCUBA in college to fill my physical education requirement and loved it. I was certified in September 2013. This was a challenge for me because I had to be able to read charts, and understand them, because, well my life could depend on it, and that made it a great motivator to keep practicing! Dive tables are really simple in theory,but I have a really hard time with them because there is such an importance in making sure they are correct. They measure the amount of nitrogen in your system, and let you know how deep you can go and when you need to return to the surface. Through scuba, I have made friendships and learned a great new skill!
Image of Abby courtesy of Ian Giouard. Used with permission.
(This is me on a group diving trip in Dutch Springs PA June 2014 (It was so HOT in all that gear!)
Headstrong Nation: How did you find out about Headstrong Nation?
Abby: I am a Junior in college right now, and one of the electives I took this semester was Psychology of Reading. In class we talked about how we read, and what happens in our minds while we read. We came to a section on reading impairments and I was so excited because dyslexia is something I obviously understand. We watched your video Headstrong Nation: Inside the Hidden World of Dyslexia and ADHD. I honestly feel anyone who has been identified as dyslexic should watch it. I cried while watching it. I experienced such a wide range of emotions. I think the biggest feeling was one of community. I never felt that I was missing out on being part of something. I was just me. It was eye opening to see other people experience the same frustrations and to use some of the same outlets. I would love to be able to reach out to other people who are looking to connect through your Facebook page. I think my motivation comes from how much I love talking to people, and if I could help someone, or their parent, understand more, that would be fantastic!
I currently have a blog, which is up and running again after a many year hiatus. I started it just as a verbal rant when I was twelve years old after a terrible experience with a relative trying to help me with a math lesson. While they meant well, I walked away from that lesson feeling more confused and upset because I felt stupid. The good that came out of that experience though, was that I felt inspired to speak out, and my blog, “I’m Dyslexic not Stupid” was born.
Headstrong Nation: What are your future dreams, goals or career aspirations?
Abby: Oh gosh, I have lots of dreams and ideas and goals. I really want to hold a sloth! But more seriously, I keep telling everyone that I am going to be the "House" of the Psychology world. I really want people to come to me when everything else has fallen apart. I want to finish my undergraduate degree in Psychology, and then continue on to a Masters in Behavior Analysis. I want to get married, have a family, buy a house, the standard American dream.
Headstrong Nation: Thanks for sharing your story with us Abby! We are glad that you are part of the Headstrong Nation community!