Overcoming and Removing Obstacles to Realize Success
I wear many hats. I am a researcher. I am a person who struggled and continues to struggle with something that we have historically called dyslexia. And I am the parent of a child who struggles with dyslexia. Because I am also a gluten for punishment, I spent two years training as a reading therapist after receiving my Ph.D. All of this training makes me a research practitioner. I am trained and qualified to practice what I study. And vice versa. I am trained and qualified to study what I practice. As a research practitioner, I continue to work with children and families using my practical skills. I also actively give back to the larger community in various ways. These are both musts for me because they keep my practical skills fresh. It also keeps me honest when I work with literacy leaders and teachers in schools and teach and train college students.
One way that I keep my practical skills sharp is to consult with parents about their children's literacy skills and school experiences. I recently consulted with a family. Their child was in the 5th grade. In first grade, he was identified as needing support within the general education setting in tiers 2 and 3. As a result, he received a structured intervention targeting his reading and spelling deficits for several years. Those efforts remediated his deficits in phonological awareness and word reading skills. He was making As and Bs in his classes. However, he was still a slow reader, he struggled with spelling, and writing was a challenge. These continued struggles were all documented by testing that his school had recently conducted. His parents consulted with me because the school was struggling to justify continued intervention for their son.
So, the family came in, and I looked at the kiddo and asked, "What do you need to help you in school?" He said, "I have a hard time writing because of my spelling and handwriting." Then, I looked at him and asked. "How are the spelling tests going?" "Well, not so good. I study 45 minutes every night, and then I go in and take the tests and do not do very well on them. Last week my teacher graded my test and looked at me, and said, 'You obviously are not working hard enough at home on this.' I could see the pain in his eyes as he said that.
I took a breath and replied, "You have a long life ahead of you to forgive people for what they do not know. Your teacher cannot see the work you did outside of school to get that grade. She does not see the extra time that it takes you to get through your nightly readings for school. It was hurtful to you that she said those things based on what she did not know. It would have been more helpful if she had asked you how much time you had spent studying and what you had done to prepare for the test. The consultation continued, and I provided concrete recommendations on engaging in conversations with the school and using state standards and state policy and procedures to advocate for this determined, hardworking child.
His experience of hurt and pain stuck with me because it was all too familiar. I have experienced similar interactions with teachers in my life, and variations of this snapshot of life play out countless times for others. The simple truth of the matter is that people can't see the effort that goes into what each of us does to get by in life. It's invisible to them. This reality forces us to rely on compassion to forgive people for things they don't know, as we hope they will forgive us for those things that we don't know. And we have to remember that the words of others do not define us. It is how we respond to their words.
Another way that I engage with the larger community is by providing counsel to people struggling with obstacles that I overcame or am in the process of overcoming. A few days after the meeting I just described, I received an email from someone reaching out for guidance from half a world away living in a country I have never visited. The subject of the email read, "I'm dyslexic." It went on to read. "I am a third-year psychology major studying at university. I really want to do a Ph.D. program after I graduate. After studying at university for the last three years, my confidence in my writing skills and general attitude to the academic field has fallen so low that I am currently unable to pick myself up. I honestly do not know why I am emailing you. I recently heard your talk on YouTube and wondered what gave you the courage to go for your Ph.D.? Was it tough? How did you get through it? How did you overcome your challenges every day?"
My response to her read in part as follows. "Pick yourself up. You have fallen before. Brush off the dust. It will float away with the wind. And keep moving forward along the path that you create for yourself. As I look back on the path that I blazed for myself, I can say that it did not get easier. It got different. The obstacles I face today are different than the obstacles I met when I was in my third year of undergraduate study in Psychology. The challenges that you face are specific to you and your life experiences. We likely share some of the same struggles. Writing was and still is very difficult for me. It took me a tremendous amount of time to write papers that would not score as well as one would think based on the information and ideas in my head.
But the rules of the game are set. We must write to advance in school and, depending on the career a person selects, life. So, it is up to us to adapt how we play the game based on the rules that govern how it can be played. Because it is how we choose to overcome the limitations put upon us by our weaknesses and play to our strengths that determine how well we overcome these obstacles. And if you get the chance to inform how the rulebook is written, take it.
It takes a considerable amount of focus on my part to write. It does not flow effortlessly. I create space and time for writing. As much as possible, I keep the distractions to a minimum and curate a space that feels comfortable to me. Also, I use technology to aid me in writing now that apps exist. Spell check is ever-present. And I use text to speech at times to hear my words read aloud to me. With practice and lots of time working on it, I have gotten better at writing.
As you move forward, pick a path that you want to go down and curate a world around you that allows you to overcome the obstacles that will present themselves along your path. Your path will be different than any others, and your path will have challenges and opportunities that no one else has."
What stuck with me about her email was the courage it took this young woman to reach out to a stranger halfway around the world. She must have felt isolated, alone, and unseen. And I understood her feelings of isolation. I am sharing her experience and the experience of that 5th grader to make their struggles and others like them visible. The people in those experiences are real. I know the pain of those who have reached out to me for help. Their pain is real. And that pain is not a feeling that I want them to have to feel if they don't have to.
Look, life isn't fair. That was my mother's motto for life. Anytime my sister or I objected and said that something was unfair, she would retort. "Whoever lied to you and told you that life is fair?" A life lesson that people like my mother born into a life of disadvantage learn from a very early age.
We aren't going to remove every obstacle that a person will face in life. You are not always going to get into your top college pick or get the job you want. You will get a broken heart or two or three. But we should strive to remove those obstacles that we can, especially when we have learned how to overcome and remove them as a society. Life is hard enough just dealing with the obstacles that we can't make go away. So why make it any harder on ourselves by leaving those obstacles that we can remove standing in the way of our success.
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- Finding Children with Dyslexia in a Sea of Struggling Readers: The Struggles are Real Jul 19, 2021