For Dr. Burst: Dealing with Dyslexia

>> Sunday, April 5, 2009

My husband’s favorite T-shirtDrBurst said: [paraphrased] I have struggled to be successful despite my severe dyslexia and have made it into a good college. However, despite putting my all into every class, I’m already burning out and am not getting the straight A’s I want. “It’s just annoying because I fear making a mistake when I become an Aerospace Engineer, if I where to mess up my calculations, people might die. For example, I got a 78 on my last math test all because I did the factoring wrong, but I knew all the new material. What’s wrong with me?”

Short answer: Nothing, bud.

Long answer: Severe dyslexia, as I mentioned before, often goes hand in hand with high intelligence. My brother (who has a Master’s degree) has dyslexia. My husband has severe dyslexia (where they told him he’d never learn to read). He does read (a great deal), but he can’t spell and he struggles to write anything. He also has at least 20 IQ points on me. And so we work the system so we both work around our limitations.

And here’s the thing. Everyone has limitations. Yours are big, are tough and you deserve huge points for not letting those limitations limit you or your dream. Me, I’m unable to remember names and I’m terribly absent-minded. That didn’t hurt in school; school was easy for me, but life has had several challenges as a result.

In order for me to compensate for my (relatively minor) limitations, I have developed skills and habits. I read names on badges. I make lists and don’t procrastinate or things will slip by me. Of course, that means I’m anal about a lot of things, so, hey, there’s a price tag.

The steps you have to take to address your concerns are bigger. I don’t know what you’ve done to date, but I know it couldn’t have been easy. So, before you beat yourself up any more, take a minute to congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve gone.

College is tough and should be. It’s tougher for you than it is for most of the other students. Life ain’t fair. But there’s nothing that says that you can’t become an aerospace engineer and a darn good one. Stressing, however, will probably only acerbate your issues. Pushing yourself too hard can make you make mistakes (just as NASA’s failures are often tied to trying to do too much too quickly).

My advice?

First, breathe. You don’t have to get straight A’s. True, it would be nice, but passing and learning the material (even if you’ve made some errors) is still good.

Secondly, make a point of reading all of your instructions twice before you go. Just that kind of step, doublechecking the requirements or instructions, can greatly increase your success and give your mind a chance to start working the problem. It’s also a good habit for any engineer to start with. As a safety engineer, I can tell you that we would have a lot fewer problems if more people took the time to check things twice before they got started.

Thirdly, let yourself live a little. There’s nothing wrong with being dedicated to a dream, but you lose perspective and focus if your mind never gets a chance to relax. After all, it’s already performing double duty, doing the work of regular people as well as working the workarounds you use to overcome the dyslexia. That leisure time is not less necessary for someone like you but more so. And, if you are balanced, you will be able to deal with your day to day stresses much better and will be mentally and physically healthier.

There’s nothing wrong with you. You just need to give yourself a break.

10 Responses to “Dealing with Dyslexia”

  1. oldwestmomon 20 Mar 2009 at 8:05 am edit this

    I think this is EXCELLENT advice. These kinds of things happen to everyone, even those without dyslexia or other learning hiccups.

    With relaxation comes confidence, and I think you’ll find it much easier to accomplish your goals if you’re cool, calm, and confident.

    I think if you look at several notable “geniuses of the field,” you’ll find that they became masters of their craft despite any disabilities they may have had. I think it makes some people work harder and have more hunger for being successful. Beethoven immediately jumps to mind. The man was a musical god, and was deaf.

    I think Dr. Steph nailed this one on the head. Well done!

  2. oldwestmomon 20 Mar 2009 at 8:13 am edit this

    I have a question for the Tarot Queen, by the way…

    I’m trying to decide about what to do about my career.

    I have a good job, make good money, and have some security in my current position. I should be happy with it, but I’m not. It doesn’t challenge me anymore, and the hope I had for significant upward mobility fizzles a little more with every bad economy news story.

    I have always had a secret desire to be a middle school/high school science teacher. Biology would be my game. I recently came across an article about a severe drought in science teachers, and that my state was planning to help fund education for would-be teachers and guarantee a starting salary at a 5 year level.

    I’m soooooooo tempted. But I struggle with the economic situation and my age. Would it be silly to leap out of a comfortable situation, when I have a family, bills, and a mortgage and I am the primary breadwinner? Am I too old (at nearly 33) to enter into a new career like teaching?

  3. stephanieebarron 20 Mar 2009 at 8:32 am edit this


    I’ll do a reading for you this evening. However, even without the cards, I wouldn’t say 33 is too old to start on a teaching career (in general). And this is a good time to pursue one in science. We’ll see later if the cards agree with me and if they think it’s good for you specifically.

  4. Patriciaon 20 Mar 2009 at 1:38 pm edit this

    If I might be so bold as to add one more minor suggestion to your excellent list for DrBurst–check out the organization called “Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic.” I have been volunteering for them recently so I know what a great service they provide (audio textbooks and any supplemental reading material for blind or dyslexic students). You have to join and sign up at your community branch of RFBD and give them some lead time, but if you have a lot of reading to do, this is an excellent service for dyslexic college students.

  5. shakespeareon 20 Mar 2009 at 5:23 pm edit this

    Yes, this is great advice. And the t-shirt! I’d want one, but I think I’m one of the few who can spell…

    I have PLENTY of other weaknesses, however.

  6. stephanieebarron 20 Mar 2009 at 5:49 pm edit this

    Patricia, that is GREAT advice and I should have thought of it. My husband loves audio books; he absorbs it so much better and I’ve read books out on CD for him and for his great-grandmother (who was blind) before. Thank you for adding that.

  7. stephanieebarron 20 Mar 2009 at 5:49 pm edit this

    shakespeare, are you dyslexic? I had no idea!

  8. DrBurston 24 Mar 2009 at 10:02 pm edit this

    Thank you for the kind words. This blog post came at the same time as my router died, so I had tons of free time away from my space habitation Google alerts to think. Maybe I am being to hard on my self, but the responsibility of having lives in your had is… worrying to me. It really means a lot to me, coming from a safety engineer. Sorry, I didn’t respond as quickly as I should have, my router just came today and my laptop is still on life support.

    Thank you again, I don’t know how I can repay you.

  9. DrBurston 24 Mar 2009 at 10:07 pm edit this

    Thank you so much Patricia, I have to join that organization. I’m sure my teacher will love it.

  10. stephanieebarron 24 Mar 2009 at 10:08 pm edit this

    Repayment is completely unnecessary. I’ve dealt with dyslexia second hand and know what a struggle it is.

    I didn’t say anything I didn’t mean. And I appreciate anyone asking me a question. If no one did, I’d have nothing to write about.

    I hope your computer woes come to a happy end.


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