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Personal Stories

The Dyslexic Writer

By: Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee

"Genius? Nothing! Sticking to it is the genius! I've failed my way to success." -Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison states that sticking to life is genius, and that not giving up and failing your way to success is true genius. I have found that it is important for me to live my life embracing Mr. Edison's motto. By sticking it out and not giving up, I have managed to achieve my personal success. However, this journey has not been without its many battles, due in large part to my multiple learning disabilities. But I have found the weapon of survival is finding the humor intertwined in the mistakes that I make in my daily confrontations with life.

I have a free-spirited, ornery, opinionated, strong-willed, yet understanding and devoted seventy year-old literary helper. When I can't get my computer to read for me, she comes to my rescue by reading my mail. With one sweep of the keyboard, she can turn my jumbled writing into a legible document. We work well together, and have developed a strong and effective writing system involving dictation based on mutual respect that allows my voice to be heard.

Somewhere during the time we started working together, she decided to keep a log of humorous situations that I got myself into. "Christopher frequently writes pieces that are unintentionally risqué," notes Theresa. "Once, at a meeting, he went to the flip chart to list committee titles. His first entry was to be Public Relations, but he printed Pubic Relations. Another time he gave me an email message to edit. He meant to write that he messed up and spent the entire day with his secretary correcting an important document. His email draft, after correction, read: I was messing around with my secretary all day. Then, at another meeting, he mentioned how he heard that then presidential candidate George W. Bush had been convicted of a DUI (Driving Under the Influence), but it came out IUD (Intra-Uterine Device)."

It was once quoted, "I'm definitely, positively, maybe indecisive." I believe these words speak volumes in understanding the intricacies of the human brain and how it processes learning. Most the time I feel definitely, positively, and maybe indecisive about the way I perceive information.

Nothing I hear seems to stick with me and nothing I say seems to come out right. It is as though I am in a world where the air is packed with floating symbols. I watch as everyone swallows the symbols, digesting them to produce something that everyone else understands, but I can only swallow bits and peaces. Choking, I remain hungry in my struggle to find a way to communicate and comprehend effectively.

As a student, when standing in front of the classroom, I did my best to recall the ways to spell, to read and to say the words and phases that I needed in order to connect and communicate with my peers and teachers. I had my thoughts organized, and I knew what I wanted to say, I just couldn't find or understand the method required to get my thoughts across. This left me feeling very alone and frustrated, and in my mind and heart I longed to decipher the code of language.

Yes, I am a perfectionist, striving to be the best I can be in this world. I work very hard to fit in and succeed in a world not set up for my twisted perception of language. My story is not so unique from the high percentage of people in the United States who also deal with learning disabilities. The one major difference is that I am making it, succeeding as defined by societies' standards. I am a high school and collage graduate, co-captain of the University of Georgia swim team my senior year, a writer, publishing my first book at age twenty-three with co-author Rosemary Jackson, a public speaker, and a director of a disability assistive-technology program, a small business owner, a system change advocate, and a student working on my Ph.D. I have been featured on CNN with my story picked up by the Associated Press and most recently profiled in an article published by Microsoft Corporation in 2002.

Yet, I was diagnosed with a cognitive deficit disorder in the second grade, placed in special education and speech classes, scored 650 on my SAT, and required to work my way through developmental studies before I was mainstreamed at the University of Georgia. Mine is a story too commonly experienced by parents and teachers around the world. I was doomed to failure from the start. However, I was one of the fortunate ones and beat the system. Funneling my energies into a hobby and developing a strong support network became my salvation. Through my support network, an academic action plan involving tutors, mentors, strategies, and accommodations was developed. The final piece that needed to be mastered was to learn through role-playing lifelong communication skills including the ability to disclose my learning disabilities, promote my strengths, and manage my weaknesses. After doing this I was on the path to success.

Unfortunately, I was not prepared for my transition from college to the work world. As a result of losing my collegiate support network, a period of job failure and low self-esteem set in. Even with a college diploma I did not possess the necessary skills or support system to succeed in the workplace. I could get the job but could not maintain it, a problem common for most adults with learning disabilities. Eventually I found the right job and was introduced to another salvation by a friend of mine who is a quadriplegic. By following his lead and watching other individuals with physical disabilities, I discovered my career-saving salvation of Assistive Technology (AT)*. Soon, I was able to read and write with stronger assurance by utilizing computer screen readers, talking word processors, and word prediction/aberration software programs.

I have discovered that achieving success involves developing an action plan that is "task" driven. By looking at the task, be it writing a paper, reading a menu, or passing the GED test, it is best to break each activity down into specific tasks, and then incorporate strategies, accommodations, and the right support system to achieve success. I have attached an action chart and resources below to help match specific areas of difficulty with the appropriate strategies and accommodations. This chart places an emphasis on Assistive Technology that will help the individual with remediation and accommodation.

When speaking, I have often been asked what I consider to be the most important lesson I have learned in dealing with my unique learning and communication approach. In pondering this question, I recall a girl named Janet who became my friend in the second grade. Janet was with out speech and did not hear. Yet, we became best friends that year at the special school we both attended. Today, I am still not sure how we communicated, but I do know Janet left me with my most valuable lesson that I take with me each day: "Maybe we aren't so different after all, we just need to find the right way to communicate in order to make things right."

Disability Resource Associates
P.O. Box 1578
Decatur, GA 30031-1578
Web: www.christophermlee.com
Phone: 404.408.5988
Fax: 404.288.4346
Email: christopherlee@mindspring.com

Visit LD OnLine's Multimedia section to watch Chris Lee in A Chance to Read: Access Granted.