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Beyond the Dys in Dyslexia

In recognition of Dyslexia Awareness month in October, we are reposting a blog by McKenzie Erickson, Marketing Coordinator at Benetech, which originally appeared in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Blog (U.S. Department of Special Education) on October 5.

Dyslexia. It’s a word I’ve heard since the third grade. It was the explanation for why I couldn’t read, why I had to Headshot of McKenzie Erickson, Marketing Coordinator at Benetechcheat on my weekly spelling tests, and why I felt different. I’ve since come to realize there is more to dyslexia than its disadvantages.

When I was in school, I put a significant amount of energy into keeping my dyslexia a secret. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was in special education, or that I had a tutor for nine years, or that my parents read my advanced placement (AP) textbooks to me. I worked hard to make sure I had the perfect grades and the perfect resumé to get into the perfect college. I overcompensated by working three times as hard as my peers. I was student body president in my senior year while being involved in multiple extracurricular activities. I needed to make sure people saw me as smart and competent.

After graduating high school and taking some time to reflect on what I really needed, I made the decision to attend Landmark College. It was there, among hundreds of other students with learning disabilities and attention issues that I began to define who I am. I found helpful resources like the National Center for Learning Disabilities and learned more about disability laws and my right to accommodations. I developed skills to advocate for what I needed to be successful. Learning differently is what all students at Landmark College have in common. It was time to discover who I am beyond my dyslexia.
Poster defining dyslexia, listing ways to make a classroom dyslexia-friendly, and describing symptoms of dyslexia at different ages

My associate degree from Landmark College prepared me to attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I began to focus on knowing and understanding exactly what I have to offer and what energizes me. I opened myself to the possibility that my strengths were not in spite of my dyslexia, but because of it. I honed my skills by studying branding, creative and critical thinking, and human-centered design. As a capstone I interned at Benetech.

I just celebrated my three-year anniversary at Benetech. I’m proud to put my design and marketing degree to use contributing to Bookshare, a global literacy initiative at Benetech. Bookshare is an online library of over 350,000 accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities like dyslexia. By continuing to develop my strengths and identifying ways to compensate for my challenges I’m crafting my ideal career.

This October, Dyslexia Awareness Month, I encourage all teachers to consider which of their students might have dyslexia. Notice how bright they are and how hard they are working. Help them to identify and celebrate their interests and strengths. Understand that these students are constantly confronting their major weaknesses—reading and writing. And thank you in advance for seeking out the necessary professional development to provide effective evidence-based interventions.

For parents of children who are struggling with dyslexia or other learning and attention issues, I want you to know that there are resources and communities of support available to you. Whether in your local community or on websites like Understood and Dyslexic Advantage, there are experts who can provide information to help you make decisions and navigate this journey, and there are parents who understand the challenges you face and will share their stories.

I urge all students with learning disabilities to pursue activities that you enjoy. Believe in your ability to learn. Use your voice to increase awareness and understanding of the whole of dyslexia. Help to shift the paradigm from disadvantages to advantages. Find your strength and focus on making it into your superpower.

McKenzie Erickson is responsible for the design and execution of Bookshare marketing campaigns including branding, collateral, events, and member outreach.

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