While growing up, Krista Weltner enjoyed many of the supports that advocates want for children with dyslexia: early diagnosis, academic accommodations, a supportive family, and opportunities to grow in areas outside of literacy. Even so, educational institutions often failed her in painful ways. Today, Weltner is an artist who has worked in multiple mediums and is employed as a finisher at a firm that makes animated characters, such as puppets and animatronics, for the themed entertainment industry. In a personal project, she has turned her experiences with dyslexia into a compelling stop-motion film, Partially Compensated. The film tells the story of a young girl’s struggle with dyslexia and offers insight into how others, especially educators, can learn to accept learning differences as well.
Weltner was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade and received special education services until junior high school, when she declined to be retested.
“They gave me the option of being retested for—and getting accommodations for—junior high and high school, but I actually chose not to get that done,” says Weltner. “Ultimately, I think it just boiled down to I didn’t want to feel different and I wanted to feel challenged. I felt like being dyslexic at school just meant there was a stamp on my paperwork that said OK she’s dyslexic just give her an A.”
Weltner made it through high school with what she describes as OK grades. But an experience she had as an undergraduate was one of the motivators for her later exploring schools’ failures to really support students with dyslexia. She decided to be evaluated for accommodations at the college after struggling. During the interview portion of the assessment, she began to cry when describing her struggles. While it is not uncommon for people with dyslexia to also have anxiety, the evaluator said she didn’t think Weltner had dyslexia at all, but rather an anxiety disorder only.
“I remember calling my mom and I was totally distraught. My whole way I operate was being questioned, and so I went and got tested by somebody else and both tests came back severely dyslexic,” she says.
After that evaluation, she was able to have accommodations and assistive technology to help her complete her undergraduate studies. Over the course of undergraduate and graduate school, she moved from theater to costume design to puppetry and stop-motion filmmaking.
She attributes her successes in creative disciplines to exposure from her family.
“I had a lot of great opportunities outside of the classroom to learn. I was involved in theater and my mother was a teacher. She actually was an art teacher, so I’ve always had access and exposure to different forms of the arts in my home. I don’t know how I would have gotten through school otherwise. I really loved when I got to college and I got to choose what I wanted to study, and then graduate school was the greatest three years of education that I’ve had because I was only pursuing artistic things,” says Weltner. “My first semester of graduate school, studying puppetry, which sounds really…I realize is kind of hilarious, I called my parents. I was so excited. I got straight As for the first time in my life. And both of them said, hey, maybe you should have been in puppetry school your whole life! So maybe there’s something to that, I don’t know.”
Weltner feels that it’s important that children with dyslexia get appropriate tutoring and supports to perform their best, but that they also have other opportunities to learn outside of academics, like she did.
“Personally, having those extra things having nothing to do with reading, nothing to do with spelling, those things meant the world to me and have landed me on a successful career path,” says Weltner. She has also found successes with reading books that have also been made into movies. She’ll watch the movie, and then she finds she has the stamina to stay with the text once she knows something about the narrative arc of the book. Looking back, one gap she would have filled if she could, is that she didn’t meet a fellow student with dyslexia until college. She feels having a peer to talk to when she was younger would have been helpful.
Similarly, Weltner hopes her stop-motion film can help children with dyslexia know they are not alone. The film uses scenes inspired by her own education, such as struggles with timed independent reading, or the humiliation of having a teacher point out her learning difference to her peers in the classroom.
“If my younger self had seen a film like this, it really would have made me happy,” she says. “That’s really what I wanted. My favorite response to it was a mother who wrote me an e-mail and she said she shared it with her child and then she sent me a series of videos that her child had made that were stop-motion videos of his action figures. It made me really happy.”
Krista Weltner’s stop-motion film, Partially Compensated, is an exploration of what it was like for her to be in school as a child with dyslexia. The film also hints at a way forward for educators who have children with dyslexia in their classrooms.