by Liisa Ogburn
“Get in here,” filmmaker Harvey Hubbel yelled over to my 16-year-old son Aidan, as he held back the black curtain on the Photobooth.
It was the final night of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) 2016 Conference in Orlando. The sun had just set. A cool breeze ruffled the papery palm fronds. Aidan grabbed a pair of oversized green sunglasses and a wig and ran over. Luz Rello, a dyslexic researcher at Carnegie Mellon, and a man dressed as Santa Claus were already in the booth. Aidan climbed in.
“Closer,” Harvey commanded. “We’ve got to get everyone in the frame.”
I stood outside the booth and watched the screen as the four heads moved in tighter—these four people who had not known each other just 48 hours ago.
I could never have foreseen this moment almost a decade ago when Aidan was first diagnosed with dyslexia. At the time, we hadn’t known anyone with it—not a single family with a kid who, at eight, despite immense effort still couldn’t read.
We had made our way through private assessments and tutoring, accommodations and technology crutches and IEPs by reading books about dyslexia and scouring the web and talking to strangers.
And in the time between then and now, Aidan had grown up. He had accepted the diagnosis—though he only disclosed it when necessary. He had found the technologies and methods and accommodations and help he needed in order to make his way. It wasn’t a perfect path. There were still certainly bumps. In fact, at one particularly bumpy juncture, he had written to one hundred successful dyslexic adults asking (somewhat desperately) for advice.
Shockingly, a number responded. Aidan had put all their responses into a book. And it was because of this book that we were here in Florida. Aidan had been selected for the Remy Johnston Merit Award. In his acceptance speech, he told his story (https://vimeo.com/189192531). In the following four days, countless people—teachers, mothers, kids—stopped him to tell him theirs.
And now, here he was on this closing evening of the conference a few feet from me, beaming into the Photobooth camera with his three new dyslexic friends.
I turn fifty this year. That’s another way of saying I know that there are challenges in every single family. My dear friend Erin’s daughter is undergoing treatment for leukemia, again. Another friend with young boys is going through a volatile divorce. There is absolutely no mathematical equation that can begin to measure suffering.
But in the last few days I’ve also learned that likewise is there no way to assess the value of finding people who live with similar challenges. No vault of gold is worth the simple realization that you are not alone. Isn’t that comforting? You are not alone.