This Is How I Read 


When confronted with a block of text most people instinctively begin to read. I don’t. I actually have to remind myself to read and even then retention is not guaranteed. In fact, as I type these words onto my computer screen it’s a chore for me to discern what I have just written. Perhaps this explains why little of my creative work is actually in print but has rather been made public by virtue of live performance. Perhaps this is also the reason I do not refer to myself as a writer but rather as a storyteller.


For years I wondered why I would get massive headaches when trying to study. Why did the words seem to swim around on the page like so many fish? Why couldn’t I read at all when there were noisy distractions? Perhaps I was dyslexic.


Somehow I managed to experience much of my life without ever realizing I had a condition known as 'Non-verbal Learning Disorder', (or NLD), until I was finally diagnosed with it in 2005 and came to understand that I simply do not learn by reading. I learn by hearing.


That lady pulling on the Push door? That’s me. The gal who finally notices what’s written on the front of the T-shirt she’s been wearing for three years? That’s me too. The one who buys three bottles of shampoo that she thought was conditioner? The one who walks into a library and suddenly feels dizzy? I’m her.


Yes I’m that girl – the one who often feels left out in a world full of books; the one who has a quick and curious mind that hungers for knowledge but knows she will never own a Kindle and often wonders what all the hype is about over the latest best-seller. Yes I’m the girl who fears being put into any situation where she will be required to read aloud yet is secretly grateful to be blessed with an amazing ability to memorize information so that she can usually fake it on those rare occasions when it’s unavoidable. I’m the girl who’s been told it’s not about her IQ - she’s good there. It’s about her brain - it simply processes things differently than most folks. What this girl has is a Learning Disorder often referred to as ‘The gift of NLD’ and there are many others just like her.


You can’t tell by looking at her because her disability is invisible. But she can hear a piece of music for the first time and instantly sit down and play it on the piano. She has radar hearing that would amaze a dog and she often lives in the right side of her brain where all things creative tend to flourish. And despite a great deal of confusion in all her failed attempts to learn in a formal educational setting she has somehow managed to adapt and be resourceful enough to become her own best teacher.


The term ‘Learning Disorder’ often gets translated as “not too bright” when in reality the opposite is often true. People with NLD are often accused of being lazy, rude, uncooperative, and worse. Nothing could be farther from the truth! They are hardworking, persistent, goal-oriented, and incredibly honest. People who have learning disabilities tend to try harder. They face daily challenges that others often fail to recognize, they are often judged unfairly, and their needs are seldom accommodated.


The fact is, not everyone processes information in the same way. I know this because I am one of those people. I’m that girl - the one with the learning disorder. I personally don’t care for the term ‘learning disorder’. I often think – if only the rest of the world learned the way I do life would be so much easier! But in truth I am a champion of literacy for it is the door to knowledge, learning, and empowerment for most people in today’s modern world.  


As for me, I may never read you a story. But I will tell you one. Perhaps next time you hear of someone who has a learning disability you will look at them with new eyes. Perhaps that someone will even be me.

© pj johnson Yukon Poet Laureate 2013