Blog Series

My Fight for Literacy: Growing up with Dyslexia

by Liz Catalani on Nov 28, 2018

  • Dyslexia
  • ELA
  • Literacy
  • Reading Intervention
Elizabeth Catalani


When I was growing up, school was very hard for me because I couldn’t read. Imagine how scary class, peers, and the world can be for a child who can’t read and the many instances where reading is necessary and obvious. I was terrified when teachers asked me to read aloud, and I had very low self-esteem because of it. It was bewildering to have words correct in my head, but I was unable to read those same words correctly out loud.

Time and again, I would read and reread words, but my brain would tell me I was reading one word when it was actually another word. The embarrassment and insecurity made me so scared to read in front of my peers that I would count students and sentences, so I knew exactly when my turn was coming. The dread was overwhelming, and I did everything I could to prepare and not be embarrassed when my time came to read out loud. When faced with tests and quizzes, I would race through the questions so I wouldn’t have to read anymore. It was especially frustrating because I knew I was smart, I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t read and why my mind was always playing tricks on me.

My doctors thought ADD and ADHD were the problem. I was diagnosed in second grade and started attending an extra 30-minute block in my school’s reading room to help improve my skills. At that time, any type of diagnosis sent you directly to intervention. But for me, intervention didn’t help and words kept changing in my brain no matter how much intervention I had.

I continued with intervention well into middle school and the same frustration, self-doubt, and fear followed me. I remember in middle school, when making notecards became popular, one of my ELA teachers read my notes and said I was using the word “panic” when it was supposed to be “picnic.” I also had trouble with “would” and “wouldn’t” and “have” and “haven’t” because my mind could not autocorrect. She was the first teacher to notice something was different in the way my brain processed letters.

My parents decided to enroll me in a small Catholic high school, so I wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. It was there that Sister Joan noticed I might actually have dyslexia and my reading troubles might not be caused by ADD. With the help of my high school teachers, I was able to learn the foundational literacy skills I missed in grade school (i.e., spelling rules, sounding out words, and sounds) to help me catch up to my peers. Once I learned those basics, I was finally able to read and remember what I had read. The feeling of freedom and relief was huge, but my journey was not over. It still took years for me to master new strategies that would improve my reading skills and to be formally diagnosed with dyslexia.

Off to college I went with encouragement and new-found reading skills! However, the same level of individualized support I received from my high school teachers wasn’t there, and I struggled. Once again, I had trouble remembering the text I was reading and taking tests was very stressful. Thankfully, a professor recommended me to the Academic Disability Accommodations and Success Strategies (DASS) Center at SMU University in Dallas, which assists students with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, psychiatric disorders, and more. It was at DASS that I was finally formally tested and diagnosed with dyslexia. I also worked with an amazing tutor who helped me learn how to slow down my mind and how to adjust when my eyes and brain didn’t want to work together. She also gave me great pointers about reading in small chunks and then asking myself key questions to ensure I remembered what I was reading.

As an adult, I still struggle with dyslexia when it comes to reading books, street signs, or when I am tired. I have learned to make myself take a break and try again later if I encounter information I need to retain. This is a lifelong challenge for me. I will always need to remind myself to slow down and think about what I am reading and not let my eyes and brain trick me into thinking a word is there that is not the correct word. As an accomplished, professional adult, I still hate reading out loud publicly, but I’ve learned to work around it. If I get stuck and stumble while reading, I may take a minute to recover, but I know I can.

As a part of the Voyager Sopris Learning® sales team, I am proud to work for a company that is dedicated to helping students who struggle, students like me who know they’re smart, but don’t know why they cannot read at the same level as their peers. I think about how the products I sell help students with dyslexia and I know my work makes a difference in giving confidence, success, and joy in learning. When I was learning to read, dyslexia wasn’t widely diagnosed and schools did not have the research-based, proven resources available today. So, it took me longer to learn some of the basics than students today might encounter. As I work, I even find myself reviewing our curriculum to gain additional knowledge and continue to better myself.  

With a lot of practice, perseverance, and the support of many special people along the way, I have finally learned to enjoy reading. Currently, I am enjoying historical nonfiction and I am even doing online research to learn more about my family tree.

It has been a long journey for me to achieve literacy, but I did it. My journey led me to a fulfilling career that is dedicated to learning and literacy. For that, I am very proud. Working with educators who can help struggling students with LANGUAGE!® Live, LETRS®, and our other intervention programs, means perhaps I am helping just one student who might be feeling the fear and anxiety I felt.

Although I still struggle at times, it has been worth it. Literacy is freeing and every child deserves that gift.

Visit voyagersopris.com/dyslexia for information and resources for your classroom.

Liz Catalani has worked in education for 10 years and as a sales executive with Voyager Sopris Learning for six years. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two sons.

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