How Reading and Writing Have Shaped My Life
By: Kathy Green
This is a tale of an adult with nonverbal LD, and how I've put my strengths to use in compensating for my weaknesses in nonverbal skills.
When I was three years old, I learned the alphabet. My mother taught me the ABCs herself. However, I learned my letters via an unorthodox way. I learned the letters "N-Z" first, then I learned the letters "A-N." At that point, I put them all together.
From my earliest years, reading was an integral part of my life. My mother and my older sisters all loved to read. My mother not only taught me the alphabet at an early age, she saw to it that I was supplied with books. She purchased picture books for me and checked them out of the library as well. And she read to me regularly. Night after night, I would take stacks of storybooks to her, and while I sat in her lap, she would read them to me. As a result, I learned to read at the age of five.
In a way, it's paradoxical that I learned to read so early, because unlike the speech skills of most children with nonverbal learning disabilities, mine were delayed. (Normally, kids with NLD learn to speak and to read at precociously early ages, after which they rapidly develop unusually advanced vocabularies.) I spoke my first words at two years of age; my first sentence when I was three or four; and I still used baby talk when I was five. In first grade, I still couldn't pronounce the blend "th." Instead, I pronounced it as "f."
(Because I was so late in learning to talk, I was once mis-diagnosed as retarded. When I was five or six years old, a psychologist, while testing me, asked me to tell him what a stove was. Because I lacked the speech skills to define a stove, I drew him a picture of one. He recommended that I attend a school for mentally retarded children. I did--for one day.)
Once I finally learned to speak, however, I became a chatty, talkative child by nature. In fact, one of the things others would complain of was, "You talk too much!"
At some point during my early childhood years, I discovered the joys of creative writing. I can still remember the first story I ever wrote, though I can no longer recite it by heart. It was a short, heavily-illustrated tale about a ghost.
From that time on, I wrote incessantly. I wrote story after story after story. Whenever I didn't know the spelling of a word, I would ask my mother to supply it. As a result, as is typical for a child with a nonverbal learning disability, my spelling and grammar skills rapidly advanced. Needless to say, from the beginning, my family encouraged my creative writing. (Curiously, in spite of all my years of writing practice, my writing skills never really matured. Even today, my handwriting resembles that of a child. On the plus side, though, it was never the laborious struggle for me it is for many dyslexic and NLD children. I've always been able to produce legible writing without effort.)
Throughout my growing-up years, I wrote stories simply because I enjoyed doing so. It was--and is--something that gave me a source of badly-needed self-esteem. Because of my nonverbal LD, I was a poor athlete, and my social skills were even poorer. I was never good at math, though I could generally manage basic arithmetic calculations without undue difficulty. (Even today, my mental-math skills are practically nonexistent, and math that requires mathematical reasoning--such as algebra and geometry--is quite hard for me.) My chances of competing and winning on the playground were, alas, virtually nil. But in my language arts skills, I could compete with the best of them. Reading, grammar and punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, rote memorization, etc., were areas I knew I could do well in. So was creative writing.
My love of reading and writing enriched my life in so many ways. Through books, I learned so much about the world, about life, and got to escape the real world's trials and tribulations. It would be impossible to list all the books I've read through the years--there have simply been too many. But every one has added to my life in some way. And writing has given me a marvelous creative outlet as well as developing my language-arts abilities. That, in turn, has played a vital part in helping me to overcome the weaknesses caused by my NLD, and nowadays, it plays an even greater role.
As an adult, I've acquired formal training in creative writing. During the 1990s, I studied with two correspondence schools: Writer's Digest School and The Institute of Children's Literature. Thanks to them, I've been able to achieve a professional level in my fiction writing that I hope will lead to book and magazine publication. In addition, I took journalism courses at a state university.
The skills I acquired at that university have helped me greatly since. From November, 1998, to July, 2000, I used my writing skills to make some money. During that time, I worked as a part-time corresponding reporter (otherwise known as a "stringer") for a small-town newspaper. I covered school board meetings and special events, and I wrote human-interest feature stories. So, in spite of my NLD, I was able to not only make some spending money, but I also gained valuable experience I hope will get me a steady job in the future. (I've since moved to another state and am in the process of seeking employment.)
I've also put my love of reading to use, financially. In the fall of 1999, the local elementary school in the town where I lived hired me to read the books it collected for a reading program, and to write a quiz for each one; I spent the rest of the school year doing just that. In addition, last spring, I copyedited some papers a friend of mine had written, for which she paid me. So I have gotten much-needed opportunities to use my strengths and interests to gain job experience and to make some money. My goal, at present, is to use my experience to find steady employment in my new city of residence.
In addition, the Internet offers me a way to keep my hand in, regarding fiction-writing.
(Owing to copyright restrictions, I can never make any money off them, but they're a great way to gain exposure!) One of my dreams is to become a children's book author, and I have taken some steps during this past year to achieve that. I've written a children's mystery novel featuring a dyslexic heroine.
The advice I have for other NLD adults is this: in addition to remediating your weaknesses, find out what you're good at and zero in on your strengths and aptitudes. Because it is through using them that you have the best chance of achieving success in the world.
Before you share a story about a time when you learned a valuable lesson, you'll want to see how other students explored their topics. Read the sample paragraph and narrative essay in this lesson and answer the questions about them. Think about how the writer puts ideas together and how you might do so in your own narrative.
A narrative paragraph briefly shares a story about something that happened in the writer's life. It includes three parts: The topic sentence introduces the story. The body sentences describe what happened in time order. The ending sentence tells why the experience was important, possibly by stating a lesson learned.
Topic SentenceThe news broke during a family meeting, the first I can ever remember my parents calling.Mom and Dad sat my brother Patrick and me down in the living room. “We have some big news,” said my Dad, his voice cracking. He paused. My mom continued, “Your dad’s company is transferring him to the United States, and we’re going with him.”Body Sentences My mind went blank. The United States? I had never even visited anywhere outside of my home country, the Philippines. My eyes welled with tears. “What!” I stood and exclaimed. But my protests were no use. In ten days, we would be leaving the only home I’d known. Those last days were filled with last-minute packing, final meals, and final good-byes. I met my best friend Nicole for one last cheese ensaymada at our favorite bakery.Ending SentenceThe flaky sugar-coated pastry never tasted so bittersweet.
A narrative essay shares a story. This personal narrative focuses on a meaningful event in the writer's life. The beginning paragraph introduces the focus of the story in an interesting way. The middle paragraphs share the action and events of the story in time order. The ending paragraph sums up the experience and shares a final thought about it.
LeadMy brother and I were watching TV when my dad called out, “Anna, Patrick, we’re going to have a family meeting. Go to the dining room.”Beginning Paragraph My brother’s eyes met mine. Family meeting? We had never had one before. That gave me a very odd feeling.
As soon as we arrived, my dad started, his voice cracking. “We’ve stayed in this country—I mean house—your whole lives. But there are times that we have to leave and go on.”
I really didn’t understand what my dad was saying—country and leave?
“What your dad is saying is that his company is transferring him to the United States,” my mom clearly explained.Dialogue
Tears welled in my eyes. “What!” I stood and exclaimed.
“Anna, sit down. You’re the oldest, and you should understand. We’re all going to leave. Tomorrow we’re going to the embassy for the papers and that’s final,” my dad said in anger and left.Middle Paragraphs
We were approved at the embassy and granted visas, and we were leaving June 10. We spent our last ten days packing up things and selling some of our appliances. We also found someone who would rent our house.
I said good-bye to my best friend Nicole at our favorite bakery down the road from my house (or, should I say, my former house). We ate cheese-filled ensaymadas and shared our favorite memories together through a mixture of laughter and tears. The flaky pastries never tasted so bittersweet.Thought Details
On June 10 my mom woke me up early. She said, “We have to leave early, or the traffic might catch up on us.”
Well, I hope so, I thought to myself.
We placed all our baggage on top of the van and headed for the airport. I was the last one in the car. As we moved farther along, I could see my home fading away. And in that moment, I felt a part of me would still be there.
We arrived at the airport at eight o'clock in the morning. As I passed the metal detector, it beeped loudly because I was wearing a jumper with a metal buckle. At that time, I wished the police would take me and not let me on the plane.
“Flight 800 is now boarding. Flight 800 is now boarding,” announced the lady. That was our flight.Ending Paragraph
We gave the tickets to the woman at the counter. A flight attendant showed us to our seats. Luckily, I sat beside the window, and watched as I left my country. My body might be going to the U.S. in this journey in my life, but my heart would stay in the Philippines.
Respond to the narrative essay.
Work with a partner to answer these questions. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.
- How does the essay get your attention in the lead sentence?
The essay begins with tension. The writer's father tells her to come to an unexpected family meeting. The reader is left wondering what the meeting will address.
- What role does the dialogue play in the narrative? What impact does it have on you as a reader?
(Answers will vary.) The dialogue conveys the actions and emotions of the characters. It helps readers feel as if they are witnessing the story in person.
- Besides dialogue, what other sensory details does the writer include? Give at least three examples.
(Answers will vary.) Details like "his voice cracking" and "beeping" metal detector provide specific sounds. "My eyes welled with tears" gives a specific sight. Taste and textures are shown in the "flaky" and "bittersweet" pastry.
- What role do thought details play in the narrative?
(Answers will vary.) The thought details let readers know what the writer was thinking during the experience.
- What specific lesson does the writer learn from the experience? (Hint: She shares it in the ending paragraph.)
Even though the writer is moving to the United States, part of her will always remain in the Philippines.
Help students realize that the key features in the model personal narrative can inspire them as they create their own narratives.