Asperger's,Autism Spectrum Disorder

On Reading and Dyslexia

Back in school, I never knew I had dyslexia. I was not tested until I failed my bachelor thesis and my professor (who, funny enough, was himself a foreigner) told me I wrote so poorly, it was almost impossible to read and it was difficult to imagine I was not a foreigner myself.

Now, the thing is, my father was a refugee back in the 80s and came to this country as an emotionally scarred man after his experiences during the civil war in Lebanon, and while I grew up, no one ever let me forget that I was, in consequence, only half a person. I found it tragical and comical at the same time, because my professor never knew about it and yet, in spite of being a foreigner himself, made me feel the shame of not being a rightful citizen of my native country and of abusing what is my mother tongue.

By then I had experienced so much discrimination as a child that I had changed my name, so that my mixed ancestry was not the first thing people noticed. I am actually proud of my heritage, but as a child I was too afraid of the judgment of others, and felt I only had one choice. I changed my name as part of the mask I hid behind to blend in. Today, I am ashamed that I did not have the courage to at least keep my birth name.

My ancestry doesn’t make me feel half of anything at all, but wholly both, even though I also feel neither side ever truly accepted me as one of their own.

But I digress. What I found so amusing and tragic was that it was impossible to truly hide what I am, and right when you think you got away with something, you realise you never got away in the first place.

I thought, at the time, that maybe he was right. My mother, who had recently begun teaching children with special needs and children with dyslexia in her school, talked about it one day however. I answered some of the questions from the tests that she gave children who might have dyslexia, and she smiled and said it was exactly what people with dyslexia would answer. If she had not talked about it, if I had not answered out loud what I was thinking, I would probably never have been tested.

I was tested soon after and the test results came by e-mail in the form of several written pages. I read the papers wrong, how that can be surprising to anyone is a mystery to me, and therefore went yet another year without realising I was dyslectic.

After narrowly passing my bachelor thesis on my second attempt, with a new topic and a new professor helping me, my mother asked to read my test results because she didn’t believe I was not dyslectic.

When she told me that I had misread the many pages and that I am, indeed, dyslectic, I found myself feeling such relief as I had never felt before and were not to feel again, not even the day I was diagnosed with ASD. All my life I had been told I was stupid by my teachers, professors and classmates and yet, here was proof that I was not just an idiot.

I was just different. Yes, I still felt the pain of being different quite strongly, but it was most likely my first step towards accepting that I was different. In time I even began to recognise that it was perfectly fine to be so.

When I had just started school, I was met with many different challenges. I was bullied, discriminated, socially awkward, lonely and couldn’t follow the classes properly. I remember even struggling to understand how a clock worked and how people bullied me because I couldn’t tell the time even when people years younger than me could do so without any trouble at all.

Homework was a battle every day, and my mother would do all sorts of strange things in her attempts to help me get through it. She would, sometimes, buy some candy and for every problem I solved or question I answered, she would let me have a piece of candy. I remember still, so clearly, the many, tiny pieces of sweets perfectly placed by each problem in my textbook.

Needless to say, it worked only a little while and, when I just couldn’t learn to read, my mother decided to take matters fully into her own hands. She never once made me feel that I wasn’t perfect the way I am, and when she took me out of school to home-school me for a year, I never felt it as anything but a blessing. I hated school and all the people there, I hated being bullied and I hated the mask I already had to wear – although, at the time, I didn’t realise I wore it. It was an unconscious survival technique to me.

My mother was, before she turned her attention to teaching children with special needs, a music and arts teacher. She was always creative, and I will never forget how she taught me the letters. She cut little squares, wrote the letters on them in a rather medieval looking style and drew artwork on them all. The style reminded me of the Book of Kells and I loved it. They were all tiny pieces of art to me, and the effort she had made, made me struggle harder to learn. I am always most impressed when others truly make an effort for someone else, and it inspires me greatly.

She has told me many times since my diagnosis, that it never occurred to her that I different from others. She saw me as me and that was all. And how was she to know what I hardly knew myself? Thinking back knowing what she does now, she says that she can see events from my childhood in a completely different light. She recognises the signs she never noticed before, so visible in the children she teaches now, in my behaviour as a little girl. Now, she cannot but wonder if my life would have been better if she had realised what was wrong when I was little, and I had been able to get the help I needed. I don’t think so, though.

The thing is, I doubt I would have gotten the right help at the time. People didn’t treat dyslexia like something real when I was young, at least not how I remember it. People with dyslexia, although it was a rare occurrence that I even heard of people who had it, were treated like idiots who had no business in school at all.

It probably wasn’t as bad as I remember, but it wasn’t easy either. Those who were diagnosed with other things like ADHD had many difficulties too.

I remember a friend at the time, who was diagnosed. She was bullied in ways I can hardly think of without feeling my heart break a little every time. Once, they held her out of a window in her feet. I don’t remember how high up the window was, but it felt like miles up to me.

The world was just different back then. It honestly isn’t a very long time ago that people didn’t think of ASD as a spectrum, but as many different diagnoses. Autism was a rare condition and many, who are on the spectrum, must have fallen through the cracks and never gotten the help they needed. There must have been many people, who suffered in silence in the shadows of society, because they didn’t know how to break free or were too afraid to do so. But now, the time has come to break free.

I don’t think of my life as a happy one, but a life about trying to find happiness even in the midst of darkness.

I am grateful my mother never had me tested for dyslexia as a child but home-schooled me and spend a year struggling to make me learn to read. If I had known, I would never have found a safe heaven in books. But because I didn’t know, reading became my sanctuary wherever I was.

Later, when I was told of my dyslexia, I let years pass me by hardly reading a single book and I truly felt the absence of it in my life. I was under the misconception that simply because I don’t read well, I could no longer find happiness and freedom in reading. That, my dear reader, is the silliest thing I ever thought of as truth.

Reading facts and studying, yes, it can be quite a challenge because of my dyslexia. I can read several pages, understanding every word separately, and yet fail to grasp the meaning of the text. Fiction, however, is something completely different.

Fiction is an escape from reality, a dream made real through the magic of your own mind and most importantly, as long as you enjoy it, reading fiction cannot be done wrong.

Yes, that is the important bit. There is no correct way to read a work of fiction, there is only your way. The real truth is, as so many other writers and researchers have said before me, that the writer is only in control of the story as it is being written down. Once it has been let free into the universe, only the reader can give it meaning again.

It doesn’t matter if we read something wrong, if we miss some subtext or misunderstand a page. If we enjoy the story while reading it, then it’s worth it. If you can’t remember the story after you read it, but you remember you enjoyed reading it or you feel you gained something from it, then why would we ask for more?

I read a lot again now. Mostly, I listen to audiobooks, but I will never not feel joy from holding a real book in my hands, from the sound of turning the pages and the smell of an old book, that has been read over and over and created every imaginable feeling in its many readers, before it fell into my possession. The hard cover of a book that has survived wars and strife, love and beauty, as time has passed by while it stayed in its form. Nothing can be more miraculous.

When I was a child, though, reading was the only place I could feel safe and good. I almost lost it, when I found out about my dyslexia, but the happiest day I can remember, was when I realised reading and writing was not something denied to me by the world, but only something I had thought I should deny myself.

I have read more books than I can remember, and no, most of them I probably didn’t read the way others did. But I loved every moment of it and I still do. Words are the most beautiful thing I know, and they always will be. My struggles with reading and dyslexia, my long battle to learn to read and the fighting I sometimes must do to read a book today, has only made me appreciate how truly wonderful reading is.

Do I wish I did not have dyslexia now? No, not even for a second. Reading is not easy for me, but I love it none the less. Sometimes, I think that because it has always been such a struggle, I am able to appreciate the magic of reading in a different way than I would have, had it not been for dyslexia.

I am afraid that I would never have experienced the many wonders of reading if it had been an easy task, since I might have taken it for granted. I might be wrong, and had I lived without dyslexia read much more than I have now and gained much more from it, but if someone could help me to re-live my life without dyslexia, I would never dare to risk it.


Life with Autism Spectrum Disorder is not always easy, but it doesn't have to be impossible. Since I was diagnosed myself, I have been trying to raise autism awareness and share my own experiences and thoughts about life as well as my search for a happy and fulfilling life.

You may also like...