While illiteracy is seen as primarily an adult problem, learning to read holds special challenges for some children. When they are able to overcome those challenges, words spring to life and the door is opened to progress in academic areas and to apply the hundreds of practical uses of the skill.
Both Cindi Vega and Jeremy Taylor faced formidable hurdles in learning to read. Cindi is functionally blind, though she can distinguish light and dark. Jeremy, although everyone supposed he had normal vision, actually suffers from dyslexia, a condition that plays tricks on the eyes, causing letters to flip-flop and reverse themselves in the normal order of words.The two students Cindi, a ninth-grader at Butler Middle School, and Jeremy, a sixth-grader at Spring Creek Middle in Providence, Cache County were among Utah winners of an essay contest sponsored by Sylvan Learning Centers.
Their quests for literacy are touching. Cindi, who hopes to be a psychologist some day, had to learn Braille as she began school and continues to read Brailled texts. She won second place in a contest sponsored by the Utah Press Association for students and has had other works published in the school newspaper. Her editorial was titled "Handicapped People Can Contribute," a theme on which she is an expert. She corresponds with pen pals in the United States, New Zealand, India and Africa.
"Reading is very, very important," she said. "I would encourage those who can't read to make an effort to learn. I know that it's a great disadvantage not to be able to read."
Jeremy went through the first grades of school with people thinking he was "dumb," he says a painful experience for any child and especially one who actually is very bright bright enough to set his sights on a career as a chemical engineer.
A special education teacher fresh out of college who recognized his problem as dyslexia and had the skills to teach him to compensate for the visual quirk made a world of difference for the boy.
He learned to read, in fact, largely with his eyes closed. "I had to memorize words with their spelling. I'd close my eyes and think of the order the letters go in," he said. "It was hard. I don't think I could take it again. A lot of people teased me. They didn't think there was any such thing as dyslexia."
Jeremy's brain has learned to cope with the warped visual messages it receives. He now reads avidly, especially science fiction and true adventures.