My Life With Dyslexia

Can you imagine reading this story and not remembering a single word? That’s what life used to be like for Amber, 18. Here’s everything she wants you to know about her condition—and why it can’t hold her back.

Quick quiz: When’s the last time you read something? Trick question! You’re doing it right now. The truth is, we’re surrounded by words and sentences—on the back of the cereal box, the sign at the bus stop, the side of a shampoo bottle. 

Many of us read these words and sentences without giving much thought to what we’re doing, but for more than 10 percent of the population, reading is a conscious effort. That’s because these people have dyslexia, a condition that affects their brains’ ability to process language. For people with dyslexia, reading can be a struggle, even if they’re super-geniuses at a lot of other things. Dyslexia has nothing to do with how smart you are, but it can make it difficult for you to read quickly, to read without making mistakes, or to remember and make sense of what you’ve read.

Many incredibly successful people have dyslexia, but it can cause academic challenges and affect self-esteem if it isn’t diagnosed. Here’s what New York City teen Amber wants you to know about what dyslexia is—and isn’t—and why it’s important to ask for help if you think you might have it too

Realizing She Had Academic Challenges

In third grade, Amber’s teacher told her parents that she thought Amber might be learning differently: “I hadn’t noticed anything myself, other than that this teacher was treating me different than the other students. But it started getting hard for me to keep up with the rest of the class, and I started lagging behind academically. After several visits to a psychologist who specialized in learning differences, I was diagnosed as having dyslexia.” 

Finally Getting Help

After fifth grade, Amber’s parents transferred her to a special school specifically for students with dyslexia and other learning differences: “At first, I really didn’t want to go. My elementary school was an all-girls school, and this new school was co-ed. I was like, ‘What are boys? This is a lot.’ But after two weeks, I knew I had made the right move. In my old school, I didn’t tell anyone about my challenges. So it was a huge relief to be around other kids who were experiencing the same things I was.” 

Learning How to Learn

Highlighters help Amber focus.

At her new school, Amber acquired skills to accommodate her learning style: “For me, having dyslexia means it’s hard for me to remember long chunks of text—I can read a whole page really quickly, but at the end, I won’t have any idea what I just read. I often have to read something a few times to understand it. So for math, when I’m reading a word problem, I use a highlighter to underline the words I need to use to find the answer. I also get more time when I take tests so I can read the questions several times and make sure I understand what they’re asking.” 

Speaking Out

Model UN gives Amber a chance to debate issues.

After three years at her specialized school, Amber was able to transfer back to a nonspecialized school: “I’m very involved at my high school. I was president of the Black Student Union (an organization that advocates for the needs of Black students) as a sophomore, I was president of Model UN (a club where students participate in a mock United Nations), and I was co-captain of the varsity swim team. I’m also very open about my dyslexia, and I try to educate people about how it affects me. It helps people understand why I’m getting extra time for tests, so they don’t think I’m getting special treatment. I figure I’m probably going to be explaining my dyslexia for the rest of my life, so I might as well try to help other people understand what it’s like to have a learning difference.” 

Amber's Advice

Amber says she feels most at home in the water.

Amber hopes her story will help other kids feel empowered to seek help early: “If you think you’re having trouble learning, don’t assume you’re stupid, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Try to explain to your parents and teachers exactly what you’re having trouble with. My original school was able to connect me with someone who could help us figure out what was going on, and your teachers can probably help you too. Know that you’re not the only one going through this.”

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