My Name is Mackenzie, and I am Dyslexic.
My name is Mackenzie, and I am dyslexic.
Some of my earliest memories of school are feelings of frustration, confusion, sadness, and feeling lonely. Another memory that still makes my stomach hurt today is trying to memorize math facts. I have a great memory for some things; song lyrics, things people say, and pictures. But, remembering letters and numbers is a totally different story. My brain doesn’t hang onto letters and numbers as easily as it does images. That makes learning math facts in elementary school extremely difficult. I have had to teach myself tricks for memorizing things that have letters and numbers in them. For example, I use song lyrics to help me remember how to spell certain words because recalling the alphabet is hard for me.
In 5th grade, my class was expected to read the book Tangerine. Shhhhh...don’t tell (sorry, Mom!) but I never read it. I couldn’t. The words were so hard for me. The worst part was that we had to read it out loud in class. I would raise my hand because I wanted to participate, I wanted to read out loud, but when I was called on, I would say, “never mind.” In that moment, the words looked like spaghetti to me; tangled all up like a jumbled mess. It made my head spin. I hated popcorn reading. It was the worst thing, ever.
My teacher knew that I was struggling with reading because she would give me reading assessments. She told me that I couldn’t read very well so she would send me out of the classroom during the literacy block when the other kids would be reading and writing. I had to either read in the hallway or do iReady lessons by myself in the library. I so badly wanted to be like my peers and I thought doing the iReady lessons would help me be a better reader, so I tried really hard. At first, I passed the lessons easily because the lessons were about words like ‘dog’ and ‘cat’. But, then the lessons became about blends (sh, ch, th) and it was really hard for me. Eventually, I figured out how to just skip through the levels of the iReady.
Then, on a Monday in April, my parents took me to get tested for dyslexia. They explained to me that I had some gaps in my learning and needed help. I didn’t want to get tested because I wasn’t sure what that would be like. I envisioned needles, shots, and doctors. I was so scared that I locked myself in the car and refused to go inside. Eventually, my parents talked me into getting out of the car and trusting them with the process of getting tested.
During testing, I felt a little uncomfortable and felt like it was I-ready all over again. Once we got into it, was actually kind of fun. (But, not like the fun you would have at amusement park. A different kind of fun.) When the testing was over, we went to Macaroni Grill and my parents told me that I was dyslexic. My dad drew me a picture of a brain on the paper placemat between us. He explained that my brain works differently from other brains, and that I just needed a different type of teaching and way to learn. My brain works with pictures instead of words. I think of my brain the way I think of puzzles. My brain prefers to see the whole puzzle first, and then I can take it apart and make sense of the pieces. Other brains, non-dyslexic brains, can begin with the pieces and put them together to make the whole picture. I later learned that being able to see the big picture or quickly understand the big picture is a strength of a dyslexic brain. (It’s one of many strengths of a dyslexic brain, actually!)
At first, I thought dyslexia was a disease. I thought it was like having cancer. That was before I knew it was a advantage, not a disadvantage. Before I knew it actually means I can see the world in a totally different, really neat way compared to other people. It wasn’t until I talked to a boy at school about dyslexia, and found out he was also dyslexic. I remember that was the first moment, after finding out I had it, that I didn’t think it was a bad thing.
Soon after that, I started reading intervention. This was work that taught my brain the way it needed to learn. I started learning about how letters and sounds work together, and the rules for reading and spelling. It was easy at first, and then It got a more difficult but I didn’t give up. I kept working and showing up week after week, willing to learn and work hard!
I didn’t really realize how much things were changing for me or how much better I was reading until other people pointed it out ot me. I went from getting D’s and F’s in sixth grade to getting A’s, B’s, and C’s the next year. My friends didn’t understand how I could be dyslexic, but still get good grades. I had to explain to them that dyslexia is a sign of intelligence.
Now, when I look back on my journey, I am proud of how far I have come. If I could give advice to someone who may be going through what I went through, I would tell them to advocate for themselves; talk to your parents, tell them that reading is hard. Talk to your teachers, ask for help. Believe in yourself, don’t give up on yourself and ask to get tested. It helps to have answers and to understand why things felt so hard for so long.