I'm Dyslexic And I Program

November 18, 2012

I'm dyslexic. And no, that doesn't mean I read backwards. It also doesn't mean I'm stupid. From wikipedia:

"Dyslexia is a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person's ability to read. These individuals typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence." - National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

But in middle school, my teachers all just about gave up on me ever being able to read, write or spell at a proficient level and so did I. They gave me a laptop that came with software that would translate text in speech and the audio versions of my reading assignments and sent me on my way. And so, for the longest time, I believed I would never need to read or write. What was the point? Technology could already do this task for me. So I almost never read or wrote anything. Nor did I want to. It was hard and frustrating and everyone could do it better then me.

With the computer I was given, I learned to type. And better and more quickly then any of my peers. Typing, it turns out, was a great way to learn how to spell. I could memorize the motion of my fingers instead of trying to remember the order of letters.

Then, another interesting thing began to happen. I learned to program. In art class, we used Adobe Flash to create animations. I found myself wanting to create interactions and more complicated motions, so I learned ActionScript. As long as I could find tutorials with several examples, and relatively little text between them, I could get my animations to do what I wanted. And so by accident, I found an entire would inside of ActionScript for doing all kinds of neat things. I could even make video games!

Because of all the time I was spending trying to follow tutorials, my ability to read slowly improved. After I got to college and decided to major in Computer Engineer, a really great thing happened. Someone suggested a book for me to read. The book was called Outliers. It was the fastest I've ever read a book and probably the first book I ever read that I truly enjoyed reading. So I read Blink and The Tipping Point just as quickly after that. Somehow reading wasn't a struggle while reading those books. It was like riding a current down stream, instead of feeling like a fight upstream. I reached some sort of critical mass, where the enjoyment factor outweighed the choir.

There's a lot of research in the area in neuroplasticity that suggests increasing remedial reading can offset the effects of dyslexia. Let me say that another way, reading more makes you less of a dyslexic. The prevailing wisdom on dyslexia up until recently has basically been if you got it your stuck with it. Which makes sense, since the one thing dyslexics don't want to do its read more so they never improve.

It seems more and more that reading and writing is like the internet itself and being better at both is analoges to improving your download and upload bandwidth. I feel very strongly that reading and writing on the web isn't just a fad. It's going to be the primary communication protocol for us humans on the internet for a very long time to come. It should be our priority, as a society, to teach the fundamentals of communication above all else in school. As long as kids are able to communicate, they'll gravitate toward their interests and fields of choice on their own teaching themselves along the way.