Throwback#1 – Starting High School
As promised last week, today I’m going to share with you my student life until I started High School. In this post, I give you some definitions, which only aim to help you understand the complexity of some concepts.
So, let’s rewind a little bit to the 4th grade when I was diagnosed with dyslexia. As you can imagine, I was super young and didn’t really know what that meant… To tell you the truth, it wasn’t until I turned 15-16 years old that I slowly started to understand! Now, I’m aware that not everyone understands what dyslexia is, the International Dyslexia Association website provides the following definition:
“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
Mostly, it’s tough to focus, to read, to write without grammatical errors, to do math in your head, and to organize. For example, imagine we are in a room discussing something and there is a window in front of us, you ask me to only look at lock of the window, nothing else just look the lock. Well, I’m going to look at the lock and then at the bird passing. Then I remembered that it would be great if we could fly, and I think that I really like airplanes. Still, then I see a car passing by, and then I think I really want to drive, and then I remembered the movie Cars and that there is a Disney movie coming out soon. So, it’s not that I don’t want to do what you asked or that I didn’t try enough. I simply can’t focus, my brain is thinking of 50 things at the same time and not filtering on what I should be targeting – the lock on the window. Reading is tough, too, at least for me. I have to read a text at least 3-4 times to fully comprehend what it is about, and I have to be completely concentrated because if I’m distracted, I have to start again. Here is an example of what happens when I’m trying to read, go to this website and try to read the text:
See, it’s very difficult…. So, I really think that this may help you understand a little bit about what we feel. Because I know that some people don’t understand, and because of that, they think we are stupid, dumb, not smart at all… Well, NOT THE CASE!!!!
But, either way, I was diagnosed, and my parents started researching to try and find out possible strategies to help me. And after a while, they came across a specialised therapist to be more specific, a “Special Education and Psychomotor Therapist”. Essentially, it’s a professional that gives you individual attention and focuses on maximizing your abilities for successful learning, development, and functioning at school, work, home, and relationships. Every week she would come twice to my house for one hour, and just helped with everything, from cleaning my desk (which I never did) to help organize my study schedule. In the beginning, it was really hard because, again, I didn’t really understand the purpose of sitting down for an hour to read, clean, organize, or do homework.
Fast forward to the 5th grade, when my parents found out that besides dyslexia, I had a visual perception deficit. According to the Advanced Vision Therapy Center website:
“Visual perception refers to the way in which the brain interprets and processes visual information. Visual perception is not tested using an eye chart – the ability to read the 20/20 row does not mean a person is free of visual perception deficits. Visual perceptual deficits can affect academic performance in areas such as reading and math as well as sports performance and other day to day activities.”
In my case, every image at a 10 cm distance from my eyes would be duplicated, and my peripherical vision was super small. Being even more challenging to read, focus, and study. As a result, my grades were not good at all, I even got a 19% in a Portuguese test. I remember that when I received a test with a grade between 45-49%, I would come home and tell my parents that I almost had a positive. So, with all of this happening at the same time, I transformed a little bit into an angry person. I screamed with everyone, I thought everyone was making jokes about me. To be completely honest, my friends would last a few months, because no one really understood what was happening, not even me.
As the years passed, in the 7th grade my therapist and my parents decided that I should go to a neuro-pediatrician. And afterwards I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD; so he prescribed Ritalin. During the 3rd grade, for a few weeks/months, I had tried, but I was really young, and my parents thought I was behaving strangely, so they stopped giving it to me. But this time, because both my therapist and the neuro-pediatrician recommended, I started retaking them.
Now, I know there are different positions about giving pills, and I do understand both. On the one hand, it slows down your brain and filters everything your thinking to focus only on what you need to; it helps you be more organized and, more importantly, to study. On the other hand, it makes you VERY VERY anti-social, you don’t really want to talk to anyone, you just want to focus, it completely changes your behaviour. So, I do get both positions. In my case, in a way, the pills really helped get where I am right now.
However, it depends on each person and the goals they have. If you are given the appropriate strategies to deal with it, if you learn how it works, but more importantly, how it works for you, I think the pill can be an advantage. And I do know that I was a one in a million case because my parents and my family had the possibility of giving me all the strategies that I needed.
As the years went by, I started to understand how it worked on me and started using all the tools my therapist and parents gave me. Gradually, my grades started to get better and better. In the beginning, every session with my therapist would start with her asking me what I had to do for school, which I never knew, so we would spend half of the time searching through everything to try and find out. By the time I was in High School, it drastically changed, and the sessions would start with me showing and explaining her the list of things I had to do.
So, by the end of High School, my grades were between average and good, I finished with an average of 15 (out of 20). I was super organized, not only in terms of studying but also in my life. I set goals for the year, the month, the week, and for the day. I make lists for everything. Again, yes, it was super organized, but I studied much more than usual, I would start preparing for a test two months before, I would study during weekends (still do). Overall, I achieved this with a lot of LUCK, but also HARD WORK.
NEVERTHELESS, I DO NOT THINK ANYONE CAN TAKE THE PILLS!!! As I grew up, I started understanding that nowadays, a lot of people take it just to study more, without needing it. And I have to address this because it really upsets me. If you don’t need to take them, DON’T. Because yes it has advantages, but it also has disadvantages. For example, if someone had a heart problem and had to take pills (which had a side effect of helping you concentrate), you wouldn’t take the pills because it could help you focus… right? Then don’t take a pill that treats ADHD, if you don’t have ADHD… It’s basic thinking. I take it because I need it, without it I wouldn’t be able to do most of the things I do… It is a necessity for me… AND PLEASE SEE A DOCTOR BEFORE TAKING THE PILLS.
Advanced Vision Therapy Center (2020) Visual Perception. [online] available at: <https://www.advancedvisiontherapycenter.com/about/blog/e_927/Signs_of_a_Vision_Problem/2016/7/Visual_Perception.htm> [9 March 2020].
International Dyslexia Association (2020) Definition Of Dyslexia. [online] available at: <https://dyslexiaida.org/definition-of-dyslexia/> [9 March 2020].