15 April 2019

Dyslexics Untied

Even though I have never officially been diagnosed, I'm mildly dyslexic. I've know for about 40 years, mostly because when I taught, I noticed characteristics in students' writing that I'd learned were red flags...and I had them, too. Nobody noticed them in me because I read well enough so my teachers paid little attention to me unless they needed someone to read a long passage in our primer aloud.

My writing didn't display many of the usual signs until I reached my late 30s. By then, I wore bifocals and my astigmatism was also a problem. I became aware that when I was tired, my cursive writing ran words together if the last letter of one word was also the first letter of the next one: thevening or sociallimits, stuff like that. It wasn't an issue when I typed.

My main problem comes out with numbers. The usual term is "dyscalculia," but that's not accurate in my case. I have little trouble with math or arithmetic facts. I still do calculations (accurately) in my head, and I loved plane and solid geometry in school. But I'm apt to reverse digits if I write a series of numbers. Credit card numbers, account numbers on invoices, and other such financial documents become a true adventure.

When I was in grade school, I often had one wrong answer on the weekly arithmetic tests, and with the benefit of 50-plus years of hindsight, I understand that the problem was always written at the extreme far side of the chalkboard so I saw it at an angle. My arithmetic was correct, but I would copy one digit inaccurately and the teacher marked the answer wrong without looking at my work.

Years later, when I became a teacher and we used computers in the classroom, students would come to me early in the year and say they couldn't find their grades on the printouts I posted. I posted by ID number to maintain anonymity (although everyone knew who got the best and worst marks), and I found that I reversed digits in the six-digit student numbers. Oops. Once I knew that, it became standard for me to warn kids the first day of class. In fact, it became one of my popular stand-up routines.

Now that I'm retired from teaching, I've discovered a new twist to my dysfunction. I'm trying to teach myself to play piano (pause for uproarious laughter) and I occasionally play the wrong staff with one hand or the other. Since the notes occupy different positions on the respective clefs, it creates some frightening harmony. Some jazz buffs or Schoenberg fans might love it, but my ear is good enough to recognize dissonance when I hear it. (Years later, I wonder if dyslexia helped Victor Borge play piano compositions upside down, which I often saw him do.)

I've played one instrument or another since age 10, but I don't read music well (although my grasp of theory is solid--go figure). Part of that could be lack of practice. As a guitar-playing friend says, "If God wanted us to read piano music, He would have put our eyes above one another." The good news is now that I'm trying to read music more often, I seem to learn new songs more quickly.

Another small bonus to dyslexia is my passwords on various sites. I often use names or quotations BACKWARDS and seldom have to think about them because spelling backwards is not a big deal. Think of palindromes. "Able was I ere I saw Elba," for example. My wife needs a printout of all of them because she can't spell that way (pause to gloat). However, she can read printed material upside down.

By the way, if you recite

the alphabet backwards, you'll discover that the rhyme and rhythm are even more lyrical and easier to remember than the "correct" way:

Z Y X and W V,    U T S and R Q P,     O N M, and L K J,   I H G, F E D C B A.

Since you asked....


  1. Steve, it's interesting that you say your writing didn't display any signs of it till your 30s. I know you mentioned bifocals an astigmatism. Do you think those caused the problems and, if so, that doesn't seem like it would be "real" dyslexia but something more due to those things than whatever causes dyslexia. But then I'm not really sure how it all works.

  2. Paul,

    I don't know if any of it relates to anything else. I'm looking at the synchronicity more than anything else. I do know that I'm more apt to make mistakes if I've been writing a lot so my eyes are tired, but that's true of most people. A lot of it may simply be wandering concentration.

    Any other dyslexics here to weigh in?

  3. From my girlfriend: If life gives you melons, you may have dyslexia. I love it.

    I have ADD that sometimes mimics or masks (depending) symptoms of dyslexia. Weirdly, I have east-west dyslexia. I mentally map well, but if the words east or west arise, I have to pause and mentally work out which way is which. North-south, no problem.

    Steve, there is a font created to combat dyslexia. The official version that might demand a fee, but there are one or two clones of the same font out there, Check it out.

  4. Love the backwards alphabet!
    I have the opposite problem - I call myself a professional reader, because that's my preferred format, and I can understand anything if you give me written instructions / directions / information. Give me a video and I have to watch it a bunch of times. I am out of step with modern world.

  5. Steve, you'll enjoy the hekc out of this:


  6. Ozark spelled backwards is Krazo.

    I studied violin from 3rd through 7th grade. I hated it, but was good at it & my parents didn't allow me to quit music until 8th grade when I created a schedule conflict. I forgot all of it. Couldn't read music now to save my life.

  7. I can't spell the simplest thing backwards.

    I'm less extreme as Eve in that I prefer written instructions but can follow videos. What I can't do is follow audio recorded instructions. Those cassettes we used to see drove me crazy. Following verbal directions seems to use up too much of my brain. By the time I soak in the instruction, I've forgotten where I am or what I'm doing.

    It took me a moment to get the melons joke. Joshpac's video is cute. Good ones.

  8. Josh, I'd completely forgotten Soupy Sales. And Leigh, tell your girlfriend I'm stealing the melons joke.

    Eve and Anne, I have a terrible time following verbal directions. They have to come one step at a time. I'm a kinesthetic learner, and didn't figure that out until late in life, either (too?). If I practice something a few times, I can learn it better than by having it explained. I can watch something and get it, but not as easily.

    I'm a decent typist because I learned touch system in ninth grade. In spite of not processing verbal instructions well, I have a decent ear for pitch and music in general. Somewhere along the line, I suspect I was supposed to be someone else...or maybe more than one.

  9. Steve,
    I empathize. I’m mildly dyslexic. I was sent to special reading classes because I couldn’t sight read by third grade. I also repeated first and second grade by the time I was sent for special phonetic reading classes. Most of this happened before anyone knew what dyslexia was.
    In high school my Mom made me take businesses classes. I failed steno completely the first year. I had three years of typing with the steno and office practice classes which I barely passed. I memorized the keyboard but couldn’t pass the timed typing tests.
    I am addicted fiction reader and writer, but anything technical is a problem for me. I can’t follow written directions. I learned to sew and won the sewing award in school but to this day I can’t read a pattern sheet. I had a wonderful sewing teacher who explained and showed me how to sew. Gym was another of my great classes. I could pitch softball, but can’t hit to save my life.
    While teaching adult fiction writing I had a student who told me her son was cop but had trouble typing up his reports. Seems he couldn’t read his notes and type at the same time. Remember my steno class…same thing. About that same time I got a part-time job using a Dictaphone. I had no trouble typing things and typing them fast. I just can’t read and type at the same time.
    When I type I have to watch certain words. Which I mix up the I and c, that I mix the h and a, etc. Thank heaven for spell check.
    I do have to be careful with numbers. Learned that in bookkeeping I and II, and office practice.
    I met Stephen J. Cannell twice and we discussed being dyslexic and writing both times. He encouraged me to keep writing.
    I never tried music but I’ll bet I’d have trouble reading the music. I memorize everything.
    Pat Marinelli

  10. My brain was such a mess of dyslexia and a.d.d. that no teacher figured I'd apply for college, never mind survive 4 years. What I found was multimedia helped me, specially documentaries and taped tutorials with lots of charts, pictures, and specially animations. I think why it worked was bombarding multiple senses plus the ability to rewind. Now I work with electronic circuits, that works for me.


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