Like Hula Hoops or Something

(Special this week to the Academic Redneck: Guest columnist and Pikes Peak Community College student Tina Bopp discusses her efforts to overcome a learning disability. Tina is enrolled in my English Composition I class this semester.)

When I first started going to school, it was evident that I had a learning disability called dyslexia. Dyslexia is a group of disorders that makes it harder to interpret words and letters. However, dyslexia does not interpret intelligence. At the time dyslexia was treated by sticking the slower kids in a different classroom and treating them all the same. Dyslexia meant you were slow and stupid and could not learn.

My biggest problem was that I was not fast enough for a regular class but too fast for the slower class. So most of the time I was in regular classes. I was never pushed to do better because I got mostly A’s and B’s. Maybe to them that was the best I could do?

My journey into my learning disability truly began in eighth grade when I was studying to go on a school trip. I was trying to read blue ink on white paper, which is harder for me than black ink on white paper. I could not do it and had to ask my mother to read the material to me. It is not that I cannot read, just that the print begins to wash out and the page becomes all white.

My mother noticed my difficulty and started talking to my school counselors. They eventually came across the literature on Irlen Syndrome. Mom brought the packet home and we began to go through it. Following the instructions, I found out that I could read better with a filter, a piece of pink plastic film placed over the page. I remember thinking it was odd how the ink seemed darker and easier to read. I thought things would start to look up after that, but I was wrong.

The second step was finding a person to test me so I could get filters in my glasses. Sadly, at the time, it cost a pretty penny (over $700 just for the testing and $400 for the tinting of the glasses, which I did not need because at the time I had perfect vision). Between the appointments, the travel time to and from northern Denver, and the filters, the cost could come to around $1000.

With this amount of money on the line, mom tried to get insurance to help pay for the costs. She had to make an appointment with a doctor to obtain a recommendation. At the appointment, the doctor did all the tests. Afterwards, he looked me in my dilated eyes and told me that everything looked fine. He said that Irlen Syndrome was a fad, here one day gone the next, “out of California like hula hoops or something.”

As a pre-teen, I was shocked he would dismiss my condition so easily. The filters were supposed to help me learn easier. They weren’t a toy. I felt small and stupid for ever bringing it up to him. Needless to say, we did not get any help paying for the glasses.

It was also a struggle to find places to have regular testing done. Many times we had to travel to Denver or beyond to find someone who could do the testing. I always thought it was quite an ordeal, taking a day out of my life and my family members’ lives for these glasses. It felt like a waste of time and money, a burden. I later found out that it took a lot of effort to get certified to do the testing. All of this led me to believe it was more a business to make money than to help people with a learning disability.

One of the things I really disliked about the whole process was finding the right filters for my glasses. There were a multitude of colors and shades to work through to find the right filters for me. There was not just one filter (color), but several. The time it would take would wear me out, and I would start to worry about it all. I was also afraid of getting certain colors. My worst fear was getting the bright yellow-green filters. I would have done it, but yellow-green? I really did not like those colors.

I would also have to go through this process every time I got new glasses because as my eyes changed, so could the filters and colors. Luckily for me, at the time, my filters turned out to be purple, gray and rose pink. At least I liked the colors of the glasses. It looked like I was wearing shades and not some hippie love glasses from the 1960s.

The glasses made me look as though I was wearing sunglasses all the time.  Several times people would wonder about my eyes.  Why would I wear such dark glasses?  They would say it was a sad thing to cover up such pretty eyes.  I would try to explain that the coloring was to help filter out the light so I could read.  It seemed that they did not want to listen.  For them, it all came down to my appearance. I felt they were saying it was better to be pretty than to have intelligence. I questioned why it was so wrong for me to want to learn. Did I not have that right? To be dismissed like that was hard, so sometimes I just wanted to give up.

Through the years I’ve felt a lot of negative emotions related to my learning disability, emotions like being inferior to others or worthless and small. Those feeling have carried over into my adult life, and they have been a big reason as to why I do not push myself.

Children’s ability to learn is not a fad, not “out of California like hula hoops or something.” It is an amazing part of who they are and should be celebrated.