Shame

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Shame

     “Just try harder, “ is truly the bane of my existence. The process of phonetic decoding takes dyslexics five times more energy than that of the neurotypical brain. Tim Conway, The Morris Center.  Boston University Professor Tyler Perrachione published research on experiments conducted in collaboration with colleagues from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and  Massachusetts General Hospital. In replicated and authenticated studies it was found that dyslexic brains have to work harder than “typical” brains to process incoming sights and sounds, which in turn requires additional mental overhead for even the simplest tasks. “What was surprising for me was the magnitude of the difference. These are not subtle differences,” says Perrachione. (December 21, 2016) 

     I have never known any individuals on this planet who have exerted more effort just to merely scrape by, to merely pass inspection at best, than the dyslexic population.  Their goal is not excellence, it is instead a sort of ‘begging to get by.’  For dyslexics, negative reinforcement from peers, teachers, and parents, is pervasive; it is the norm in which their world operates.   And evolution of this inaccurate and wholly inappropriate system manifests in our kids starting to believe what everyone is telling them. Over time this constant negative feedback translates to constant negative self talk, and thus the behavior begins.  

     As my daughter began her college applications, one University essay asked if she had ever experienced adversity and could she describe how she handled that situation. The process of opening up about her academic adversity was so good for her, it truly began the dialogue that got me here today.  Each of my children in turn wrote about their journey to their diagnoses.  I was not only their parent, but also their educator. If there was one pervasive, consistently prevalent theme that linked all the essays together it could be summed up in one word: shame.  I simply missed the shame they were overwhelmed with.  And that was in a homeschool, that was just among family, and these were my children. Compound that by the pressures in school, the authoritative position of a teacher.  Imagine, for example,  what correcting peers’ spelling test weekly might do to one’s self esteem. 

     The culture of today is under the gross misunderstanding that inherent in the population of dyslexics are behavioral outcasts. The truth of this is that behavioral challenges so keenly associated with dyslexics are most often a reaction to this pervasive and persistent negativity they receive because of the condition! This behavior is not caused by, dyslexia itself! But, rather, by the negative feedback everywhere for failure to thrive in a false paradigm;  it is a consequence of the paradigm we have permitted for our student population. 

     Ben Foss, author of the Dyslexic Empowerment Plan tells us that individuals who cannot read or who have trouble reading, have the same amount of shame as individuals who have engaged in incest. (Tedx talk, November, 2016).These are the consequences of the paradigm we have not only tolerated, but supported.  I promise you the brilliance of these students is untapped, unlocked as of yet.  Permitting the current paradigm of reading and writing as the determinant of intelligence, we are not merely excluding a population, we are destroying a population.

     When I asked Natalie, a dyslexic, twenty year old graduate of the school system, what  one thing she would like teachers to know, she responded astutely: “I want them to know the difference between sympathy and empathy.  I don’t want them to pity me, to feel sorry for me, I want them to understand me.”  Sympathy yielded pity and pity yielded shame.  This is a result no one, absolutely no one, wishes for. 

     A dyslexic tutor shared with me that there was so much shame in the parent of a dyslexic child whom she tutored weekly that that parent would not acknowledge the other student/parent as they passed, every single week, at the tutor’s house.  

     Molly is a current dyslexic junior in high school. She is from a loving supportive family, with two brilliant professional parents. After ten years attending a private school, Molly concludes,  “I hate myself.”  

     Natalie is working two part time jobs at age 20, at a tanning bed and a pub.  She is from a very supportive and highly intelligent family (a lawyer and a brilliantly successful salesman). She summarized her educational experience by saying that it took her two years after graduation to “detox from the hell of the past 12 years.”

     My homeschool has Zero Tolerance for Shame.  Again, this mantra came about as a result of a process. My daughter was applying for the Anne Ford Disability Scholarship. The first draft of her scholarship essay was antiseptic, a mere chronology of events.  Why?  Because it was simply too difficult for my daughter to go there--to reflect on and talk about her feelings as her diagnoses unfolded.  It took her months to write her essay, and she admits to getting so nervous she made herself sick. Equally she admits, however, that the process was wholly cathartic. She did not win the scholarship, but the process was worth much more than any particular sum. Read Maggie's story here.