By Heng Yi Zen
I was first diagnosed with dyslexia when I was 7 years old. There were times I felt that dyslexia made me inferior to the rest. It vexed me, and what made it worse was when my classmates wished they had dyslexia too, so that they could get extra time during examinations. Although they were kidding, it did hit a raw nerve. I understood that the extra time granted to students with dyslexia was so that we are able to compete on equal footing with the rest of our friends.
Because of dyslexia, I never really got to feel “normal” during the course of the standard academic curriculum. Whenever I did better than my peers, I could see that some of them felt that I had an unfair advantage over them because I was given extra time. It felt as though no matter what I did there were people who refused to accept that I had to study hard to get the grades that I deserved. But rather, they felt that I was only able to come out better than them because I “cheated” (being given extra time).
We cannot do anything about the circumstances that we are born with, but where we start out in life does not affect how much you can achieve in the future. Instead of blaming something that I could not control, I diverted my attention toward finding alternative ways to learn and understand my subjects. I still encounter difficulties with spelling, but it has been mitigated with the help of technology (e.g., Microsoft Word, spell check). Through extensive reading, I have added on more words into my mental word bank, which helps me to identify mistakes in my spelling. And if a word is spelled incorrectly, I will try to spell it again until it “looks right.”
Playing sports was the only time that I truly felt like I was on a completely equal footing with my peers. That was where I felt I was recognized equally for the hard work that I put into improving myself. It was a very humbling experience because we all have respect for one another in the sporting field—just like in life, where everyone is constantly looking to improve oneself, and if you want to get ahead of others you have to work harder than the rest. Everyone wants to come out on top at the end of the day, and it is by working harder, smarter, or putting in longer training hours than others that will earn you your right to claim your prize.
I was drawn to the earnest nature of sports, where hard work will almost always yield results, and there is no such thing as “job connections” or shortcuts to success. It is where individuals are called to work their hardest and to pit themselves against other like-minded people in an earnest competition, where the best person wins. That to me was very rewarding.
Sports also instilled in me the drive and habit to work hard and to develop a better appreciation for time. We had organized trainings just three times a week, but since everyone had such a strong drive to be the best, most of us ended up training eight times a week (training twice on some days). Some of us even trained in secret without telling the rest, in an attempt to gain the upper hand.
Fitting my training schedule together with project work and academic requirements was a challenge and it took an immense amount of discipline and time management to pull that off. Although, when things become habitual, it becomes more natural instead of feeling like a chore. I kept going on because I knew I would not forgive myself if I did not try my very best, especially if I crossed that finish line with regrets at the back of my head.
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability; having it does not mean that you have less potential than anyone else. It may be true that you may take longer to pick up new skills or syllabi compared to your peers. Nonetheless, take your time; find your own way to learn if the conventional approaches do not work for you, and always remember that the only one ever really stopping you from your goals is yourself.
“Whether you believe you can or you cannot, you are right” —Henry Ford
And of course my favorite quote from Kung Fu Panda: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” Every moment is an opportunity to work toward what we wish to achieve in the future; it is a gift to us, but it is up to us how we wish to use it.
Heng Yi Zen is an accounting and finance student in Singapore. He is an Alumni Member of the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS), a Global Partner organization of the International Dyslexia Association. Yi Zen was a DAS Young Achiever Awardee in 2014.