Most people think of dyslexia as a reading difficulty. But it’s not always about reading. David Baron, for instance, loves books and is a died-in-the-wool bookworm. However, he can’t understand math or anything to do with numbers. Here he tells us about his early days.
“In grade school it was well known that I was brilliant in the sciences but because I was so different in that respect, I got a lot of ridicule from my classmates. Still, I realized early on that such ridicule was actually a kind of admiration and I knew they were just jealous. Once I came to that realization, I actually enjoyed the ridicule and saw it as a veiled compliment. My educators, however, never ridiculed me—they were just frustrated and puzzled.”
In spite of his brilliance, David struggled with math and for the most part earned failing grades. A math teacher gave him extra help for a time but gave up on David when nothing seemed to sink in. Baron was forced to spend an hour a day over the long summer vacation of his eighth year, trying to drum the basic four functions of math into his head. By the end of the summer, he did achieve this goal.
Today, David says he has, “…little feeling for numbers and calculations. My memory for even a random 4-number string is no more than 5 seconds. Thank God I have to repeat my cell-phone number frequently as such repetition is the only thing that keeps it in my memory.”
Meantime, books are a different story altogether. Baron fell in love with books at the age of 6, and began to devour them with a passion, in particular, non-fiction. On the other hand, spelling is a problem. David calls his spelling skills “appalling.”
“In university, when everything was typed by hand, I turned in a 30-page research paper and my instructor took off 15 points because I had an average of 7 spelling errors per page. He was appalled at my spelling but thought the content of my paper was great. Thank God for today’s word processors with spell checkers.
My ability in language acquisition is also terrible. I took German in high school and as the lessons progressed I actually forgot the material from the earliest lessons even though the most basic vocabulary from those lessons remained in constant use.”
In his adult years, David moved to Israel, where he enrolled in an intensive Hebrew language course known as an “ulpan.” Learning Hebrew was a painful struggle for David and he was forced to drop out after only 3 weeks. He found that the same phenomenon he experienced in high school German classes happened with Hebrew: “First knowledge in, first forgotten. The only reason I’m fluent in Hebrew today is because I learned it on the street and at work, with no pressure, at my own very slow pace.
Today I’m fluent in Hebrew but it’s far from elegant. About 2 years ago I tried to learn Polish via downloaded language lessons, and the pattern repeated itself of forgetting earlier lessons, so I gave it up.
I have talked to language teachers and they have all said they never heard of such a curious impediment to learning a second language. On the upside my dyslexia has blessed me with a talent for abstract and conceptual thinking and in writing and speaking.”