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Personal Stories

How Reading and Writing Have Shaped My Life

By: Kathy Green

This is a tale of an adult with nonverbal LD, and how I've put my strengths to use in compensating for my weaknesses in nonverbal skills.

When I was three years old, I learned the alphabet. My mother taught me the ABCs herself. However, I learned my letters via an unorthodox way. I learned the letters "N-Z" first, then I learned the letters "A-N." At that point, I put them all together.

From my earliest years, reading was an integral part of my life. My mother and my older sisters all loved to read. My mother not only taught me the alphabet at an early age, she saw to it that I was supplied with books. She purchased picture books for me and checked them out of the library as well. And she read to me regularly. Night after night, I would take stacks of storybooks to her, and while I sat in her lap, she would read them to me. As a result, I learned to read at the age of five.

In a way, it's paradoxical that I learned to read so early, because unlike the speech skills of most children with nonverbal learning disabilities, mine were delayed. (Normally, kids with NLD learn to speak and to read at precociously early ages, after which they rapidly develop unusually advanced vocabularies.) I spoke my first words at two years of age; my first sentence when I was three or four; and I still used baby talk when I was five. In first grade, I still couldn't pronounce the blend "th." Instead, I pronounced it as "f."

(Because I was so late in learning to talk, I was once mis-diagnosed as retarded. When I was five or six years old, a psychologist, while testing me, asked me to tell him what a stove was. Because I lacked the speech skills to define a stove, I drew him a picture of one. He recommended that I attend a school for mentally retarded children. I did--for one day.)

Once I finally learned to speak, however, I became a chatty, talkative child by nature. In fact, one of the things others would complain of was, "You talk too much!"

At some point during my early childhood years, I discovered the joys of creative writing. I can still remember the first story I ever wrote, though I can no longer recite it by heart. It was a short, heavily-illustrated tale about a ghost.

From that time on, I wrote incessantly. I wrote story after story after story. Whenever I didn't know the spelling of a word, I would ask my mother to supply it. As a result, as is typical for a child with a nonverbal learning disability, my spelling and grammar skills rapidly advanced. Needless to say, from the beginning, my family encouraged my creative writing. (Curiously, in spite of all my years of writing practice, my writing skills never really matured. Even today, my handwriting resembles that of a child. On the plus side, though, it was never the laborious struggle for me it is for many dyslexic and NLD children. I've always been able to produce legible writing without effort.)

Throughout my growing-up years, I wrote stories simply because I enjoyed doing so. It was--and is--something that gave me a source of badly-needed self-esteem. Because of my nonverbal LD, I was a poor athlete, and my social skills were even poorer. I was never good at math, though I could generally manage basic arithmetic calculations without undue difficulty. (Even today, my mental-math skills are practically nonexistent, and math that requires mathematical reasoning--such as algebra and geometry--is quite hard for me.) My chances of competing and winning on the playground were, alas, virtually nil. But in my language arts skills, I could compete with the best of them. Reading, grammar and punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, rote memorization, etc., were areas I knew I could do well in. So was creative writing.

My love of reading and writing enriched my life in so many ways. Through books, I learned so much about the world, about life, and got to escape the real world's trials and tribulations. It would be impossible to list all the books I've read through the years--there have simply been too many. But every one has added to my life in some way. And writing has given me a marvelous creative outlet as well as developing my language-arts abilities. That, in turn, has played a vital part in helping me to overcome the weaknesses caused by my NLD, and nowadays, it plays an even greater role.

As an adult, I've acquired formal training in creative writing. During the 1990s, I studied with two correspondence schools: Writer's Digest School and The Institute of Children's Literature. Thanks to them, I've been able to achieve a professional level in my fiction writing that I hope will lead to book and magazine publication. In addition, I took journalism courses at a state university.

The skills I acquired at that university have helped me greatly since. From November, 1998, to July, 2000, I used my writing skills to make some money. During that time, I worked as a part-time corresponding reporter (otherwise known as a "stringer") for a small-town newspaper. I covered school board meetings and special events, and I wrote human-interest feature stories. So, in spite of my NLD, I was able to not only make some spending money, but I also gained valuable experience I hope will get me a steady job in the future. (I've since moved to another state and am in the process of seeking employment.)

I've also put my love of reading to use, financially. In the fall of 1999, the local elementary school in the town where I lived hired me to read the books it collected for a reading program, and to write a quiz for each one; I spent the rest of the school year doing just that. In addition, last spring, I copyedited some papers a friend of mine had written, for which she paid me. So I have gotten much-needed opportunities to use my strengths and interests to gain job experience and to make some money. My goal, at present, is to use my experience to find steady employment in my new city of residence.

In addition, the Internet offers me a way to keep my hand in, regarding fiction-writing.

(Owing to copyright restrictions, I can never make any money off them, but they're a great way to gain exposure!) One of my dreams is to become a children's book author, and I have taken some steps during this past year to achieve that. I've written a children's mystery novel featuring a dyslexic heroine.

The advice I have for other NLD adults is this: in addition to remediating your weaknesses, find out what you're good at and zero in on your strengths and aptitudes. Because it is through using them that you have the best chance of achieving success in the world.

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