Glimpsing the Future: Adult Life with Dyslexia

By Lisa Rappaport, Ph.D

As a professional in the field of learning disabilities, one of the most common questions I hear from parents is, “How long will it take for my child to catch up to everyone else and for his dyslexia no longer to be an issue?

My answer is always the same: Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact changes at various stages. I speak from experience—not only as a professional but as an adult whose dyslexia was remediated as a child and who seemingly overcame difficulties with reading, writing, and math to succeed in school and my career.

Lingering Challenges

I, like many successful adults with LD, function well in the world, yet still cope with ongoing issues that will never be resolved. For example, although I am a good reader, when I am forced to read out loud my initial reaction is invariably fear.

My printing looks like that of a second grader. I never perfected letters that are equal in size and well-shaped. I always suggest that my patients learn cursive writing as soon as possible for two reasons: it’s easier to have nice cursive writing, and it prevents letter reversals. When I write a note and do not use cursive writing, I insert capital Bs and Ds in the middle of words. I do this automatically because that is how I learned to compensate for reversing those letters when writing.

My spelling is atrocious; however thanks to spell check that problem is easily remedied. I still struggle with sequencing. When I look up something in the dictionary or phone book, I can’t start in the middle. Most adults sequence the alphabet automatically; if they open the dictionary to the letter S and are looking up a word that begins with L, they know automatically that L comes before S. I have to recite the alphabet starting with A to figure out which comes first.

Professional Adjustments

When I conduct a neuropsychological exam, there is a section of the testing that calls for me to ask my patient what letter comes before or after a certain letter. I had to change my testing protocols because sometimes my patients would answer faster than I could process the answer myself.

I still confuse left and right. When I conduct an evaluation, one section requires me to touch certain fingers on the patient’s left or right hand. That doesn’t come naturally to me; I have to concentrate on the transference because the patient is sitting across from me.

When driving, I tend to get lost. If Im the driver and someone tells me to turn left, I invariably turn right.

If I am giving directions, I often tell the person to go left when I mean right. And if I am going someplace unfamiliar, I can’t always quickly read the signs and figure out if I want to go north, south, etc. I always leave extra time in case I get lost so that I do not panic.

Sometimes I get confused because of my difficulties with spatial orientation. Some people have a sense of which direction they are facing no matter where they are; I do not.

Important Life Lessons

There are actually a lot of positives that come with being dyslexic or having to overcome any type of hardship. Everyone struggles some time in life. I think it’s better to struggle as a youngster, because once you survive it, you won’t fear it; as you move forward, you’ll be more likely to try things that are out of your comfort zone.

You also learn tenacity. “No” is not an option. Once you have tried harder than the people around you to accomplish something, you realize you can overcome obstacles and do anything you want. You learn to be persistent and to try different paths until you achieve what you set out to do. You don’t give up.

Finding the Balance

To that end, it is important to find the balance between getting a child accommodations and not giving them excuses. I do not believe in handing children with LD calculators in school. I believe in having them work extra hard to learn their math facts and possibly get extended time to compute those facts. Instead of fighting for less homework, I’d rather teach a child to be organized with his/her time. It might not be fair that a child has to put more effort in to get the same grade as others, but life is not always fair and that, too, is an important lesson to learn.

The truth is there are a lot of professionals—doctors, lawyers, architects, etc.—with learning disabilities that had to work harder to achieve their goals. But they did it, overcoming obstacles along the way.

Finally, I have found that the best lesson a child with LD can take with them into adulthood is laughter. If you learn to have a sense of humor about yourself and your mistakes, you can handle anything.

To learn more, see Dr. Lisa Rappaport: Fulfilling A Dream

Dr. Rappaport is on the faculty of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and has a private practice in Manhattan, specializing in neuropsychological evaluations and helping children with LD develop reading, writing, and organizing skills. She is also a member of the Smart Kids Professional Advisory Board.