Dealing with Dyslexia

Before she earned a starring role on TV, actress Bella Thorne struggled with the learning disability dyslexia.

 CHELSEA LAUREN/GETTY IMAGES

As one of the Disney Channel’s latest stars, 13-year-old Bella Thorne seems to have it all. When she was just a few weeks old, she landed her first modeling job, for Parents magazine. Since then, Bella’s done photo shoots for countless magazines and appeared in more than 40 TV commercials. She is now one of the stars of Disney’s Shake It Up, a sitcom chronicling the lives of two teen backup dancers on a fictional TV show called Shake It Up Chicago.

But Bella’s life hasn’t been without obstacles. In fact, when she was in second grade, she was diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability that affects 15 to 20 percent of the population in the United States. Learning how to live with dyslexia has been one of the most challenging aspects of Bella’s life.

Affected My Life”

“Dyslexia has affected my life in a big way,” Bella tells Choices. “At first, I was really afraid and self-conscious because I didn’t feel like I was as smart as other kids and I couldn’t read the way they did. I was happy to know that it was something that affects other people and that I wasn’t alone, but I also felt bad because I knew I had a big struggle ahead of me.”

Finding out, as Bella did, that you have dyslexia can be daunting. But luckily, plenty of resources are available to help someone with this disability to adapt. To break down truths and misconceptions about dyslexia, Choices interviewed Dr. Brock Eide and Dr. Fernette Eide of the Eide Neurolearning Clinic in Edmonds, Washington. The Eides are physicians specializing in learning issues and co-authors of The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain, which will be published later this year.

According to the National Institutes of Health, dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. It is the most common cause of difficulties in reading, spelling, and writing. Dyslexics have trouble learning letters and their sounds, decoding—or sounding out—words in print, forming memories of new words, remembering the order of letters, and organizing written and spoken language.

Math Challenge

Dealing with numbers can also be a problem. Dyslexics may have trouble memorizing formulas and correctly performing basic mathematical operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Dyslexics are born with the disorder, although it can take years for it to be properly diagnosed. Although the exact cause of dyslexia isn’t known, research shows the disability is hereditary. In other words, if you’re dyslexic, it’s highly likely that one of your parents or grandparents is too.

A person with dyslexia might face a number of challenges—especially at school. Keeping up with homework and completing assignments on time can be tricky. Finishing a test within a normal class period might be especially taxing. Even reading directions correctly, memorizing facts, and listening to a teacher lecture while simultaneously taking notes can be tough.

As a result, dyslexia can take a toll on a person’s emotions. “The biggest problem with dyslexia is that it makes kids give up on themselves,” the Eides say. “Other problems are caused by people not seeing how hard dyslexic students are working, or not believing the students are doing their best. These students might suffer from feeling they’re always falling behind and not seeing much reward for their efforts. They might also grow tired of being different than most other people, and of falling short of what they expect from themselves.”

Read, Read, Read

Dealing with dyslexia is a lifelong battle, but many dyslexics develop crucial skills to help them cope with the problem. For Bella, that meant leaning on her family for support and reading everything she could get her hands on: books, advertisements, scripts, even cereal boxes.

“If you really want to overcome dyslexia, you have to work at your hardest limit,” Bella says. “Read everything, and really try reading every single day.”

The Eides agree with Bella’s advice. “You can’t change all the features of a dyslexic brain into a ­nondyslexic brain,” the Eides say. “But what you can do is improve some of the challenges with reading, spelling, writing, and memory.”

Here are some tips from the Eides on how to cope with dyslexia:

  • Practice reading aloud or reading along with audio­books. This can improve your fluency, the ability to speak smoothly and easily.

  • Use a keyboard for most of your writing, and a word-processing program that has a good spell checker. A writing tutor might also be helpful.

  • If you suspect you are dyslexic, see your doctor to get tested. An actual diagnosis can get you ­accommodations at school, such as extra time to take tests, copies of lecture notes, and one-on-one help from a language specialist.

Living with dyslexia is challenging, but having the disorder doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish anything. “There may be a lot of challenges facing kids who have dyslexia, but they have wonderful talents too,” the Eides say. “Nothing should keep them from pursuing their dreams.”

Bella is an example of this. Being dyslexic hasn’t prevented her from becoming a successful actress. In fact, Bella is comfortable enough with her condition to let the disability be a part of Shake It Up. Cecelia “Ce Ce” Jones, her character on the show, is dyslexic.

“Now I feel proud,” she says. “Having dyslexia has taught me that if you work really hard, you can overcome great challenges.”

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