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I recently asked my little brother, who has struggled with reading, to read this word:
Remeliptivate is a word that may be used in a study of struggling readers. It is pronounceable, and follows normal spelling rules. It is structured like a normal word, with common letter groupings — like re- and -tivate — but remeliptivate is a nonsense word. Nonsense words are designed to test if a child really can read — because nonsense word fluency is “prerequisite to word identification” (DIBELS) — or if he/she is just “faking it” with a command of “sight words”.
My little brother, Greg, starts slowly:
rĕ·mĕl — lĭpt — tā — vĭ …
Greg is not so little; he towers over me at 6' 2". He’s never been evaluated for dyslexia, but he did struggle with learning to read.
Greg can read. “I like to read stories so I read a lot of stories,” he says. He likes to read fantasy fiction. He read all four then existing books of the Harry Potter series when he was about 9 years old. In fact, Greg just graduated from Utah Valley University with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. He’s now starting a Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
“I think it was harder for me to learn how to read,” he says, “but when I started reading eventually, I think I caught up in a way — I mean, I’m still not a fast reader — ”
Greg didn’t attend elementary school. Greg’s parents had successfully taught two of Greg’s older siblings to read — Nich and Heather — without sending them to any preschool or elementary school. Greg’s struggle tested patience. Greg recalls,
“I vividly remember once when I was six, I wanted play outside. I couldn’t because I wasn’t done with my schooling, because I still had to read this book. It was just a simple kids book. I was having such a hard time and my mom was sitting there with me, helping me sound out the words. She said ok, sound out this word, and I’d try to sound it out. It just wouldn’t come to me. I was frustrated and started crying and it was just super hard to get through it.”
Our parents began homeschooling before Greg was even born. None of Greg’s six older siblings had any trouble learning to read, with possible exception of myself.
We would often read together as a family, taking turns reading. This practice is called round-robin reading and has been practiced in schools for more than 300 years. Ginni Fair, in a 2011 article, wrote that there “seems to be no research to support [round-robin reading],” and that “being told to read aloud can be a humiliating experience for students, and one mistake can result in merciless teasing from their peers” (Fair 226). Recalling our family read-alongs Greg says,
“it would just take me a long time to read through it, but I wasn’t really embarrassed because it was just my family; whereas if I was at public school I might have been more embarrassed to read out loud because I might have felt behind.”
Greg says he didn’t think of himself as a struggling reader. With practice, reading does become easier. He says, “I feel like the reason I wasn’t so bad at reading is because I ended up doing a lot of it. Being homeschooled you can choose where you focus your learning, and I like to read stories so I read a lot of stories.”
Age segregation in the classroom does allow ample opportunity for stark comparison of oneself with one’s peers, so being homeschooled was beneficial for Greg. It wasn’t until he enrolled in public middle school that he realized most others his age could read faster. “Given enough time,” he says, “I can read just fine.” I ask if he remembers feeling different or less than.
“I feel like maybe my imagination was different. Whereas other people needed things spelled out to them, I could imagine things better. I could imagine things in my head and make connections in my head easier than other people.”
School continues to be challenging for Greg. “In high school and in college, I still never really read the textbook because it would take me twice as long to read the chapter; or maybe even longer than that. Even then I didn’t get that much out of it as much as I did just listening to lecture,” he says.
Greg is fortunate. Dyslexia can discourage, distract, and otherwise disable even very intelligent children. In fact, Bernt Skottun defines dyslexia as the discrepancy between intelligence and reading performance: “Dyslexia is typically diagnosed using discrepancy scores, which measure the difference between the reading performance and the reading performance predicted on the basis of the person’s intelligence.” (Skottun) The neurodiversity which allows for dyslexia also allows for divergent strengths — 40% of self-made millionaires have dyslexia. But the rigors of institutional schooling can break the less fortunate.
Dyslexia isn’t something you grow out of. Just because Greg can now read and has graduated from college doesn’t mean he has “overcome” dyslexia. I ask Greg how it affects him today. He gives me a few examples:
“Just yesterday I wrote down a product number for some granola I was buying. I drew the nine as a P instead of a 9.”
“I feel like it’s harder to read textbooks. I try to avoid getting the textbooks for class unless I need it. I try to make do with lecture and lecture notes to learn instead of reading a textbook because I just don’t get much out of it.”
“To this day I still have problem with vowels. People will say pronounce it — like when you’re spelling — sound it out, and I still don’t know whether it’s an a an e or an i. They all kind of just blur together to me.”
Greg did well in Math, Science, and Art throughout high school. He didn’t question whether he would go to college.
“I took the ACT, and I got a 28 in Science. I got a 24 in Math, 24 in English, and then 18 in Reading — which was mainly because I couldn’t read fast enough to get through all the questions. And the science I would have gotten lot higher, but I ended up guessing on the last third of the questions because I was out of time.”
Dean Bragonier, the Founder and “Executive Dyslexic” of NoticeAbility, says that “we [dyslexics] have an ability to look at a situation and identify seemingly disparate pieces of information, and blend those into a narrative or a tapestry that makes sense to us, that most people can’t see” (Bragonier). When discussing how to address the efficacy gap of literacy instruction it is important to realize that struggling readers have no disability, and to notice the abilities they do have. Greg is at the beginning of a successful career, full stop. If anything, it is more likely because of his dyslexia than in spite of it.
Bragonier, Dean. “The True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind.” TEDxMarthasVinyard. Aug. 2015. Lecture.
“DIBELS Nonsense Word Fluency.” UO DIBELS Data System, dibels.uoregon.edu/assessment/dibels/measures/nwf.php.
Fair, Ginni Chase and Dorie Combs. “Nudging Fledgling Teen Readers from the Nest: From Round Robin to Real Reading.” Clearing House, vol. 84, no. 5, Sept. 2011, pp. 224–230. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00098655.2011.575417.
Skottun, Bernt C, and John R Skoyles. “Attention, reading and dyslexia.” Clinical and Experimental Optometry, vol. 89, no. 4, 2006, pp. 241–245., doi:10.1111/j.1444–0938.2006.00052.x.