2011 Anne Ford and Allegra Ford Scholar Jared Schmidt describes his day-to-day experiences with dyslexia and dysgraphia. His ability to understand his needs and to advocate for them, combined with his ability to look at and enjoy life beyond school, are guiding him towards a promising future.
My name is Jared Schmidt. I am eighteen years old and I live in the state of Maine. I have a language processing disorder called dyslexia. I found out that I had dyslexia and dysgraphia when I was in the fifth grade. I always wondered when I would be able to read and write like the other kids. I kept thinking if I worked harder or kept trying that one day it would “just click.” That is what I had heard happened to most kids. The problem was that I was getting older, and the work was getting harder, but I was not getting better at reading or writing. Dyslexia and dysgraphia have to do with how I receive and give out information. It is hard for me to read written text or to write responses. The process that my brain uses when I try to gain information that way takes extreme mental effort and much more time than a traditional learner would need. Anything I can hear or see happening, I can remember and understand. I can talk about what I know clearly with detail. I always score high on listening tests, spatial relationship sort of tests, and comprehension. Once I have information, I have no problem using it or making connections and elaborating on it. The difficulty is that our society is geared toward reading and writing as significant methods of learning. I do not fit that mold. My brain works well, but it does not work in the traditional way.
Growing up with this disability was frustrating. The biggest frustration I had was not being able to do my homework on my own. I could not read the text books for my classes. Some of my textbooks were available at Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, but not most of them. Either they had the wrong edition recorded and the wait time to get the right edition was a year away, or they did not have my books at all. This meant that I had to wait for someone to read to me. I am the oldest of four boys and have grown up in a single-parent home. My mom has been very willing to help with homework, but the younger kids always come first because they need to go to bed earlier. I might get home by 4:00, but by the time my turn comes for homework, it might be 8:00 or 8:30. This has been very stressful for me because I never know if we will have enough time to get my work done. It feels like homework is hanging over me all of the time. By the time I can do my work, I am very tired and most of my best effort has been spent.
Even doing the work was a frustration. I had to figure out a way to get what I was thinking written down. Sometimes my thinking was hard to communicate. Eventually my mom and I made a system that worked. I had to articulate and dictate to her what I thought was the answer. She scribed for me until I could type my responses.
This learning disability not only affects my life in school, but also at work, and in my confidence toward the future. I work at a grocery store. I average between 20 and 28 hours during a regular school week. Initially, my boss did not know that I had any learning disability. I can do all that is required for my job, but some aspects of it are more difficult for me. As a cashier, I am checking numbers and reading labels constantly. At first it is fine, but an hour or so into the shift, figures begin to blend together and I need more time to concentrate on the tasks. My boss has left it up to me to speak up if I need a break. I usually have enough variety in my job that it all works out.
In looking toward my future, I am aware that this disability will affect me significantly. Everyone has twenty-four hours in a day. If I have to use so many of my hours working in order to pay for college, and so many extra hours doing college work, I worry about being able to fit it all in. Most colleges expect reading and writing in large amounts. I worry about being able to keep up with the classes I take. I know that I will need to work hard.
In spite of this disability, I still have plenty to enjoy about life. My grades are very good. My favorite subject is Anatomy and Physiology. I have an A in that class. I also have an A in economics and I enjoy that class as well. I have not let this disability slow me down. I achieved my second-degree black belt in tae kwon do in junior high. I played basketball for several years. Since my mom couldn’t help me financially, I earned enough money to buy a used car and that helps my family. When I turned eighteen, I went skydiving to celebrate. My younger brother and I recently drove almost 2000 miles on a college trip on our own. Life is good.
I think that one driving factor in my success has been the constant faith of my family. We attend church regularly and I am involved in our youth group. I mentor a small group of boys in my school and am active in summer camps. I am part of a Wilderness Intensive Leadership Development (WILD) program in northern Maine that has broadened my perspective on life. I have met teens from all walks of life there. I have participated in service projects there that were supposed to help other people, but instead I found that they inspire me to be a better person.
I am committed to going to college. I want to major in counseling and youth ministry. I would like to work in a youth ministry, or become a school guidance counselor. I want to help young people overcome some of the same fears that I have had. I have seen that people without a good education are limited in what they can achieve. A college education will help me reach my goals in life, but I know it will also help me become stronger as a person as I work hard and succeed.