Thursday, September 5, 2013


If you were in a small group of people you knew casually and, as an icebreaker activity, you were asked to arrange yourselves in a line in order of your birthdays without talking, how would you respond? 

I know there are many responses to things like this.  I personally love this sort of thing. There is a specific task to be done in a finite amount of time without the drain of small talk. My daughter was asked to do this and I’m not sure of her response or how she felt about it. But I do know that it wasn’t easy for her. 

She was telling me about it matter of factly, not with any negatively charged emotions. Maybe, just maybe, she is learning to accept herself without judgement at an astonishingly young age. Maybe she is just accustomed to things being challenging and she was being her regular persistent self. Maybe she was sitting back watching and trying to become invisible, or trying to figure out her approach. 

You see, she is dyslexic. 

An immediate response might be, “Well, that doesn’t have anything to do with reading.” And that is a correct statement. But dyslexia, I’m learning, is so much more than that. 

I have found it difficult trying to write about our journey with dyslexia because it is so all encompassing. And frankly, it wasn’t a journey I would have chosen. 

We live in a mostly wooded area and, at certain times, the sun will shine at a certain angle and these beautiful streaks of light will shoot through. Even amongst our busy lives, these streaks will stop all of five us and we just stare in awe. Either mesmerized by the beauty or trying to figure out how it happens, the light pierces us in ways we can’t explain.

This is sometimes how I feel about dyslexia. It’s always there and we just live our lives and accommodate it when we need to. But, every now and then, I recognize something so beautiful, so different, so engaging, so magnificent that it stops me in my tracks. 

We don’t often think about how we think. Or how our world is organized. Names of the months or names of the days of the week are actually quite arbitrary. We could call Monday “abacus” and it would still mean the same thing. It would still be the first day of the school or work week, the day after a family day or the day after a day of rest or the day after Church. 

This is an insight into how my daughter thinks. Her thinking is not linear; she thinks in three (or more) dimensions. She thinks in ideas and feelings and colors and smells. 

Trying to memorize anything without context is an exercise in futility for her. She is 13 and can not tell you the order of the months of the year. The closest approximation she can give you is the seasons. Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall. And these compartmentalized nomenclatures are probably just a bridge to communicate with the rest of us who have everything so ordered. 

If asked what are the first three months of the year, her thinking may go something like this: My brothers birthday, sledding outside, beautiful snow, white, red, Valentines Day, fondue, Florida, smell of the ocean.  And this is only if she has to put words to her thoughts. She thinks in ideas, in actions she has done or will do. She thinks in shades, pictures, emotions and scents. 

She not only thinks from left to right and right to left, but up and down and down and up and diagonally. When she was younger, I might say we were going to play with Elise on Tuesday. Tuesday meant nothing to her so she would clarify, “Is that swimming day or dance day?” Or find another way to describe the day. If I answered dance day then she may need to clarify further, “Is that the dance day Daddy is coming home or the next one?”  

Her being my starter child, I thought this was normal, if I even thought of it at all. When she asked to go to the green and white grocery store with grapes I knew exactly what she was talking about because it was the color of their sign and their logo had grapes. Again, either I didn’t think about it or thought it was normal. But the next day when we went to the store with my three year old, who was almost five years younger, she questioned, “I didn’t know we were going to Lunds.” We just thought it was quaint that she already knew the name of the store. 

Even now, at 13 and two weeks into her new tennis season and new coach, she doesn’t know his name. She knows his mannerisms, his quirks, she knows who he really likes and who he is still unsure about. She knows if he is off, ie: didn’t have enough lunch or maybe the heat is getting to him. Without being in her mind, I can only guesstimate much of this. But I think it frustrates her to have to encapsulate a person or a location or a month into only a name.

So when the students were using their fingers to count the months of the year to communicate with each other silently and trying to figure out birthdays, she was at a complete loss. She couldn’t tell you August was the 8th month if she was allowed to talk to the other kids, much less in silent gestures. I think someone finally just asked her birthday and put her in the line. 

Unfortunately, she must live in our world where things have to be named and days and months have to be ordered. Sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously she is learning to change the way she sees things. I know she must do this but it is a double edged sword. When I get a glimpse into the sunbeams of her inner self, I secretly hope that she never, ever will learn the names of the months in order. 


  1. What a beautiful way to communicate differences in intelligence. Wow. Have you read anything by Aimee Bender? She writes sometimes about synethesia or thinking in colors or tastes and this post reminds me of that - like poetry. It's too bad we live in such a linear world because we could use more poets.

  2. I just discovered your blog through Lindsey at A Design So Vast, and this resonated so deeply with me as the mother of a dyslexic that I had to comment. My son is 15 and continues to amaze me everyday with his adaptability. But I know the struggle is always just below the surface. I also know that non-linear thinking is a gift and that these kids have so many more opportunities to use that gift without the "stupid" label that would have been put on them as little as 20 years ago. Wonderful post.

    1. Marianna, sorry I didn't see your comment. I am not here as often as I would like. Just below the surface, what a beautiful way to describe it.