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, http://www.dfjensen.com/

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

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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 Ed.gov 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 - http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html

Department of Labor Website - Youth, Disclosure, and the Workplace. Why, When, What, and How - http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/ydw.htm

Job Accommodation Network Website (JAN) - Employees' Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - https://askjan.org/EeGuide/IIRequest.htm

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

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Self Advocacy Part two banner know what you need Headstrong Nation #weownit  www.headstrongnation.org/membership

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 - http://www.atdyslexia.com/assistive-technology/

Headstrong Nation's Strength and Attitude Assessments - http://headstrongnation.org/adults/map-your-dyslexia

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part One - Know Thyself - http://headstrongnation.org/community/blog/self-advocacy-three-parts-1-k...

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Three -Getting What you Need - http://headstrongnation.org/community/blog/self-advocacy-three-steps-3-g...

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 www.headstrongnation.org/membership

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 Wrightslaw.com, 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 - https://rsa.ed.gov/people.cfm - 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) http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/sec504.selfadvo.nancy.james.htm

Rehabilitation Services Adminstration - ED/OSERS/RSA - https://rsa.ed.gov/people.cfm

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Two - Know Your Needs - http://headstrongnation.org/community/blog/self-advocacy-three-parts-2-k...

Self-Advocacy in Three Parts: Part Three - Getting What You Need - http://headstrongnation.org/community/blog/self-advocacy-three-steps-3-g...

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: http://steelepatricegd.wix.com/minimal-designer-por

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

Call for Stories Headstrong Nation

Stories Matter.

Headstrong Nation is holding a "Call for Stories". We want to hear about your experiences as an adult living with dyslexia/LD. Stories are important. They inspire and inform us. They influence us. We relate to them. They help us to feel connected with each other. They don't have to be perfect, and they don't have to be finished. They are forever evolving.

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?

If you have a story to tell as an adult with dyslexia and would like to share it with the Headstrong Nation community, please contact us at info@headstrongnation.org. We may be able to feature your submission in our community blog and through our social media channels so your story will inspire others to possibly share theirs too.

Tell your story... Looking forward to hearing from you! Thanks! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Please consider donating to Headstrong Nation - DONATE HERE. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest and subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

Originally published November 23, 2015 on MariauxArt.com

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 MariauxArt.com.

Headstrong Nation Mission Statement - Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, to understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles.

We would like to invite you to join us as a member, as we need your support to help us to fulfill our mission for the adult dyslexic. Please consider donating to Headstrong Nation HERE: https://www.razoo.com/us/story/Headstrong-Nation. Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Pinterest and visit our YouTube Channel. Thank you very much! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Photo of note pad on table with the words - New Year's Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions?


Noun. A firm decision to do or not to do something.

It’s January, 2016. Have you made any resolutions for the new year?

January is the first month, the beginning of a new year. It's a time of beginnings and promise. We reflect on the past and desire to ring in the new. We may desire a new body, a new job, or decide to reinvent ourselves in some other way. The act of making resolutions can feel exciting and inspiring, but also stressful depending on the kinds and amounts of resolutions made. For those of us with dyslexia/LD, the idea of adding anything else to our plates in addition to our own daily routines and challenges can be kind of daunting!

Studies have shown that less than 10% keep their resolutions. Why is this? Perhaps we make too many, we reach too high, we make resolutions based on what someone else is doing or what we think we should be doing. Perhaps the resolution isn’t a good fit or true to who we are inside. We might make them for the wrong reasons and destine ourselves to failure. Perhaps we become impatient and expect results too quickly. Lasting change takes time and can’t be expected overnight. So, before you consider jumping on the path to self-improvement in the new year, remember this. Do one thing. Just one thing. You don’t have to complicate it. Don't know where to start? Here are some suggestions...

Exercise? Just do it. Get off the couch. Go take a walk. It doesn’t have to be a full-year gym membership with all the bells and whistles. How about a free-trial week? Get your foot in the door. See if it’s a good fit. Take a friend or family member with you!

Do you want to nurture your Relationships? In a 75 year Harvard study, Robert Waldinger found that the quality of our relationships have more far reaching positive effects on our health and happiness than status, money or other external things. – Check out Waldinger’s Ted Talk HERE. Now, that’s an idea worth spreading!

How about health and diet changes? If you are in need of a physical and have been putting it off, go ahead and schedule one. It’s one positive thing that you can do. Are you considering a change in your diet? Before you go vegan or gluten-free, ask yourself why the diet appeals to you and do some research online on the best ways to start the process which won’t turn you and your kitchen upside down. Wanting to shed some pounds? Are you overeating? Get in touch with why you might be. Too much stress, feeling unfulfilled, feeling exhausted and run down? Exploring your patterns and speaking with a health professional may give you valuable clues to what’s “eating you” and may also help you to search for alternative ways to address your negative of patterns of behavior surrounding food. Blood work and other routine lab tests may indicate hidden medical conditions which need attention to get you back on track and feeling your best.

Interested in body and mind stress reduction? Consider booking a massage, trying a free yoga or meditation class or exploring other methods of allieviating stress. When you decrease your stress level you will feel better both physically and emotionally, may learn better and function more effectively at work and in relationships. Try this guided meditation from The Art of Living - http://www.artofliving.org/meditation/guided-meditation

Interested in learning about and finding solutions which can help you with reading, writing and productivity? Check out some of the latest assistive technology apps, software options, and tools to help you thrive from Jamie Martin's website, http://www.atdyslexia.com/assistive-technology/.

If you are considering making a resolution related to your job and career, small steps can reap big rewards. Be proactive. Learn something new everyday. Here is a short list of some low or no cost suggestions for learning and career self-improvement for the new year:

Making new resolutions can help you to get out of your comfort zone. Do something that you have thought about trying but haven't done so because you feel lack the necessary skills. This could be just about anything. Do a Google search, watch some videos, challenge yourself. There are many benefits to having a bit of positive anxiety from getting out of your comfort zone, including harnessing creativity, developing resilience, and increasing productivity. Read more on this from Life Hacker - HERE. You might just surprise yourself.

Are you searching for a purpose? Consider volunteerism. It’s good for the soul! Explore local opportunities with non-profits in your area. In addition to helping others, volunteering can help you learn new skills to help populate your resume if you are in the market for a career change. Volunteer Match can give you some suggestions of organizations in your area. https://www.volunteermatch.org/

You may encounter eventual roadblocks or detours along the way as you explore new things, and this is totally OK. Don’t beat yourself up about it. If something speaks to you strongly, you may revisit it at a later time. Trying new things opens up a world of opportunity. The most important thing you can do is to approach the new year in a positive way, setting small easily achievable goals for yourself, not worrying about the past, but looking forward to what your future holds. One new thing. One day at a time. Stretch yourself! Wishing you a new year filled with lots of exciting things.

Robert Waldinger Ted Talk - http://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness

The Science of Breaking out of your Comfort Zone – And why you should - http://lifehacker.com/the-science-of-breaking-out-of-your-comfort-zone-and-w-656426705

Headstrong Nation Mission Statement - Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, to understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles.

We would like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation, as we need your support to help us to fulfill our mission for the adult dyslexic. DONATE HERE

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Thank you very much! - The Headstrong Nation Team

photo of a wrapped gift with snowflake wrapping paper and a blue bow on top

The Gifts inside us. They’ve always been there.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson


We give them. We receive them. We are able to identify the unique gifts in others. We often have a more difficult time identifying them in ourselves.


Many adult dyslexics have grown up feeling misunderstood, unsupported, and overwhelmed. We’ve felt shame, anger, anxiety, depression and confusion.

We have layers. Years of overcompensating, trying to fit in, treading water, spinning our wheels. We’ve spend a lot of time looking outside of ourselves for answers, for clarity, for validation, and for change. Perhaps we’ve looked in the wrong places.

We need only pause and begin to look within to find the answers which we are looking for.

Dyslexia is a trait. It’s not a gift, nor is it a curse. It is what it is.

Whether you are dyslexic or not, you possess gifts.

Take the time to unwrap them. You’ll be surprised!

Happy Holidays from Headstrong Nation!

PS: Here is an article from Bestselling author, Professional Speaker, TV personality, Corporate spokesperson, Interfaith minister, and TedX Host Laura Berman Fortgang, (via the Huff Post) entitled “The Top 10 Ways to Discover Your Unique Gift”. Discover yours this season!

Headstrong Nation Mission Statement - Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, to understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles.

We would like to invite you to donate to Headstrong Nation as we need your support to help us to fulfill our mission for the adult dyslexic. Please consider donating to Headstrong Nation HERE. Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter . Thank you very much! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Photo of Nelson Lauver, Author

I’d like to Apologize to All Dyslexics

I received a diagnosis of dyslexia at the ripe old age of 29.

Since that time, and very innocently I might add, I have said some really dumb things about dyslexia. Disclaimer: In my defense, these are things I've said out of pure ignorance and a steady diet of misinformation.

I See Things Backward.

Shorty after being diagnosed I confided in a teacher-friend that I was, in fact, dyslexic.

"Oh, that's no big deal. It just means that you see things backwards," she said.

"I DO?"

"Sure, you just don't realize it because you always have and at this point in your life it seems normal to you," she replied.

I started walking around her kitchen touching things: a fork, cabinet door and items in her refrigerator.

I was trying to catch myself seeing things backwards. But according to my teacher-friend, my nearly 30-year-old brain was so accustomed to seeing things backwards that it "was set in stone and I'd never be able to change it."

No Pictures in My Head.

At about the same time, I saw a psychologist on a weekly basis who was trying to get my head screwed back on straight. I was a very angry young man presenting with a second-grade reading and writing level.

He told me that the cause of my dyslexia was that I can't see pictures in my head like normal people.

"OK, let's do an exercise," he said.

"I want you to close your eyes and picture the house you grew up in. Can you see it, Nelson?"

"Well, I think so. It's stone and has a red roof and white window panes ..."

He interrupted me. "But can you see it like a movie playing in a theater? Can you see it as clearly on the back of your eyelids as if you were looking at the big screen."

"Well, yes, no, sort of, probably not, but I think I can see it! Wait! Yes! No, I guess not?" I told him.

"That is the problem; you have no visual memory. You depend on your inner voice as your memory," he explained.

He went on to tell me, "You can't spell because you can't see the word you want to spell."

I left the shrink's office that day and spent the next several years explaining dyslexia to family and close friends as "viewing everything backwards, even though I can't tell it's backwards. Also, I don't have the ability to see pictures in my head like normal people, and that's why I can’t read well and spell, and stuff like that."

Later I would come to discover that most dyslexics don't view the world backward. I also learned that I not only see pictures in my head but, like many dyslexics, I think in pictures. As far as having a movie projector in my brain shooting cinematic pictures on to the back of eyelids, I've yet to find ANYONE with such a gift.

Of course, I learned this only after I was a party to the further distribution of this misinformation.

But Wait, There's More!

As I look back, it all makes me feel so silly, but in the immortal words of Ron Popeil, American inventor and television personality, "WAIT, THERE'S MORE!"

For so long I wanted to be normal. I lamented the fact that I had the dubious distinction of graduating dead last in East Juniata High School's class of 1981. I was upset that I didn't go to college and law school. I was angry that I wasn't the big, powerful attorney on the back cover of the Yellow Pages book.

I went looking for a "cure." I confided in friends and family that I felt "broken" and I wanted to be "fixed."

I laugh now because I finally realize that I'm not broken, and I don't need to be fixed. Sure, there are lots of tools I use to compensate for dyslexia but all kinds of craftsmen use tools in their jobs, right?

Finding the Gifts.

I have found the gifts that come with being dyslexic and it is such a pleasure to have them. (I elaborated on these gifts in my blog at www.nelsonsbook.com.) Life is OK these days. I had extensive literacy tutoring in my 30s and that helped a lot. I'm in my early 50s now. I'm married, and my wife is great at spelling (not the only reason I married her). Oh, and I'm a professional writer with a book on the New York Times Best Sellers List. OK, OK, I am an author but the part about my book being a best seller isn't true. I just wanted to see what that looks like in print. It looks GREAT!

On the road to understanding, I've had a few fender-benders and for that I am very sorry.

Nelson Lauver is the host of the American Storyteller Radio Journal and author of the award-winning memoir “Most Unlikely To Succeed.” He is also a keynote speaker, humorist, syndicated broadcaster, strategist, entrepreneur, voice-over artist, co-founder of the Jane and Nelson Lauver Foundation and director of ProblemTank, a neurodiverse think tank.

Thank you very much Nelson for guest blogging for us!

Headstrong Nation Mission Statement:

Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, to understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles.

Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. If you would like to help us to fulfill our mission, please consider donating to Headstrong Nation HERE - Thank You! ~ The Headstrong Nation Team


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