by Rachel Ovaska
I sat hesitantly, staring at the blank sheet of paper in front of me and thinking about my name. I sounded it out under my breath while taking quick glances up at the laminated, rolled out alphabet above the white board. I started to notice the other kids around me were finishing. Quickening my pace, I finished writing. A wobbly, heavy, handwritten font read “rAChEl OvAskA.” Ms. Hill squatted next to me and wrote “Rachel Ovaska” in the lines under it—I guess I didn’t do it correctly. I remember all the kids at my table giggling as I sat there trying to listen to Ms. Hill’s instructions, all the while my face kept getting hotter.
I know my dyslexia has made prominent changes in my life. I’ve had it forever, but it was never a problem until I began first grade, when I couldn’t spell correctly or keep up with my classmates. It wasn’t until eighth grade that I was finally diagnosed with dyslexia. By that time, it was really nice to put a name to what I had, instead of thinking I was stupid.
I remember all the help I had received from teachers along the way, but none stood out as much as my parents. I remember the hundreds of flash cards my mom hand wrote and worked on with me every night before bed. My dad brought home the book “The New Day In and Day Out: The Alice and Jerry Books” to help me with my reading skills. We read every story at least 50 times.
The one story that always stuck out in my head was about a boy and his blue toy airplane. He was always reading about airplanes and dreaming of flying in one someday. Instead of getting a real airplane, his father took him to the toy store where he picked out a bright blue airplane. The illustration of that blue airplane, accompanied by the word, has stuck in my head ever since.
Like any child, I wanted to go outside and play hide-and-go-seek with my sisters or catch bullfrogs down at the frog pond. But at the same time, I could understand why staying in and working was important for me. I knew that if I didn’t understand the basics, I could be held back, and all the hard work my parents put into me would be wasted. I cried a lot when I couldn’t understand a word that seemed so easy for everyone else. I frequently felt like a failure to my parents and to myself when I couldn’t grasp a word. I still had kids laugh at me when I read out loud. I was frustrated in school and out of it.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life learning the basics and working with my dyslexia. It has pushed me to be a hard worker and to never back down from anything. I don’t give up. I’ve done so much learning and re-learning in my life that I’ve actually come to love it.
My dyslexia also helped me realize that it was OK that I was a visual learner. I needed images to understand what was going on when I was first learning—like the blue airplane. This visual side has allowed me to pursue an artistic career. I’ve always enjoyed drawing and all forms of art. I express myself with more ease visually than I do with words, but that doesn’t mean I slack off when it comes to verbal communication.
I feel like I should be thankful for my learning disability. Not only has it helped me pursue my art career, but it has also made me realize something—I realize that I have faith in myself and that nothing is impossible for me.