In chapter thirty-five – in the scene where Dwight explains to her that she has a learning disability called dyslexia – I made what is definitely my most personal connection to the book. I felt so relieved for Addie! Maybe it sounds kind of funny that I felt relieved for her, but I’ve actually had a very similar experience to Addie’s. I’m not dyslexic, but I do have a learning disability.
Even since I can remember, it’s been very hard for me to recognize people. Someone will walk up to me and start talking like we know each other, and I’ll have no idea who that person is. I usually have to meet someone five or six times at least before I know them on sight. I don’t forget meeting the person; I just forget what they look like, so the next time I meet them, even if it’s only half an hour later, I don’t know who they are.
This always seemed really weird to me. I thought I must be the only person in the world that it happened to, and I was embarrassed because no one understood. Sometimes, even now, I find myself in really awkward situations, and sometimes, people even get angry with me.
The moment of revelation came when I was twenty-two. My mom saw something on television about prosopagnosia. She called me right away to tell me about it, and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when I realized I wasn’t the only one who had this problem, and it wasn’t my fault, and it didn’t mean I was stupid or not trying hard enough. It turns out there’s a special place in your brain that is designed specifically to remember people’s faces, like a filing cabinet full of photographs, and in some people’s brains – like mine, for example – there’s no “filing cabinet” there, so nothing ever gets stored.
I hope Dwight will make sure that Addie hears more about dyslexia, so that she can really understand what it is and what it means for her. It’s especially important that she knows she is not stupid, because dyslexia has nothing to do with being or not being smart. Also, the more Addie knows about dyslexia, the more she can use the strategies that help, like her notecards to “hold the words still” and skipping lines as she writes.
(I know I use a lot of coping strategies. For example, when I only have to remember someone for a little while, I try to memorize what they’re wearing. Sometimes, if I’m learning a lot of people very fast, I can do it by where they’re sitting or by how tall they are. Eventually, I get to know people’s posture and movement and way of speaking, and that’s enough that I can always recognize them after that – but it takes me several meetings to absorb those things!)
Learning disabilities are quite common. Think about how complex our brains are! It’s no wonder they occasionally malfunction. I’ve learned that as much as 2% of the population may be prosopagnosic, and dyslexia is even more common – around 5%!
Do you have a learning disability, or do you know anyone who does? Do you think you can tell just by hanging out with a person? One of my problems is that people occasionally get so frustrated me for not recognizing them that they don’t even want to let me explain. I wish more people knew what “prosopagnosic” means! Have you had any experiences with learning to use “coping strategies” – ways of managing to do something when, for some reason, you’re not able to do it in the same way that most people do?