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The new Voice Dream Reader 4.0 update to be released soon (March 21, 2016)! Headstrong Nation Chairman, Larry Banks, Interviews Winston Chen, the developer of Voice Dream Reader and Writer.

Photo of Larry Banks, Headstrong Nation Board Chairman Photo of Winston Chen, Developer of Voice Dream Reader/Writer

For Winston Chen, what was initially a hobby has turned into a full-time job and passion.

Larry: OK! This is fantastic! So I guess I’m going to jump right in here. You live in Boston, right?

Winston: Right.

Larry: Let's go back to the beginning. How did Voice Dream get started for you? What inspired you to create this piece of Assistive Technology?

Winston: I would say it started accidentally, very accidentally. It goes back to 2011, five years ago now. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career. My family and I took a year off and we went to live on a small island just north of the arctic circle in Norway, population 180. I Learned how to fish, to dry fish, to salt fish, and how to haul them into the boat.

Image of house in Norway with the midnight sun - Winston Chen

But I am a software person, so when it got dark, (The sun went down at 2:30 PM) I wanted to occupy myself with something in the evenings. I spent my timecoding then, and had a simple idea that I had a lot more stuff to read than I have time to read it. I decided to build a text to speech app so I would have the ability to catch up on articles and whitepapers while I was driving or at the gym. It was mostly a hobby and didn’t think it would turn into anything.

New Voice Dream Reader Logo Open book

Full Time Job

Winston: A few months later, Voice Dream Reader was a simple app available in the App Store. It was very rough, basic, with one voice and no word level highlighting. It could only read web articles, and it read PDF very poorly. At this point I thought I was finished and it was time to go back to fishing and dreaming of the next startup.

However, the e-mails started coming in. I don’t know how people found the app. I gradually realized that Voice Dream Reader was an important piece of assistive tech. Teachers of students with dyslexia and the visually impaired reached out and asked for more features. What was once a little hobby gradually turned into a full blown obsession. There were days where I could not leave the app as I was so busy.

Our year of living in Norway came to an end and my family and I headed back home to Boston. I began working on big data projects and the next startup. In my spare time, I continued working on the app. I found that I could not get away from it. It was becoming larger and larger.

The app started generating enough revenue to keep the lights on in the house and about four to five years later, I have found that working on Voice Dream Reader has become my full time job. What other job working in technology could give me this much personal satisfaction? My decision was to make Voice Dream my life, my career.

Voice Dream Writer

voice dream writer logo of pencil voice dream writer screen shot

Larry: When did Voice Dream Writer come into the picture?

Winston: Voice Dream Writer was developed just over a year ago, in the Fall of 2014. I had the idea of creating a writing app based on feedback from customers who were doing their own writing somewhere else and then transferring the text in the little editing box within voice dream reader. They were attemptng to proofread their work by listening to it to detect mistakes. These users were actually using the product for a purpose it was not intended for. I realized there was a great need for this writing tool. I talked to some of my friends who were also users who would tell me, “I write, but it’s hard for me to proofread what I just wrote.”. That was where the idea of the writer was born. One of the luxuries of having my own business is that if an idea comes to me and I like it, I can pursue it. It took some time to create it and get it released, but it is available, and people seem to be liking and using it.

Larry: It is really powerful. Ben Foss turned me on to Voice Dream Reader. I had been using multiple apps across different platforms to address my reading requirements. Many of them were clunky and I was not happy with the voices on them. Ben encouraged me to use Voice Dream as he told me it can work in many realms, across many platforms, so it serves as an “All in one”. I downloaded it to my iPhone and after using it said, “This is incredible!”

voice dream reader on iPhone photo ipad screen shot with voice dream reader listing books loaded on device

A Universal Reader

Winston: The goal is to have a universal reader. We just don’t read Bookshare books or PDF’s or web articles. I thought to myself, "Wouldn’t it be nice for your reading to get done in a single environment that you have full control over?" This was one of the ideas behind the development of the product.

I met Ben Foss at Landmark College when he was speaking about his book. After the event, we chatted and I introduced him to Voice Dream Reader as he wasn’t using it back then. This was about a year and a half ago. I didn’t hear from him for a while. Later, on Twitter, I saw a tweet from him which read, “Love Voice Dream, Live it, Love it!” So it turned out that after we met he decided to give it a try and really liked it!

Larry: Yes! I think it has had a large impact on the dyslexic community which is related to what this conversation is about. I am the Chairman of Headstrong Nation, and as an organization run by dyslexics and for dyslexics, we are interested in technology that will help the adult dyslexic to become successful. As I had mentioned before, Voice Dream Reader is a piece of assistive technology which is in a lot of ways, an “All in one.” It helps us. Most of the time we are running between so many different apps. For a long time, there weren’t that many that were available to us. Those that we did use were not very portable, and the voices were often terrible!

Winston: If you are using text to speech for GPS it really doesn’t matter how good the voice is as long as you can understand it. But, if you are spending hours every day reading, listening to a TTS voice, you really want to have a personal affinity toward it, which is why having a lot of choices in voices is really important and that was something that I put a lot of effort into very early on in the product.

Larry: Managing workflow for some of can be an issue. I’m dyslexic but in academia. I need to be able to work as efficiently as possible on tasks such as reviewing student papers, and reading a high volume of emails. I receive about 50 emails per day. The short ones are easy to get through but the longer ones which come from my Dean, and others, can get quite involved with ideas and theories that I really need to be able to “lock on” to. Therefore, I really need to fully listen to them and to hear them in a clear, cogent fashion. I like to do as much of my work as I can while I’m moving. I’m rather slow with the writing but I find my time when I can. The ability to read papers and check on my email by listening with my ears while on the move is really helpful to me, and having a decent voice on my reader makes a big difference in me being able to effectively manage these tasks.

Winston: Yes! These voices, I found that they almost become your friends. You get used to them. I also work with the visually impaired community, and as you can imagine for a lot of vision impaired individuals the TTS voices become their buddies. They get used to them and don’t want to change them. Many people got used to the older, very robotic voices but they like them because they have grown accustomed to using them.

Larry: Listening becomes part of a pattern. Once you understand the voice then it becomes clearer for you and easier for you to listen to it at a variety of different speeds. This is another thing which is really nice about your Voice Dream Reader. You have a greater variability in voice speeds compared to other systems which is very important if you must listen at a high speed to get through a lot of material.

Winston: People may need different speeds for different items that they may be reading, for example, a slower rate of speech for a research paper, and a quicker rate for reading a novel like Harry Potter. In the end, it is all about people reading more efficiently and the small features within Voice Dream reader help individuals achieve this. Voice Dream is available in iOS and Android. The Android version is not as “feature rich” as the iOS version that I’ve written, but the Android developer is working on this. The app is available in 24 different languages. Virtually every major language around the world is supported by the Voice Dream Reader.

Larry: That is fantastic! So it is truly an international product!

Winston: Yes!

Larry: So where are you going with this? I think it is a great app for my mobile device. I’m looking at the writer. I would sure love to get this writer on my lap top!

Voice Dream home page - photo of ear buds - text read with your ears - download on app store

Huge Update - Voice Dream Reader 4.0

Winston: As always, as you can imagine, I find I have too much to do, and not enough time. Right now I’m working on huge update to the Voice Dream Reader app version 4.0., which has been an all-consuming project for me over the past year. It’s huge in the sense that I’m trying to provide many features people have asked for and I want to roll it into a single update. Beta testing has started and the projected release date of the update is March 21, 2016.

One new feature is the ability to look at e-books, HTML files, and WORD docs in their original layouts. In the current app, for everything except for PDF, the app extracts the text from document and then basically throws the document away so you can listen to the text. But, for a lot of students, that was not good enough because the original material might contain images. So right now with this new PDF support, you can flip back and forth between a pure text view and the original PDF view if you want to look at the pictures, and this now carries forward with every document type, which is a big deal particularly in education. A lot of Bookshare books have images now, even children’s books contain images, and those obviously would not work well if you were not able to store and show the images. So that is one major area. The second feature is synchronization across multiple devices so you have loaded one file on your iPad it gets synchronized to your iPad and to your multiple devices. They all stay in sync.

There is another feature I am really excited about and I have been working on it for a while with dyslexia researcher, Matthew Schneps of MIT, formerly of Harvard. What Matthew discovered is that when you listen to text to speech with highlighting (imagining the highlighting cursor as a Pac Man that eats away the words) each word basically disappears from the screen as it is spoken. In fact, even before it is spoken the word is gone. When this happens, you are forced to read visually ahead of the sound, and then the sound then catches up with you a fraction of a second later.

What he found was that this drives your attention forward and it gives your brain two passes at reading, where the first pass is your visual reading, and the second pass is your audio reading. As you gradually turn up the speed, almost everyone, those with dyslexia or not, can double their reading speed with virtually no loss of comprehension. Matthew has dyslexia himself and he is now reading at roughly double the speed of the average neuro-typical reader. I am really excited about this new feature and I cannot wait for people to get their hands on it and try it out!

Larry: Well, I am very excited too! I am familiar with Matt’s work. I was very excited to find a dyslexic researcher working on this kind of research. I saw a blog on your website about how he worked on the spacing and alignment characteristics of text, and how he found that this was an easier way for dyslexics to handle the information.

Winston: In Voice Dream Reader, I give people the option to change all manner of spacing and margins. This really makes a huge difference.

Larry: For many of us, reading up and down is easier for us than from side to side.

Winston: Right. Finding the beginning of the next line is hard for the eyes when travelling across the page. In Voice Dream there is a mode where you do not need to do that. The spoken word is always in the middle, and the page is auto-scrolled every time a line advances. You do not have to find where the beginning of the next line is. It is always on the same line.

Some of the other features… We have a brand new UI (User Interface) and if you have a document/PDF file that has a cover image, you can look at it in a grid just like you would in kindle or iBooks. The app also has a finger-reading mode which I am very excited about, because for a lot of young readers, the feedback is that the text to speech is still too fast even at its slowest speed. The younger readers like to set their own pace by sliding their finger under the word and to advance at the speed that their finger is moving similiar to how parents and teachers show children how to follow text while reading.

Larry: Yes! They are tracking it themselves with their own finger. That is fantastic!

Winston: Yes, there is a lot of cool stuff!

For the future… I have been thinking about a product for those who cannot afford remedial programs. People with financial means can hire private tutors for remedial programs. But there are also a lot of people who cannot afford these programs. So I am thinking whether it would be possible to create an app, which is not a reader or productivity tool but a product which is more of a teaching tool. It would be one where we capture the best of our knowledge on dyslexia and reading so it can teach reading in a way that is effective, but obviously very low cost.

Larry: I am sure you have spoken to Matt about that.

Banner -Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE - presented by Dollar General Literacy Foundation

Adult Literacy XPRIZE

Winston: Yes. I am working on this with Matt and a couple of other developers. We are attempting to do this within the context of the “XPRIZE”. There is an adult literacy XPRIZE that’s going on right now. We are a team and have signed up. The challenge is about how to teach illiterate adults to read. Our hypothesis is that many illiterate adults, in fact, have dyslexia. If we can be effective with this population, the same set of tools and techniques may work with children too.

Larry: Could you tell me a little more about this XPRIZE?

Most of the XPRIZE's we know about involve sending a man into space and future techno-stuff. This is an XPRIZE for adult literacy. The competition is open to any team who wants to build an app that they can put into the hands of adults who are illiterate. The prize will measure the participants’ literacy score at the Beginning of trial and then after one year they will measure it again. Whichever team can affect the largest increase in these test scores wins the prize. It began in January and the development period ends at the end of the year. This is a project which I want to devote some time to.

Larry: Has your involvement in Voice Dream Reader increased your interest in general in Assistive Technologies? You’ve grown to becomea bit of an assistive technology guru.

Winston: I wouldn’t say I was a guru! I help out in an Assistive Technology class at MIT. I do attend conferences to learn about the latest thinking. It is definitely an interesting, fascinating, and rewarding field. Rather than building a game that keeps people busy while they’re riding on the subway, I am developing products that make a big difference in the daily lives of people. It is definitely a field I would like to stay in.

Larry: It is definitely a rewarding field! You have found an area that is in the midst of great change right now. Technology is actually at a place where it can begin to really make some differences for groups of people, particularly dyslexics, and you have caught that wave just as it is really developing. I think these tools are going to be the wave of the future for young dyslexics moving forward. Voice Dream Reader is very affordable compared to other larger format tools, and reading applications on mobile devices make a big difference.

Winston: As a society we will probably have less and less space for paper. There will always be a place for Voice Dream Reader as a highly tailored reading experience. The future development will enable others to read more and more types of reading materials, and to allow people to read in many different ways, like the speed reading technique that will be available in the new version.

I also forgot to mention that in the new version it will make reading webpages a lot easier because in Safari, there is now going to be an extension – “Save in Voice Dream”. You can save it as a PDF file which keeps all the photographs, or you can just save the article as pure text, and then choose save and open Voice Dream right there so you can read it right away. That should be helpful.

Larry: Yes that would be. So that is going to be based in the mobile devices right?

Winston: That is correct, on iPad and iPhone. It will come as a free update for people who already have the app except for one feature, a synchronization which will be an in app purchase. Besides that, the other features are free.

Larry: That is fantastic! Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the future?

Winston: I am actually excited about wearables. I think this is going to be the next generation of assistive technology. Not sure what products are ultimately going to be successful on these new platforms, but one thing I can promise is that Voice Dream will be there, once we understand it, and we will build products for these new platforms.

Larry: That is fantastic! Thank you so much Winston, for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us and for the great products that you have developed. I hope to speak to you in the future about the new things that you will be exploring. Headstrong Nation is a group of adult dyslexics and we are very keen on learning about the different types of technology which may support us as we go forward in different areas. Voice Dream is one of the strong ones which can make a huge difference in helping us to keep up with and be productive in the technological society that we live in.

Winston: Thank you, Larry. All the best to you and Headstrong Nation!

The Voice Dream Reader Update 4.0 will be released very soon (March 21, 2016)! Visit the Voice Dream Website at You may purchase the app in the App Store for iOS devices and in the Google Play Store for Android devices.

We'd like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation to help us to fulfill our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Thanks for your support! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Photo of Kellie Green by photographer Kellie Elmore

My Teachers Didn’t Think There Was Anything Wrong with Me.

It was always hard for me to keep up with other students but all my teachers didn't think there was anything wrong with me because I was a good student. I turned my work in on time, I listened in class, and I answered questions when called on.

Kellie Green with family

I was told I had dyslexia.

Things started to get really bad in the 4th grade when I was told that I had Dyslexia. I think my mom (who is an occupational therapist) knew before I was diagnosed but she wanted to be sure. We also learned that my dad and little brother have dyslexia as well. I was evaluated and given the diagnosis of "learning disabled". I have an ISP which stands for Individualized Service Plan because I go to a private school. The schools that I have been in haven't really helped me. My grade school tried but they didn't really understand what was going on but they did try hard to help.

 Photo of Kellie and three friends dressed up for dance/occasion

Middle School was Hard. My last year of High School is the Hardest.

My middle school years were hard but I pushed through. The hardest year is my last year of high school (this year) because they do not want to help me. When I have offered to do whatever it takes to help them understand my dyslexia they haven't been open to listening. They keep telling me to read more and I should get better. They also do not understand what ear reading is, at all. My high school has changed the resource teacher that was working with me to another person that they make work at lunch and not help other kids. They also don't try to help me when I really need it. They are really set in their ways and they are not open to little changes.

Photo of Kellie and classmates, group shot

My Challenges, Tools, and Strengths

Texting and emailing people is challenging for me. Emailing is more for people like places I would like to work and teachers. Texting is hard for any person I am texting. My close friends usually understand what I am trying to say. Some of the tools I use which help me are Read 2 Go, Notability, Textgrabber, Voice Dream, and istudiez pro. My IPad and iPhone have been life savers! One of my strengths is my ability to understand people. I have helped a lot of friends’ work through hard times. Also, my creativity is a strength. My hobbies and passions include acting, music, reading, being with people, my pets and so much more.

Photo of Kellie Green and a friend sitting at table

Moving Forward

I plan on getting my degree in Mortuarial Science at Kansas City Community College.

My message to others? Know that it does get better, and if you fight for what you need you will get it.

Many thanks to Kellie for sharing her story with us! All the best to you Kellie, Class of 2016! Keep us posted on your progress in college and beyond!

A special thank you to Kellie's aunt, also a "Kellie", Kellie Elmore, Professional Photographer from When I Grow Up Photography, for permission to use the great photos submitted! -

Do you have a story to tell? Want to share it with us? If you are an adult dyslexic age 18+ and would like to share your story living as an adult with dyslexia please contact us at You can discuss your strengths and your struggles, any dyslexic hacks you'd like to share, your favorite assistive technology, and how you "Own" your dyslexia. Your story may inspire another person to share theirs too!

We'd like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation. We need your help to fulfull our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Thanks for your support! - The Headstrong Nation Team

images of hearts with the text take care of you

Take care of YOU - Self-Care for Those with Dyslexia/LD and for Those who love them

Self-care is important for individuals with dyslexia/LD and also for those who love them.

Taking the time to care for ourselves on a daily basis is a good investment in keeping healthy both physically and emotionally. One of the best ways we can do this is through reducing and learning how to more effectively manage the stress in our lives. Many of us with dyslexia/LD and those of us with loved ones with dyslexia/LD are not immune to the negative effects of stress in daily life. The continuous effects of negative stress can affect both our physical and emotional wellbeing. Therefore, it is important to exercise good self-care so we can be the best for ourselves and for those who love and depend upon us.

So how can we begin to reduce the level of stress in our lives? When it comes to managing stress, even small changes can yield big results and make a big difference in our outlook on life.

Some stress is positive but too much can be very draining. Positive stress, or eustress, is considered good stress. It is the stress that motivates us, and keeps us going to get things done in our lives. If we feel the effects of too much stress in our lives, however, we may feel out of balance, overwhelmed, and have difficulty managing.

Too much stress may produce physical symptoms. You may feel fatigued from working at your max on the job or preparing for the next IEP meeting, and may experience headaches, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing and muscle tension. You may feel run down and prone to frequent colds and other ailments due to the effects of prolonged stress on your immune system.

Everyone handles stress differently. Some of us are able to let it run off our backs, to distract ourselves, work through it, and let it go, and some of us internalize this stress and bring it home with us. Perhaps we have difficulty sleeping at night. How do you handle the stress in your life?

Stress has an impact on your ability to function effectively in your personal and work relationships. You may be feeling a lack of support from your employer or from those you love. You may feel frustrated with yourself. You may find yourself making more mistakes on the job and feel overloaded and anxious about your abilities. You might experience anxiety or panic over work deadlines and your ability to meet them. You may feel disorganized and not able to “get it together” yet afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself.

You may experience a whole realm of emotions due to the stressors in your life. You may feel frustrated with yourself. You may feel lonely over not being understood. You may try to repress your feelings and keep them inside, or you may feel anger towards yourself and others and may lash out. You may feel guilty about lashing out at others and then experience feelings of self-loathing, sadness, and depression.

Are you unemployed and having difficulty initiating the job search because you feel defeated and overwhelmed with the process before you’ve even taken the first step to begin? You may ruminate and worry about your finances and the future. Are you really hard on yourself? Do you feel like you have more negatives than positives in your life? Does any of this resonate with you?

Some of the ineffective ways in which many people react to this accumulated stress is by self-soothing through binge eating or undereating, overworking, substance use or by shutting down, which may begin a vicious cycle of ineffective coping, poor physical health and self-loathing. A person may also become isolative, avoidant and afraid to share what’s going on inside them.

Are you interested in living a more full and meaningful life? Learn how to apply the science of Positive Psychology in your life through Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson's Positive Psychology course offered through Coursera (The course is free unless you'd like to pay a fee for a verified certificate):

It makes good sense to take care of your physical and emotional needs so that you can build up your reserves to be your best self. Here are some additional suggestions on how you can begin to care for yourself. Deciding to start somewhere, through making healthier choices, will make a difference in your ability to deal with the negative effects of stress in your life.

Medical/Physical – If you have not done so this year, make sure to schedule your regular medical, dental, vision and other checkups including routine laboratory tests by age. Your doctor won’t come looking for your so it’s up to you to take the initiative and to communicate any concerns you may have about your health to obtain any needed care and support.

Emotional – If you are experiencing stress as a result of your dyslexia/LD, narrow down the causes. Are they work related? Are you comfortable speaking to your boss about this? Could it be time for a tweaking or change in accommodations you may be receiving in the workplace? Have you tried any new ways to improve your situation? Here is a good list on types of workplace accommodation from LDA: . By openly speaking to your employer about your needs and concerns, you have the ability to work together by discussing ways to tackle any difficulties you might be having on the job. Read this informative booklet by Ask JAN (Job Accommodation Network), on how to request and re-negotiate accommodations with your employer:

Is your stress relational? Are you feeling undo pressure or criticism on the job? Would you prefer to speak to someone impartial before going to your boss? Is there tension at home? Perhaps you might benefit from taking advantage of the counseling benefits of your EAP (Employee Assistance Program), with a professional who is familiar with helping those with learning disabilities. If your company doesn’t have an EAP, you might consider obtaining a private list of counselors/psychologists from your insurance company who can direct you to a provider who has experience working with adults on stress management and relationships, with an understanding of those living with dyslexia/LD.

Diet - How is your diet? What are you eating and what is eating you? Sometimes stress may cause some people to eat for emotional reasons by binge eating or not eating at all. This may be also true of the Individual with Dyslexia/LD. Discussing your feelings surrounding your LD with a counselor might be helpful as he may suggest more effective coping techniques. Consulting with your physician or a nutritionist is a good idea too. Eating a variety of healthy foods in moderation and limiting your caffeine intake may also help you to feel calmer.

Exercise and Relaxation - In addition to keeping our bodies in shape, an exercise program may help to clear our minds and decrease our levels of stress. Exercise helps to increasing our endorphin and energy levels contributing to our emotional well-being. Including exercise into our daily lives does not have to be complicated. Walking is a low cost and effective way to release stress and strengthen your body. How about trying a Yoga video? Consider signing up for a dance class. Join a gym. Explore Tai-Chi and other types of movement activities. Want to relax? Try guided meditation. Would you like to try some breathing techniques? Try this new breathing app. My Calm Beat: . Trouble falling asleep? Try this app - Relax Melodies/Sleep and Yoga:

Hobbies. At a loss? Think of something you would like to try. Get in touch with your creative side. Take a hands-on class in painting or work with ceramics. Woodworking? DIY projects at home? Getting your hands into something may help you to get out of your head if you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Switching gears and focusing on something totally different and pleasurable can help you to feel refreshed and ready to take on the next day. Like comedy? Visit a comedy club, or just watch funny videos with the family. Let yourself laugh and forget about some of the things that drag you down! Sometimes you just need to walk away from it all and give yourself permission to take a breather. It is often the small and simple things which provide the greatest pleasure.

Learning - Education occurs throughout the life span and is beneficial for your brain and self-esteem. Learning a new task or skill can help you to feel more accomplished and may help to raise your level of self worth. Take the time to explore something new that you’d like to try and avail yourself of the numerous low cost, free and open source courses online. EDx is one free option (unless you choose to pay for an official certificate of completion) -, Coursera is another Udemy is a paid service -, but often offers discounts on course offerings. Learning new things helps to stretch your mind. This is a good thing, and as most courses are self-paced, you do not have to feel stressed out about rushing to get them completed.

Connection and Support Network: Your spouse or partner loves you. Your boss may like you, and many of your friends might think you are great, but they may not fully understand the challenges that you experience and what you are going through. This is where getting involved with a network of other adults with dyslexia/LD may provide that certain level of understanding which you desire. Feeling understood, like someone “gets you” for who you are, can make a big difference in your life. Do a Google search for local dyslexia/LD groups in your area for face to face support or consider forming and leading your own if there are none in your area.

Utilizing the many online Dyslexia/LD forums, organizations, Facebook groups and pages is another way to begin to connect with others, to share your thoughts and feelings, and to provide feedback to and feel validated by others. Headstrong Nation’s Facebook Page is a place where we hope you will feel welcomed and supported by other community members with dyslexia/LD:

If you are a parent of a child with dyslexia/LD who needs support, your states local Decoding Dyslexia Chapter FB page or website can provide you with information on how to make contact with other parents: Another great place to connect with other parents in a chat forum is through Learning Ally’s Parent Chat on FB, which is a closed, moderated chat: .

Caring for your physical and emotional health will help you to deal with your stress to keep you at your best. So as you love and care for others, take the time to love and care for yourself too! You are worth it!

Caring for Yourself Heart photo with Headstrong Nation Banner and

We'd like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation to help us to fulfull our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE. Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Thanks for your support! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Photo of two children's chairs designed by Dane Jensen

Memories of School

Among my earliest memories growing up in Seattle, was as a grade school student, being taken by my teacher to the library. I couldn’t read and must have been holding the rest of the class back.

When we got to the library, another woman met us outside the library and the two women began discussing why we were there. Even though the two of them thought that I either couldn’t hear or couldn’t understand their discussion, I distinctly heard one of them say, “This is a case of mild to moderate retardation”. I pretended not to have heard as they ushered me into the large library room and sat me down amongst a group of children. Several were hydrocephalics, many were mentally and physically challenged. None were “normal” as I thought I was to that point. I don’t remember how many days I spent in that classroom, but the damage was done. From that point on, I vowed to myself never to trust anyone, or to let anyone get to know me, for fear of being “discovered”. It was me against the world. I became elusive, and said very little to anyone until I felt comfortable that my retardation wouldn’t be verbalized or confirmed.

The middle child in a family of five boys, I was basically on my own from the age of three, when my parents, in a last attempt to have a girl, had twin boys. My father was a surgeon, my mother, an only child who ended up with, at one point, four boys under the age of five. So, somewhat understandably, I received no support from my family. I was the big disappointment; always with bad grades, always in trouble for some reason, and unable to retain the facts to win in an argument.

Photo of auditorium seating by Dane Jensen

A War Ends. So does College... with Mixed Emotions

Fast forward to age 21. It’s 1973, and the war in Vietnam just ended. Finally, I knew that I would not be drafted into the army. Staying in school (university), to that point, was only to avoid being sent to the war. I dropped out with mixed emotions; glad to have the agony of school behind me, but knowing that I could do better.

I could barely read, and I graduated from high school by the skin of my teeth. I was fairly talented with right brain activities such as drafting, geometry, art and design, but math was a nightmare and I flunked algebra hands down. To this day, I don’t know my multiplication tables. Sometimes the class clown, I also diverted attention away from me by being a good liar (or so I thought), or I used other somewhat devious techniques. I adopted any means necessary to aid in my survival.

In college, I must have set a record for the most times on academic probation. I just didn’t get it! I knew on some level that I wasn’t stupid, but I just couldn’t seem to operate as others did. There were flashes of brilliance… or at least competence, but then everything would come crashing down! All of this only helped to reinforce my chronically crippled sense of self-confidence and self-esteem.

Black Chair - Dane Jensen Design

Work, Relationships and Teaching Myself to Read

I have worked since the age of 13. I was gone every summer working on a ranch or up in Alaska and I worked my way through high school and college sometimes by holding down two or three jobs to make my way. I had no help from family, student loans, etc. It never occurred to me back then how extraordinary that was for someone so young. It was all I knew and it reinforced my aloofness.

The next ten years of my life were spent as a carpenter and manual laborer, then a general contractor. This fit in with my thought that maybe this was all I was capable of, but my total inability with numbers proved to be insurmountable. I worked very hard to the point of physical ill health. I enjoyed the creative/visual side of my work but not the business side. If I had not had a friend back then who committed suicide, I might very well have done the same myself. The world was a totally unnurturing place to me at that period in my life.

I moved from one romantic relationship to another during those years. I felt I had no choice but to move on as the women in my life began to get to know me. I still couldn’t risk being “discovered”. Believe me, fear of commitment was not the issue! I know I hurt some people, but it was even harder on me! During this time, I taught myself how to read by using a geometric/ relative parts of the whole approach of my own design. It has taken many years, but now I am an avid reader.

Wood Chair designed by Dane F. Jensen

Higher Education and Pivotal Moments

In 1983, at the age of 30, and ten years after I dropped out of school, I re-entered university study with the belief that I deserved better and that I was capable of more. I really don’t know how I mustered up the self-confidence to take on additional schooling! During my first year, I saw a notice about an event on dyslexia at the school. I attended not really thinking it was relevant to me.

A holistic doctor asked for a volunteer and I raised my hand. He proceeded with a demonstration in Applied kinesiology for which I became the subject. Applied Kinesiology is the study of the electrical energy in the body- it’s surpluses and its deficits. As I was instructed to raise my arm, the doctor gently pushed down with 2 fingers after he said, “now hold”. My arm moved very little. Then he wrote an “X” on a blackboard. He said, “concentrate on this”, then “now hold”, and pushed with his 2 fingers. I couldn’t even hold my arm up when he pushed lightly. He tried other symbols, some strengthening, others weakening. He explained that the “X” is a weakening symbol to dyslexics. “They don’t totally understand why” he said, “but if it’s true, you have a severe case of it”, he said to me.

Wooden dining chair designed by Dane F. Jensen

This was a pivotal moment in my life. I realize that Applied Kinesiology is a controversial topic and certainly not a mainstream science based discipline. I would not recommend it to anyone as a definitive diagnostic tool. It did however alert me to the fact that more testing needed to be done. I subsequently underwent testing with a psychologist in Los Angeles, and testing with an educational specialist in Denmark. With a confirmation of learning difficulties, (dyslexia; dyscalculia & ADD were suspected), I went through an entire metamorphosis. It began with emotional upheaval… including lashing out at my parents, the Seattle public schools, and our educational system in general, to reading all I could get my hands on about the subject. Unfortunately, the “wisdom” at that time, (the early 80’s), seemed to be that it is geometrically more and more difficult to “overcome” dyslexia past the fourth grade. I was told by several special education teachers and administrators trained in the area of dyslexia, “you’d better do the best you can with what you have.” I will never settle for this advice.

The effect of having a confirmation of my dyslexia was life changing. Finally, there was a word, a condition, a reason for my frustrating disorientation and lack of self-confidence. I began to forgive myself and give myself permission to venture out into the world and discover who I was and who I could become.

It took me three years to achieve an undergraduate degree from UC Davis in environmental design, a degree I achieved with honors. I also received a fellowship for research I undertook at UC Davis. I worked in San Francisco on Fridays and on the weekends, and studied Danish at UC Berkley two mornings a week in anticipation of graduate work in Denmark the following year. I did subsequently study furniture Design and interior architecture in Denmark at the Royal Academy of Art and Architecture, and at the School of Architecture in Aarhus, Denmark. I then worked for a time there as an architect until my residency permit ran out.

Returning to the US, I could not find work to save myself. I ended up conducting a feasibility study for US Aid on manufacturing furniture in Honduras, C.A. for export to the US under the Caribbean Basin Joint Venture Initiative. US Aid reneged on their agreement with me and I was never paid.

photo of cabinetry designed by Dane F. Jensen

Searching for the Right Fit

I returned to Seattle and still was unable to find work. I moved to Los Angeles to work as a project manager in construction. A year later, I was recruited to study and teach at UCLA in Industrial design. Although difficult, I managed to finance my education in Los Angeles while teaching for a meager salary. I worked on movie sets, took on freelance design work, and built custom furniture in the shop at school. I received my MA in Industrial Design in 1990, and continued to teach in the department for two more years. At this time, UCLA closed its Department of Design. I spent several years looking for and applying for teaching positions without success.

Since that time, I have had several short-term jobs working for a variety of companies for very low wages. None of these utilized my education and / or experience. I have never found gainful employment in any field, perhaps due to the fact that I was too old to enter the job market in my 40’s when I was done with my education.

Another possibility is the chronic unemployment or underemployment dyslexics tend to experience due to various factors too long to go into here. In education I believe, the catch 22 of not having had continuous employment prevented me from procuring teaching jobs. And now in this world of the near totally computer oriented job market, it is as if I am an alien from another world. Due to dyscalculia and my visually oriented thought process, I remain in some ways, in the world of isolation that I created when I was a young boy.

I make my living at present by designing and building furniture, cabinetry, interior remodeling, and other design / build projects. Because of my spouse, Mary with whom I have discovered that total openness is a good and healthy thing, I can ask her and others for help with numbers and business problems and no longer risk being “discovered”.

Photo of Dane F. Jensen

Moving Forward and Making a Difference

I act as an advocate for children with dyslexia, and I’ve served on the board for a school for dyslexic children. I have a certificate in nonprofit management and continuously seek positions with nonprofits. I hope to start a nonprofit in the support of dyslexics and their families. In the mean time, I am researching teaching methodologies for dyslexics, and legal avenues that will necessitate that our educational paradigm include effective special education for dyslexics.

I believe that there are as many ways to take in information as there are people, and until we learn to respect these differences and realize that we can all learn and grow as a result, we will continue to experience foreshortenings of our cultural, intellectual and spiritual possibilities.

Metal leaf/floral design pendant by Dane F. Jensen

At 63, I am a bit resigned, and saddened by my lack of ability to have fit in to the mainstream of society. But I am also proud of my accomplishments. I have made my own way in life, and I continue to attempt to make a difference in the lives of others. I have learned that I must take responsibility for myself, and for my life, and not wallow in what might have been. I also choose and try not to live with negativity or cynicism. Even in the darkest of times, there has always been a glimmer of hope and optimism that has left the door open for new opportunities. Giving up has never really been an option. I believe success and fulfillment are always attainable.

I continue to educate myself by taking classes such as jewelry making, nonprofit management, autobiography writing, and I occasionally assist in teaching a furniture design studio at the University of Washington.


Thank you very much Dane, for sharing your story with our community.

You can see more of Dane's functional and beautiful work on his website,

We'd like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation to help us to fulfull our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Thanks for your support! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Self Advocacy sign in Three Steps Part three - Getting What you Need

Self Advocacy in Three Steps: Part Three - Getting What you Need

In Self-Advocacy Part Three: Getting What you Need, I will discuss some tips on how to communicate your needs and request accommodations in college and the workplace as a student or employee with a disability.

Disclosure and Request for Accommodations in The College Environment

If you have disclosed to your college office of disability services, you will be asked to fill out paperwork to request accommodations and will be required to submit documentation (an example would be a psycho-educational evaluation assessment) indicating proof of disability. It is best to initiate this process as early as you can. Visit the website of your college and contact the office directly to see what is offered in terms of assistive technology, learning support, tutoring, etc. Once you are approved for accommodations it is a good idea to set up meetings with your professors during their office hours. This is a time to review your accommodations and specific needs with your instructor. It is important to establish a collaborative relationship by reaching out, discussing your interests, your strengths, and your desire to perform at your best as a student in the course. Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your instructors and doing your part by knowing your rights and keeping informed goes a long way. You may read more on your rights and responsibilities from HERE

Disclosure and Request for Accommodations on the job

Have you disclosed your disability to your employer? The decision to disclose your disability to your employer is a personal one. According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), in order to benefit from the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, you must disclose your disability since an employer is only required to provide work-related accommodations to those who disclose their disabilities to the appropriate individuals in the workplace. To read more on disclosure, visit the US Department of Labor website HERE. Your employer may request that you provide him with proof of your disability, (psycho-educational evaluation) or other documentation, so it is important to find out which types of documentation your employer is willing to accept as proof and which type of provider you'll need to seek out to obtain this documentation if you have not yet done so.

As you begin to broach the subject of accommodations with your employer, it may be helpful to understand the ways in which he best communicates. Does your employer generally prefer face to face conversations, e-mail memos, or phone calls? Think about your own preferred style of communication. What are you most comfortable with? Have you researched and are you clear about the requests you would like to make? Are they reasonable? It is important to convey your message in an organized and respectful way. Preparing a list of talking points in advance can help you to prepare yourself. It will be helpful to maintain a positive and professional manner as you seek to inform your boss about your need for accommodations. Framing your requests in a way which indicates that the accommodation will help you to function at your best is more positive than merely complaining about your struggles and how you cannot manage your job well. Focusing on your strengths and communicating them throughout the conversation is key. Asking your employer to outline his expectations of you and requesting that he help you to explore possible solutions is a more proactive and collaborative way to communicate with him.

Ask JAN (Job Accommodation Network), offers a guide to help you with this process. You may read and download the guide HERE

When it comes to requesting accommodations in college or on the job, it’s important to be an effective self-advocate. Knowing yourself, focusing on your strengths, effectively communicating what you need, and describing how these supports will help you to be the best that you can be in school or on the job will help to position you for success!

Recommended Resources:

Department of Education Website: Students with Disabilities Preparing for Post-Secondary Education -

Department of Labor Website - Youth, Disclosure, and the Workplace. Why, When, What, and How -

Job Accommodation Network Website (JAN) - Employees' Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) -

We'd like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation to help us to fulfull our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Thanks for your support! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Self Advocacy part one know thyself headstrong nation #weownit

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts

Part One – Know Thyself

What does self-advocacy mean to you as an adult with dyslexia/LD? Self-advocacy can be defined as the ability to represent and speak up for yourself, to be actively involved as a voice in decision making in matters involving you. In an article on, author Nancy Susanne James states “This journey of self-education is an ongoing process, as individual needs change over time. There are three parts to becoming an effective self-advocate: knowing yourself, knowing your needs, and knowing how to get what you need.”

The slogan used by various disability rights activists, “Nothing about us without Us” points to the need for the individual to be at the center of all discussions involving himself and his life. Getting in touch with and knowing yourself is the first part of becoming an effective adult self-advocate.

Knowing yourself involves know your strengths and weaknesses. It involves identification. There are many informal inventories and checklists which can help you to uncover your particular pattern of strengths and weaknesses such as Headstrong Nation’s Potential Indicators of Dyslexia and our Strength and Attitude Assessments. Inventories like these can give you some valuable information to share with a professional licensed to formally evaluate dyslexia and other related learning disabilities, and may serve as a starting point for conversation. Below are the sample results of a Strength Assessment showing high social and visual skills.

Example of Headstrong Nation Strength star generated after taking inventory, Showing high social and visual skills

A formal psycho-educational evaluation performed by a licensed Neuropsychologist or other professional trained in working with adults with dyslexia/LD can be quite costly, so it will be helpful to inquire if any of the cost might be covered by your insurance carrier if you are determined to pursue formal identification for yourself. Other avenues to explore qualified professionals include local university departments of psychology or clinics, community mental health centers, and local rehabilitation services agencies (State Agencies - - Then click on "Other Useful Contacts > State Agencies/Contact Information ). It is important to remember that obtaining a formal diagnosis of a learning disability permits you to certain rights under federal law in higher education and in the workplace.

In Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Two, Know Your Needs, I'll discuss knowing your needs and how this information can enable you to become a more effective self-advocate in life, school, and career.

Read Nancy Susanne James’ article Self-Advocacy: Know Yourself, Know What You Need, Know How to Get It HERE.

Recommended Resources:

Self Advocacy: Know yourself, Know What You Need, Know How to Get It. Nancy Suzanne James (Wrightslaw)

Rehabilitation Services Adminstration - ED/OSERS/RSA -

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Two - Know Your Needs -

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Three - Getting What You Need -

We'd like to invite you to Donate to Headstrong Nation to help us to fulfull our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Thanks for your support! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Self Advocacy Part two banner know what you need Headstrong Nation #weownit

Self Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Two - Know your Needs

If you are an adult with dyslexia or another LD, and you've obtained a formal evaluation, you may have a very clear idea of what types of supports you may need in an academic setting or on the job. If you have not obtained a formal evaluation, you may still have a pretty good idea based on the struggles you experience and how they impact on your life. Are you overwhelmed with the amount of text and reading requirements that you have on the job? Do you struggle with spelling or getting your thoughts down on paper in email correspondence or in report form? You may have developed some daily work-a-rounds too, in an attempt to manage at home, but perhaps you haven't explored using these same tools at the workplace or in your college classes.

Assistive Technology can help

Many dyslexics find the use of assistive technology valuable. Assistive Technology, or AT, may be defined as any item, piece of equipment software product or system which is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of an individual with a disability. It does not include a medical device which is surgically implanted or the replacement of such a device. Assistive technology can be low tech, moderate or high tech. A highlighting pen is an example of a low tech choice, a moderate or high tech tool might be an electronic spell checker or speech recognition software.

Some adults are unsure of where to start with assistive technology and are reluctant to embrace it. If you are interested in exploring assistive technology and learning how it may be of help to you on the job or in the higher ed setting, visit Jamie Martin's Assistive Technology website HERE.

Try this exercise. Jot down any tools that you currently use that help you to manage on a daily basis. This might be a spell checker, a built in text to speech on your phone or another item. Also jot down any tools you may have seen or heard about but havent tried yet that you'd like to explore. A sample list might look like this:

  • I find it easier to record notes in the class or at business meetings.
  • I find I work best with digital notes in doc. form that I can refer to and a text to speech product with.
  • If notes are in PDF form, the use of an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) app or scanner is helpful to me to prepare text for text to speech.
  • I find it easier to jot down key points and graphics when I take notes in meetings or in lectures so a note taking device like a note taking pen might be helpful.
  • I need to sit in the front of the meeting room close to the presenter or in the front of the class during a lecture for better focus.
  • Background noise really bothers me, so the use of noise cancelling ear-buds or headphones would help me to concentrate on my work.
  • A Screen Reader and/or text to speech software program would help me to access text more efficiently.
  • Calendar apps on my phone and desktop help me to stay organized.
  • A voice to text program for professionals might help me to effectively keep up with email and written correspondence on the job or to write papers for class.
  • Spell checkers, word prediction software and grammar checkers would help me to function best.
  • Apps to help me to stay on task (timers, etc...) might help to increase my productivity.
Getting clear about how you learn best and which supports and tools can help you perform best is extremely valuable. As adults with dyslexia/LD, we may need some assistance in the form of accommodation and tools, for those areas in which we struggle, but we must also remember that we have great strengths too. One way to get in touch with your particular strengths and attitudes surrounding dyslexia is to complete Headstrong Nation's Strength and Attitude Assessments . Below is a graphic of a sample strength star showing high social and visual skills based on responses to the assessment.
Graphic example of Headstrong Nation Strength Star result  showing skills such as musical, verbal, mathematical, spatial, etc...
In Self Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Three, Getting What you Need, I'll discuss some ways to start a conversation with your employer or your professors, to help you to get what you'll need to be a successful employee or student.

Recommended Resources:

Jamie Martin's Website -

Headstrong Nation's Strength and Attitude Assessments -

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part One - Know Thyself -

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Three -Getting What you Need -

We'd like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation to help us to fulfull our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Thanks for your support! - The Headstrong Nation Team

poster - see it another way - Change our perspective of dyslexia from disability to gift

A graphic challenging us to change our perspective on dyslexia - © Patrice Steele

Patrice Steele, Graphic Designer, contacted Headstrong Nation to share her story as a young adult dyslexic. As a child, Patrice had much difficulty in school and couldn't figure out why she struggled in reading, writing and mathematics. In the 10th grade she was held back and needed to take evening classes to make up for lost time. She credits her mother for doing things for her, but acknowledges that both her parents and others close to her did not truly understand her struggles with dyslexia and dyscalculia. Her teachers would tell her parents that she was not paying attention or trying hard enough, and like so many adults with dyslexia, she was a child whose learning issues weren't properly identified and she therefore "Fell through the cracks" and didn't get the assistance and support that she needed. In school, Patrice felt like an "Outsider". She felt her teachers were judgmental and not supportive. They assumed that Patrice didn't want to go to school, that school wasn't for her and her struggles were her problem.

Graphic of peace of a face with words on it  - Serene, tranquil, centered, peace

A graphic about Peace - © Patrice Steele

Patrice had viewed some episodes of the TV shows 20/20 and Nightline which featured other individuals with the issues that she was experiencing, including difficulties with reading and writing, poor memory, difficulty telling time and counting money. She wondered if she too, might have dyslexia, but since she wasn't getting much support at home or in school she felt alone and was scared to bring up the subject. It took Patrice an additional two years to pass the standardized testing needed for her to obtain her high school diploma. She experienced great difficulty and had to re-test many times before passing the ACT and finally obtaining her diploma in 2007.

Despite her struggles with school, Patrice applied to and attended the CBT College for Graphic Design. At CBT, she experienced success in her art courses, receiving A's and B's. She still obtained C's and D's in Math and English, however. Patrice persevered, worked hard, and graduated. She's currently dealing with student loan debt and continues to seek employment, but it has so far been difficult for her to find a job in her chosen field of graphic design.

Patrice recently obtained a formal evaluation to confirm her dyslexia in Fall, 2015 at age 28. Evaluation results indicated that her reading had improved but continues to be low for her age, and that her performance in math is low. Patrice is tired of feeling embarrassed over not reading on a higher level that she feels an adult of her age should be reading. She’s worked to understand basic information, but she still mixes up words and describes her math skills as "horrible". She feels lucky that she has found other ways to obtain higher education, but acknowledges that it wasn't easy to do so and feels that no one should have to struggle like this. She's come this far, but has other challenges ahead of her, and she hopes that she'll have the strength to tackle these challenges and find her true place in life, pursuing her passion as a graphic designer.

A graphic of a man sitting with words - sit, think, be creative

A graphic telling others to be creative - © Patrice Steele

Patrice has created a website of her creative graphic design work here:

She's also filmed and uploaded a series of videos to her YouTube channel to describe her experiences of feeling fed up from being "jerked around" by the school system where she felt she was unfairly judged and misunderstood during most of her schooling. She also shares some beautiful examples of her art and design work. Below we’ll share the first of Patrice’s videos on her dyslexia, and you are welcome to view the others at the YouTube channel link above.

My Talk About Dyslexia. Learning to Have No Shame 1

Many thanks to Patrice for sharing her story and beautiful, inspirational art work with us!

We would like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation – DONATE HERE. Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter. Thank you very much! The Headstrong Nation Team

Originally published November 23, 2015 on

stylized painting of Mariaux Art and dyslexia logo

I loved books, I loved stories and I wanted to read—I just couldn’t read like other kids. I worked so hard to read that I lost the meaning of what I was trying to read. My book larva gnawed away at me while sat there stuck in an easy-reader—even when others had put their books away—I still labored over words.

Normal readers had a cute little bookworm friend that had little round glasses that were too big for its pudgy little face. It had a nerdy, feeble but kind warble in its voice that politely reminded them to, “read more books.” My bookworm was more like botfly larva. It bored into my head the significance of reading and every time I tried to read, it fed off my delicious inadequacies and bore deep into my sub-conscience that, “books aren’t meant for you.” The teachers said my only cure was to, “read more books.” In those days, no one knew I was dyslexic, but they did recognize that I had a different learning style

I was outwardly intelligent, social, and likable. Eventually I was labeled, “unteachable”—” lazy”—” unmotivated.” I struggled with reading in first grade. In second grade it became apparent that I had a learning disability. Third grade, I hit a wall. The school wanted to send me to a mobile home that sat on the school grounds. I’d sit with a teacher and a few severely disabled children. There was no help for me, and the environment was devastating to my self-esteem. My mom took me out of school and homeschooled me. My parents had no money, and no other educational alternative.

My homeschool years were hardly perfect, but they were liberating years for me. I spent a great deal of my time outdoors. We lived on five wooded acres in the rural countryside of Missouri. I was sure I was going to become an artist someday. I painted pictures, wrote short stories and plays. My mom read me book after book—all the classics. When she wasn’t reading, I was listening to the BBC book of the week on the radio. My little brother and I would lay on the floor and listen. I often drew pictures, painted and colored while listening to books. We were ear reading. Our ability to comprehend was phenomenal. I didn’t feel my limitations, I only felt that all was possible in my isolated world of Narnia, The Hiding Place, Lord of The Rings, Great Expectations, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry—my little brother, and my loving and supportive parents.

Eventually, I was put into a small school in our church. My parents were open to trying other options and they were always hopeful that something would work. My little brother and I were publicly humiliated (my brother was physically disciplined) by our teachers. They didn’t know about our dyslexia and neither did we. We took the licks and just assumed we were the problem. This was a big burden for small backs. Back then humiliation was a tactic used to motivate. The educators in this school simply believed we weren’t trying. Try as we might, we just didn’t fit. We were abruptly taken out of this school and homeschooled again. My mom wasn’t a teacher and never intended to be. She did her very best. She inspired me—helped me keep my chin up. Only now do I understand her full-time dedication.

After taking an independent drivers education course, I decided I wanted to try and go back to school. I wanted to be around my peers—normal kids. I felt like I was missing out on the world. I was curious and very naive. I went into public high school my sophomore year. I struggled and failed. The shame I felt was unbearable, but I kept a poker face and most of my friends never knew my struggles. At first, teachers looked at me to be a nice addition in their classroom. I was very bright, forthcoming and effervescent about my willingness to learn. I sat in the front row and made eye contact. “Teach me—I want to learn.” I let them all down. Worksheets got the better of me as did and timed testing. The daily anxiety was a shock to my senses. One by one, each teacher stopped making eye contact with me. They looked through me, and I knew they had given up on me. While on my way to the place where the “D” word goes, I slid through the cracks and into a horrible gray world that whispered, “you’re nothing. Why even try? You’ll let them all down. You’ll let yourself down. You’re not normal, you’re not kidding anyone.”

Painting by Mary Harnetiaux - War in her Bloody Shoes - Woman

The day I left school for good, I was told by my guidance counselor that, “school wasn’t for everyone.” I believed him. I always took his final words as a warning to stay away. I was an impostor who was trying to steal an education, an education that belonged to the “normal kids.” It was a relief to finally walk away from it all.

I have always carried my ignorance like a bag of stones around my neck, hidden under my clothes, disguised by my outward appearance and layered beneath my god given talents. In school I suffered—horribly. No teacher proved me wrong. No one teacher became my hero or my mentor. My profound and confusing ignorance was never refuted—so it must be true. I presented a problem, and they had no solution. The “experts” didn’t even have a solution.

Even though there wasn’t any help for me back in those days, I still took solace in the possibility of a small identity, a word that kept me from taking it all into my inner-self. That word was, “dyslexia.” It was a word that was merely said to me in passing, but I intuitively latched onto it. Here’s why the word dyslexia was so important to me, it became a “thing” it wasn’t me. It wasn’t my fault. It was this thing and it had a name. Once I had a name, I was able to begin to pull the shame away from myself—I pulled it right out my chest like a ball of unraveling kite string. It was in this way that I attempted to bury my school years and move forward with my life.

I discovered myself, my hidden secret talents that I had always had—sort of like Dorothy and her ruby slippers. I began to focus on my life and not my struggle. I started painting, and through a lot of incredibly hard work, my surroundings filled with large scale abstract paintings. I found my joy and creativity. I didn’t know or care how my work would be perceived. I didn’t ask for permission. I focused on one thing, and that was my art.

My paintings eventually reached a man I had known for years, and it brought him home from his world travels. We got married. We had a little boy. Little did I know that I was going to have to unearth my dyslexia and my painful school years all over again—only this time through my son’s educational experiences.

Thirty-four years after hitting my own academic wall, I found myself advocating for my son. There I was, sitting in a blue plastic child-sized chair in front of two educators who were were trying to decide if they believed dyslexia even existed. As they sputtered and groped to use any word other than dyslexia, a curious thing happened—I began to disappear. First I couldn’t see my hands, then I watched my lap go up in a thin veil of vapor. I believe for a moment that I was only a pair of blinking eyes. No one noticed, but I almost disappeared into that place where the “D” word goes—that place that exists in all teacher’s lounges—that secret place all “unknowns” and “unteachables” go. I went into the dark locker of library-silent oblivion and neglect. Luckily for me, I had done my homework. I had a great deal of science, evidence and over thirty years of research to back my position. I also carried with me, a formal dyslexia diagnosis. Almost as quickly as I had disappeared, I returned to my tiny seat in front of two very serious educators who seemed oddly threatened that I might know something that they did not.

Red-faced and flustered, they spoke without relevance, “look at you! You’re fine! You had an LD and turned out okay! What are you worried about?” Unfiltered myths and misinformation came flowing out of their mouths, “we don’t hear that word nowadays, they diagnose better now.” I realized they only knew dyslexia to be a term they shouldn’t use, but they didn’t know what it was. They would never admit that. You see, by admitting that they didn’t know something, they would inevitably disappear into a thin veil of vapor starting with their fingertips until nothing would be left but their blinking eyes. If they admitted they didn’t know something, they would lose their power. They would never want to be in that vulnerable position—because truth be told, losing one’s power is painful. It’s damning. It’s demeaning. It’s dark. They wouldn’t like this.

Not long into my son’s fourth grade year, there came this soft suggestion, “maybe this school isn’t the right fit for your child.” They were right, it wasn’t. We pursued other possibilities.

I didn’t know quite what to do, but promised myself that my child’s dyslexia story would not be mine. I promised myself that his story wouldn’t have unnecessary sadness, or soul crushing adversity when it came to his education. I promised to find the teachers who knew that dyslexia is real—who would see him—and teach him.

One cold January morning, I lead my son up to a new pair of double doors. He anxiously opened one and hesitated in the doorway. Then, I watched him bravely step over a threshold and into a story of his own.

Read Mary’s personal blog and view her beautiful and inspiring art at

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How do you manage the challenges associated with your dyslexia on a daily basis? What are your particular struggles? Have you developed effective work-a-rounds in your career and life that you'd like to share with others? What types of apps or assistive technology help you to thrive? Have you discovered your unique strengths? What keeps you going? What frustrates you? What do you need that you aren't getting? What does success look and feel like to you?

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