Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Symptoms of Dyslexia

This is part of a cluster of posts about dyslexia and ADHD.

I have two learning "disabilities" ("learning differences" is a more politically correct, and more accurate term): dyslexia, and ADHD. Some people have been surprised to learn this. I am among them. I was only diagnosed with these learning differences recently.

People have asked what makes me think I have dyslexia. Friends have legitimately doubted that I am dyslexic. In this post I list many of the signs of dyslexia that have popped up throughout my life. I'm focusing on the weaknesses here. See also my post on my math blog where I talk a lot about the strengths of dyslexia that have appeared in my life. As you read this you might think something like "sheesh! He's really down on himself." I'm not down on myself. I'm smiling as I write this. I've largely dealt with all of these shortcomings emotionally, and accepted them as an important part of who I am. I'm just listing these to answer the curiosity of others, and to give my readers a peek into my world.

Difficulties with reading as a child

The story my mom always told about my kindergarten days was that she would sit on the couch in our front room with me for hours going over letter flash cards. She might be working on only three letters at a time with me, but I couldn't get them. Over and over she would show me Q, R, and S, telling me the name of each. Then she would quiz me. Holding up the Q she would ask "what's this?" "I don't know," is all I could answer.

Somehow I eventually learned the basics of the alphabet, but I continued to have some problems with it into first grade at least. I got the short sounds of i and e mixed up. I confused b and d, and eventually had to assign them personalities to remember them (d has a bad attitude because it faces the opposite direction of it's parent D). I confused p and q. I also confused F and 5, and I still do. I blame that partially on the Jackson 5ive cartoon. On the other hand, I never did mirror writing like my dyslexic daughter used to do: sometimes she wrote left to right, with all of the letters facing the correct direction. Other times she wrote right to left, with all of the letters flipped. She never knew which she was doing.

I learned to read at an earlier age than many with severe dyslexia, but I read below my grade level probably at least through middle school. If there were different reading groups in school (and I imagine that there must have been) I was completely oblivious to them. Here's what I do remember: in fourth grade a friend asked me why I never read any long books. In fifth grade my friends were reading the Great Brain series. I wasn't ready for them until middle school. During middle school a number of books were assigned us for reading. I read very few of them. I'm not sure how I didn't fail any classes given the small number of assigned books that I actually read. It wasn't that I didn't read any books. I read some non-assigned books that I was interested in. More on this in the ADHD post.

Difficulties with memorization and computations

Arithmetic was always difficult for me, and I hated math in elementary school. In the fourth grade I remember having to stay after class with a handful of other kids who couldn't remember their multiplication tables. The extra lessons didn't work. I never did learn my multiplication tables by heart. I still don't know them. More on arithmetic in my ADHD post.

Word games, card games, and any games requiring memorization, or mental speed have always been really difficult for me. Growing up, my family used to play a multi-player speed version of solitaire. I always felt like more of a spectator than a participant. Trick-taking card games (bridge, hearts, etc.) are completely incomprehensible to me.

Continued difficulties with reading as an adult

As an adult, I'm an avid reader. Unlike many dyslexics, I can even read out loud quite well. But, I'm a slow reader. It took me a long time to realize (or admit to myself) how slow of a reader I am. I wondered for a long time why people never gave me enough time to read materials that they expected me to read.

Difficulties with Writing

My handwriting is bad. It's better now than it used to be, but it's still bad. Writing is a slow process for me, whether it's typing or hand writing. It's difficult and time consuming to translate my thoughts into words on a page. It's also challenging to avoid typographical errors. As a coping strategy I proofread anything I write probably an excessive number of times. I don't know how many times most people proofread things they write. For me everything gets at least five proofreadings. This includes emails, chat messages, social media posts. Everything. If you've seen errors in my writing, you know that it's slipped by at least five proofreadings. More important pieces of writing get many more proofreadings.

Challenges in Conversation

As I said, it's difficult to translate thoughts into words. This makes conversations challenging sometimes. I don't know if other people do this, but before saying a sentence, I almost always practice saying it in my head several times. I do this practicing even with close friends and family members. If I don't practice, then all kinds of jumbled sounds come out of my mouth. Word recall is also slow for me, which slows down my speech.

Dyslexics also have a hard time processing speech. After someone has said something to me, I often ask "what?" even though I heard them just to get a few extra seconds to process what they said. When I say "process," I mean turn the sounds into words. Here is an extreme example: when I was in graduate school, a man at the gym made some off-hand casual comment to me. I heard him, but didn't process what he had said. I asked "what?" but he had moved on and didn't reply. The sound bite of audio stuck in my head all that day. I had absolutely no idea what he had said to me, but it rattled around up there for hours. About eight hours later, the audio finally finished processing into words. In a flash I knew all of the words of the complete sentence that he had said, whereas I had known none of them for the previous eight hours.

Obviously, this slowness and hesitancy translates into a good deal of awkwardness in conversation. One coping strategy that I've employed a lot throughout my life is to just keep my mouth shut. I've always been known as the shy one, or the quiet one. It's not usually that I have nothing to say. It's not always that meekness keeps me from speaking up (though it is often that). Most commonly it's that it's difficult to get the sentences formed and practiced in real time.

In high school a friend would sometime make fun of me for speaking slowly. I also sometimes stutter.

Learning a Foreign Language

It is said that learning a foreign language is difficult or impossible for dyslexics. That may be true for many, but it wasn't for me. I served a two year* mission in Brazil for my church between high school and college. I had to learn Portuguese. I don't think I had an especially difficult time with learning the language (I might have been slower than the others, though). I do know that I took a different approach to it than my peers.

Basically, I learned Portuguese the same way I learned English: language processing for dyslexics is a conscious mental process of breaking spoken sounds into constituent phonemes, and processing them into meaningful words. That's how I approached Portuguese. I realized that the phonemes of Portuguese were completely different from the phonemes of English. I knew that I had to learn to recognize and process those phonemes when I heard them, and that I had to be able to produce them with my mouth. I didn't worry too much about vocabulary or grammar. I knew I'd pick up enough vocabulary to get by. The grammar was largely conceptual and intuitive.

Probably about the first half of my time in Brazil (the first nine months or so) I was largely just listening. I was trying to hear the phonemes. The second half of my time there, I was trying to get better at producing the phonemes. I discovered that the best way to learn to produce the sounds was by watching the behavior of the tongues in the mouths of native speakers as they spoke. I started carefully watching the tongues that I was able to see: little children who had lost their front teeth, old men whose teeth had all rotted out, women as they sang open-mouthed. I don't know if anyone noticed me staring at their mouths, or if they thought it was creepy. I mimicked the tongue movements of women singing so well that friends told me I had to stop pronouncing things that way, or people would think I was gay**.

It was difficult, and I had to work at it, but I learned to speak Portuguese. I was determined throughout my stay in Brazil to continue to improve my language ability. I tried hard to make my spoken Portuguese of my 18th month in Brazil better than my spoken Portuguese of my 17th month, and I did. By the end of my mission people could still tell I wasn't a native Brazilian, but I was sometimes mistaken for being from Portugal. Contrastingly, I think that many of my peers never realized that the phonemes of Portuguese are different from the phonemes of English.

I also learned to understand spoken and written Portuguese. Unfortunately, I never learned to write Portuguese well. After I came home and wrote some letters back to my Brazilian friends, I received replies saying they couldn't understand my writing.

Difficulties Learning and Performing Repetitive Physical and Clerical Tasks

Learning rote physical and mental tasks is difficult for dyslexics. As a youth I remember a number of church-youth-group and school activities that included a dance tutorial of some kind or another. At each step of learning the dance the teachers moved on to the next step long before I was comfortable with the previous one. The tutorials were essentially useless to me. My coping strategy has been 1) to avoid dancing and 2) when forced into dancing to make up my own erratic, high-energy dance moves, deliberately flouting the style of dance of the group.

I tried to play Dance Dance Revolution once…um…bad idea.

In high school I worked at a telephone survey call center, and before college I worked in a cheese packaging plant. I really tried hard at both of those jobs, but I couldn't keep up at the simple rote tasks required of me.

After an upsetting event like a car crash, my ability to reliably copy down information such as a license plate number, a name, or a phone number completely vanishes. I found this out the hard way.

Challenges with Hand-eye Coordination

Like many dyslexics, I have bad hand-eye coordination. I'm bad at sports when catching, throwing, or hitting balls is involved. I don't have the necessary accuracy. I'm bad at video games. I'm bad at marksmanship. Shaking people's hands can be awkward because often when I reach for their hand, I miss it!

Struggling with the Concept of Time

Time can be difficult for dyslexics. I will often shift appointments, holidays, and other events one or two hours, days, or weeks either forward or back. If you schedule something with me, I might be an hour late, or a week early, thinking I'm right on time. There is a completely different set of reasons that I'm sometimes late related to ADHD. Look for that in my ADHD posts. My wife said when we were first married "I don't understand how time works in your mind."


I guess that throughout school I did well enough that nobody thought to screen me for dyslexia. I never suspected that I was dyslexic. When my wife was homeschooling my struggling daughter, she read up on dyslexia. My wife concluded that not only did my daughter have it, but so did I. I was skeptical, until she finally got me to read up on the symptoms. When I learned what dyslexia really is, I was sure that I was dyslexic.
*In truth, only 18 months of the two years were spent in Brazil.
**At the time I thought there was something wrong with being gay. I don't any more.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


This is the part where I'm supposed to invite non-Mormons to take a look at the Book or Mormon. I've never been great at this. Let me just say that if you're curious at looking into a uniquely American foundational religious text, the Book of Mormon is an obvious candidate.

On a more personal note, we Mormons have entered a bit of rough water*, or at least from my viewpoint we have -- maybe circumstances aren't really all that different than they have ever been. In any case, I believe that Mormonism has a bright future, but it'll take some work to get us there as we plow into the 21st century. If your heart is so inclined we'd love to have you jump aboard this ship, grab an oar, and help us move ahead. #sharethebook #calledtoshare #mormon #lds

*This is pretty much what I had planned to say when I first conceived this post a few days before the news about Kate Kelly and John Dehlin broke on June 11. After June 11 circumstances are even more so.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


The Book of Mormon says that "all are alike unto God" and teaches love for all. These two principles: equality and love, are not unique to Mormonism, but Mormonism is where I first learned them. These principles have come to define my morality. My hope and faith are that we, as humanity, can ever climb closer to fully living up to the high standards of equality and love. My faith in Mormonism is anchored in it representing a continually unfolding restoration of truth and goodness. There are many other truths in the Book of Mormon that I center my life around, but that's probably enough for now. #livethebook #calledtoshare #mormon #lds

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


As a young missionary, I read in the Book of Mormon of a prophet, Lehi, who spoke "…according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him." At that time I was trying to sort out how God speaks to us on Earth. Through this scripture and my own experiences I discovered then--and still believe--that our thoughts and feelings and the divine manifestations within each of us are inseparably intermixed*. This realization has been invaluable in shaping my life. #searchthebook #calledtoshare #mormon #lds

*I really want to say something here about how the incarnational model of scripture together with Mormonism's doctrine of God and Man having no ontological distinction seem to imply essentially the same thing…but maybe that's a little too out there.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why I Marched with Pride

On Saturday, June 8, 2014 I marched in my first Pride Parade, Capital Pride in Washington DC. It was AWESOME. Seriously! Never have I had so many people (upwards of 100,000) yelling at me "We love Mormons!" and wanting to high five or hug me. I went to show my support and love. The love and support that I got back was overwhelming. I met some great new friends. I definitely plan on going back next year. You should join me!

My Poster

 The theme of the parade this year was "Build our Bright Future." I wanted to match the theme and to be original with the poster I carried. I got on and searched the scriptures for "bright." Most of the hits that came up involved swords being bright...not exactly what I was looking for to convey love. But Doctrine and Covenants 50:24 also hit "and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." I decided to go with that. The "perfect day" could be the day that we all live together in love and peace.

I think it worked OK, but I did get some people saying "...uh...I don't get it." Next year I will not try to be clever. I'll just draw a big rainbow colored heart on a poster, and maybe "who needs a hug from a Mormon?" on the other side. It's about showing love, not being unique.

So seriously, come and join me next year! It's a great experience.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Regarding Kate Kelly and John Dehlin

Dear friends and family. Tonight news broke that two fellow Mormons that I admire, Kate Kelly, and John Dehlin are facing possible excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Since I hold many views in common with these two (and have publicly expressed us much in the past) this news is disturbing to me to say the least. I guess I just want to express two things: 1) So far I have no reason to believe that my membership in the Church is in question. 2) I do not plan, nor wish to leave the Church. I am an active, believing, faithful member, who loves the church and I have been all of my life. I admit that my current approach to Mormonism is unorthodox. I believe that I am being honest and authentic in that. Your love and support are appreciated. Thanks.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


I've been Mormon all my life, so asking when I first discovered the Book of Mormon is a bit like asking when I first discovered water. It has just always been there. Some of my earliest memories of the Book of Mormon include singing "Book of Mormon Stories" and "The Iron Rod" in church. As a kid I once sat in a Primary class watching a Book of Mormon filmstrip. Troublingly, I only remember one image from that filmstrip, but that one stands out vividly. It is a cartoon of two Book of Mormon characters (Laman and Lemuel) emerging one morning from their tent to find to their shock and horror that their skin has turned dark overnight by the curse of God. That image, and the racism that it implicitly carries, has haunted my imagination throughout my life. As I grew I would find in The Book of Mormon deep and powerful ideas that define my morality and world view…but that is a story for later in this little series. #discoverthebook #mormon #lds #calledtoshare

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