Texthelp Talks: Dyslexia - Finding a love of writing
In this episode, Donna introduces an insightful conversation between her colleague, Chelsie Spencer and Sierra Goodfellow, a learner who was diagnosed with dyslexia in the first grade. Throughout her life and education, Sierra has faced many barriers to learning. After years of self-advocating she finally recieved the right accomodations for her and went on to find success and a love for writing. Something she never thought was possible in the early days of her dyslexia journey.
This is Sierra's story...
For an insight into Sierra's dyslexia, read her Blog.
If you have students with diagnosed or suspected dyslexia, take a look at our Dyslexia Support Resources. There you'll find, useful information on how dyslexic learners think differently, spotting the signs of dyslexia, tips for teaching students with dyslexia and creating a dyslexia friendly classroom.
Donna Thomson (00:14):
Hello everyone, I'm Donna Thomson and welcome to the latest episode of Texthelp Talks Podcast. This is where we chat to experts and friends from the education arena and the workplace who share our passion for making our schools, colleges, and workplaces much more inclusive and accessible. If you haven't done so already, subscribe to Texthelp Talks through your preferred podcast player or streaming service, so you never miss an episode.
Today, my colleague and friend, Chelsie Spencer is joined by Sierra Goodfellow, a learner who was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade. During the interview, you'll hear about Sierra's experience through her education as a dyslexic learner, the trials and tribulations along the way, because it wasn't always plain sailing. Yet, you'll also hear how Sierra, not only finds success in education, but developed a love for writing, something she never imagined was possible in the early days.
So let's get started and hear Sierra's story. I'll pop back later with some closing insights and an action to take away. Chelsie, over to you.
Chelsie Spencer (01:15):
Okay. So first of all, if you could tell us how and when you were diagnosed with dyslexia.
Sierra Goodfellow (01:22):
So I was actually diagnosed in about first grade, because originally, I actually went to school first in German school, so I didn't start in American school. And so, at first, it was kind of believed that I just didn't understand the language properly and that was the big problem. And then, slowly, the teachers were like, "She's getting all of this kind of extra help and it's still not working, we think something else is wrong."
So we went and we got diagnosed. So I was diagnosed pretty young, in first grade. And then, after that, they moved me to this German kind of version of a special help school. And there, it did not go very well. The way that they decided to handle the situation was not the best. I was not getting great help or anything. And definitely, I was not in the classroom full of kids with the same kind of issues as I, actually, they had more behavioral issues, which is not great when you have someone who can't read in a room with somebody who gets annoyed very easily. And then also, there was a lot of isolation that took place. They would kind of separate me from the group and take me into very small rooms and do flashcards in the dark. It was weird. It was very strange.
And then, about halfway through the school year, they had a meeting with my parents to talk about my progress and they sat them down and they told my parents, they're like, "The way that she's heading right now, she will never be able to go into any kind of university or any kind of academic field. She will be doing a trade labor job for the rest of her life. She's just not capable of anything else." And my parents pulled me out of that school pretty quickly. Yeah. Then I was first pulled into American school where they could start attempting to give me the help that I needed.
Chelsie Spencer (03:18):
Great. I mean, it's awful that you had such a terrible experience and I'm really sorry about that.
Sierra Goodfellow (03:23):
No, that's okay.
Chelsie Spencer (03:24):
Definitely not how things should have been dealt with, but hopefully, this, what you're doing today as well, will help kids and help educators in some way.
Sierra Goodfellow (03:35):
It's why I'm here. So we can stop that from happening.
Chelsie Spencer (03:41):
Thank you so much for that. Okay. So what way does your dyslexia manifest? Is it letters, words, spelling?
Sierra Goodfellow (03:47):
So primarily with letters. Yeah, letters, words. Spelling is really bad. If there's a lot of text on one page, like I said on my blog, it's like looking through a fun house mirror upside down while things are spinning around. It just kind of gets a tunnel vision type thing. And it can get worse with anxiety. I have a hard time with time concepts almost. I have a really hard time with knowing how much time is in between a certain amount. The way that I count days and look at calendars can be very disorienting for me and then also, for other people that I'm talking to or I'm trying to schedule things with. That and the order of months, and all of that, it's a huge mess for me.
Chelsie Spencer (04:41):
Yeah. My husband's dyslexic as well and calendars are a huge thing for him. He doesn't know the months of the year in the numbers.
Sierra Goodfellow (04:52):
Yeah, neither do I.
Chelsie Spencer (04:55):
Yeah. And so, you can just see the panic on his face if someone says the date and he is just looks at me and I'm like, "It's okay, it's August." I totally get that. It's difficult to keep track of.
Sierra Goodfellow (05:04):
Yeah, I'll be in class and somebody will be like, "Oh, we're going to do this in June." And I'm just sitting there I'm, "I don't know when June is," where you have no idea how much time is between then and now.
Chelsie Spencer (05:11):
Yeah, exactly. And this isn't one of the questions, but I'm just interested in it.
Sierra Goodfellow (05:16):
Oh no, go ahead.
Chelsie Spencer (05:18):
Do you have dyscalculia at all or is it simply-
Sierra Goodfellow (05:18):
Do I have what?
Chelsie Spencer (05:20):
Dyscalculia. So does it affect math or anything like that?
Sierra Goodfellow (05:27):
I really enjoy math, if anything. I do have issues sometimes with the placement of numbers, so if I'm trying to find a page or something like that or going to a room in my university, I'll switch stuff and so, I'll end up in the wrong... I've been late to quite a few classes because I've accidentally gone to the wrong floor and the wrong room and I enter and they're like, "What happened?" And I'll be like, "I don't know." But yeah, with math, I really enjoy math and it has a lot of structure to it, I guess and so, it has these rules that are very easy to follow and in my head it's very easy to do. It's easy to follow in my head rather than on paper. And it's one of those things that I've always kind of been able to do and it has been hard for me to show other people how I got to where I did. But I enjoy it. It's fun for me.
Chelsie Spencer (06:19):
It's really good that you find a comfort in math as well.
Sierra Goodfellow (06:23):
Chelsie Spencer (06:23):
That's very good.
Sierra Goodfellow (06:24):
Chelsie Spencer (06:27):
Can you describe your experience in the classroom prior to having access to technology? So for example, how did it make you feel before you had access?
Sierra Goodfellow (06:37):
It was very frustrating because I've always been a very kind of energetic... Both of my parents are teachers, that's the thing. We do a bunch of stuff that's hands-on and all of that. To be in class and not being able to do stuff, it was devastating. I would be in class and they would be like, "Oh, we're going to read this thing," and I would have breakdowns in class where I would just start crying out of nowhere, nobody knows what's going on. It was like dead silent and all of a sudden, I'm in tears and everyone's like, "Oh, my god." And so, that was just a lot of anxiety as a kid.
I remember, even years after I got my accommodations, they would bring stuff up for like the spelling bee and I couldn't even stay in the classroom, because they didn't require me to do it after a while, but I had spent so many years being, basically, publicly humiliated in this spelling bee that the minute it was even mentioned, I would have an instant panic attack and I had to leave the room. It manifested itself, at least for me, in anxiety and a lot of stress. Because I've always been a good student, even before I got my stuff, I always had good grades and everything, but that was because I would spend five hours on a two-hour or one hour homework assignment. And so, it was just this grueling, just like, "I'm going to get through this." And then, my parents were there. I was very lucky to have the support of parents that I do and just for them to either help or just to say, "Okay, we're at seven hours, we need to stop and call a teacher. This is not working."
Chelsie Spencer (08:16):
And is that the same when, for example, they would ask you to read aloud or is that something that didn't happen in your school? In our schools, for example, tell you to get your book out and they'll start reading in a chapter and they'll work their way, worm their way around the rows in the classroom.
Sierra Goodfellow (08:37):
That was the worst thing for me. That freaked me out. And I would always try and read ahead to kind of go, but then I'm missing what's happening before, and then, I had to remember what word am I supposed to be starting at. And every single time, it was a complete disaster. And then, when I'm reading now, and I stutter really bad... That's my mother. I stutter terribly and I also, I lose it and I start getting a lot quieter. It's just a lot. I get jitters. And it all started with there. And people are just kind of looking at you like, "What are you doing?" You have that one kid in the back class who's trying to help you but they end up just reading it for you, basically. It makes you feel very, very small, because most time, no one there is trying to make you feel bad, but it's this thing that you've watched 10 other kids do before you and you just can't do it, you're just trying your best and you're just struggling really badly.
Chelsie Spencer (09:38):
Yeah. And my husband said it was the worst thing for him. And he knew that they were going to start reading in class or they were doing a reading portion of English, he would just not go to school that day. That was what he would do because he would freak out about it so much. So I completely empathize with you there. I can't begin to imagine how stressful that must have been. In your blog, you mentioned barriers and boulders. So what were the biggest obstacles you faced at school before having access to the right tools for you?
Sierra Goodfellow (10:10):
I think, for the most part, because I got diagnosed and everything pretty young, so before it, it was mostly just, again, kind of struggling in class and getting the amount of help and then also, just dealing with the frustration of I know I can do this. I can still technically read but it just takes me forever. And so, I would finally get something done reading it and I would know exactly what to do. Once I had the material, I knew what I was doing, I could do it quickly. It was like that. But it was getting the material that was so hard.
And so, even when I actually got my accommodations and everything, it was a struggle for so many years to get any kind of assistive technology that actually worked. I remember my first piece of assistive technology, I was so excited. I had this computer and they were like, "It's going to read it to you. This is going to be awesome." And we sat there for, I think, almost two hours just trying to figure out how to even get this thing to work.
It was quite a few years ago, but compared to the technology we had then, this was ancient, it was insane. And so, we're trying to get this thing to read it to me and they're like, "Yeah, we scanned it over here," and they transferred it over and none of the text matched up and it was super slow. And I was just sitting there and I was like, "What do you want me to do with this? I'm in fifth grade, I can't scan this by myself, I can't do this, I can't do that. And that was the first piece of assisted technology and it didn't work. I couldn't do anything with it.
And that continued as a theme for several, several years until, I think, I was first introduced to Read&Write eighth grade year of middle school. But it was so new that it had still a lot of bugs in it and I couldn't really get myself to really use it so I didn't really get to fully understand and fully appreciate Read&Write for Google until, I think, my junior year, my junior and sophomore year high school.
I was kind of told, growing up, like, "Oh, you just got to work through. You're going to get better. It's going to be great. You're got to work through and then, when you're old enough, then it's going to be like it never happened." And I got to a certain point, my junior and sophomore year, where I just stopped making any kind of progress and it was really hard because I didn't want to use my assistive technology because I was like, "No, I can do this. I can do it. I need more practice. I can do this myself."
And then, I had some underlying health issues that started coming up and the health issues on their own just kind of made me realize like, you have to make a change, this isn't working, you're making yourself physically sick, you have to do something else. And that's when I started really using Read&Write for Google and everything and that's when I finally got a computer. Because before, it was like I would have to log into a separate computer, get it pulled up and then started reading. And by that time, everybody's already finished reading whatever text there was. So I finally got my own computer that I was able to use and at that point, it was a lot of adaptation of other people just kind of staring at me in class, but at that point I was like, "This needs to work. This is all I got right now."
Chelsie Spencer (13:51):
Great that eventually you got there and could make it work for you. Can you talk us through how you got the access to the technology that you needed? Were you assessed and it was allocated to you? Did you have to push really hard for it? That kind of thing.
Sierra Goodfellow (14:07):
We had to push really hard for it, especially considering that I have always had pretty good grades. So when we would go to these meetings of asking, "Okay, what do you think we need dah, dah, dah?" We would have teachers and evaluators fighting back because they're like, "Well, she's doing fine in class. She's passing. She has A's in class. Why does she need this assistive technology if she's doing fine?" And my parents would get so upset. And I couldn't understand because in my mind I was like, "Oh, I am doing fine. Maybe this is what learning is supposed to be. Maybe I'm supposed to be struggling this much."
But my parents, they were so upset, they were like, "She's doing the level she's doing right now because she's taking five hours every night to finish one homework assignment. And then, she is freaking out over her class. I hated going to school, especially German school, I hated, I felt sick every single morning. I could not. I would wake up every morning and I'd be like, "I feel really sick. Can I just stay home? I don't want to." And it wasn't until I started getting proper accommodations that I actually started enjoying going to school and not feeling sick every morning.
Chelsie Spencer (15:16):
Yeah. How did your experience at school change with the access to technology? You've talked a little bit about this. When you got that technology, what-
Sierra Goodfellow (15:24):
How did things change?
Chelsie Spencer (15:25):
Yeah, how did things change? What'd that mean to you?
Sierra Goodfellow (15:29):
It really changed my entire mindset because I suddenly could put my energy towards other things and it kind of showed like, okay, there are other options. You don't have to be constantly struggling at this. It kind of gave me hope, because I was in military school so we had kids coming in and out all the time and I'd meet tons of other kids with disabilities like me and it kind of just made me remember all those other kids and just being like maybe we're going to make it, maybe we're going to be okay with this.
And it also made me a lot more open about it, because in my mind, I always kind of knew, I was like, "Okay, this is something that's a part of me, dah, dah, dah." And so, I told a lot of, not told a lot of people, but whoever needed to know. I would tell my classmates or whoever. And I was still pretty shy about it. And then, I got my assistive technology and it started working, and people would ask a lot about, what's the computer about? Or what's this or what's that? And it was very eye-opening to tell them about that kind of stuff. And then, whenever I was struggling in class and I didn't have access to my technology, how many people would, in some way, stand up and help me or point out to the teacher like, "Hey, she's struggling. You got to do something. That's your job, please help her"? And it opened my eyes to a lot of different stuff.
Chelsie Spencer (16:55):
What difference did it make to how you were able to participate in school and did it have any impact on your grades? So when you got the technology, did it change your grades? Did it improve even further, for example?
Sierra Goodfellow (17:08):
I feel like yeah, no, there was definitely an improve. I wouldn't say it was too big of an improve but mentally, it helped out a lot. And then also, I gained a lot of confidence. I was struggling so much in groups and everything because we do group projects and people would've already have read the text or something and I wouldn't even know what they were talking about. I guess this is a little bit of a warning, it also gave me this kind of feeling of needing to prove myself like, "Oh, I have the assistive technology, I should be fine now. I need to be able to do everything. I need to be able to do this perfectly or I need to be able to do this on time." And so, I stopped giving myself very much breathing room, which I now see was a terrible mistake.
Chelsie Spencer (17:58):
Yeah. But you live and you learn and it's not --
Sierra Goodfellow (18:01):
Chelsie Spencer (18:02):
It's not your fault that that's how you learned to cope with those things. It's a coping mechanism that you developed over time and not having access to the tools. But that's, again, really interesting to hear that, so thank you. Did other students get access to the same or similar technology at the same time as you did? Did ed tech tools change the experience for them as well if they did get any access?
Sierra Goodfellow (18:25):
So this is what makes me sad because I was the only one, at least that I knew of, that was using that technology and was using the computer. And I had a computer and I had the technology on there and it was helping. And it made me really sad because I would interact, I was in special ed classes all the time and I would look at kids that are struggling, I'd be like, "I have this thing that could help you. Can we try it?" And then, they'd be like, "Oh yeah, this is great." But even though there was clear growth, it wasn't recognized that they needed this thing. We had kids who would come in and didn't speak any English, they would come into class and they wouldn't be able to speak or they would speak so little English.
And at one point, we had this new kid come in and I believe he was Italian and we both ended up in the hallway together because I think we were both struggling to read something, we couldn't read it fast enough and then the class started to move on and the teacher was like, "Hey, why don't you guys just go sit outside and finish reading it and then you can come back in and join the discussion." And so, it's just me and him out there. And I'm on my computer and I'm watching him and he didn't turn a page for like five minutes. And I was like I can't, I can't watch this. So I just went over and I sat next to him and I started to show him the stuff that I have and I opened it up on his laptop and I started highlighting stuff and it helped, we both understood the text within minutes and we could go back in and join the class. But he never got to use it after that because it just wasn't part of his kind of help that he was being offered.
Chelsie Spencer (20:04):
That's amazing in some respects, the difference that that short time that you were able to demonstrate helped those people, but like you said, so incredibly sad that they then weren't able to get that help long term. Another reason why you're here. Hopefully, we can help change that mindset.
Sierra Goodfellow (20:22):
Mm-hmm. And I think it's also understanding the technology. I feel like teachers would be able to make those recommendations if they actually understood what any of the technology was. I had to teach almost all of my teachers how to use anything. And even then, they would tell me like, "Hey, we're doing this document." They'd just hand me a piece of paper, they're like, "Go scan it or something. I don't know." And I would just, sitting there, I'd be like, "Why didn't you do this for me?" And it's because they didn't have any training on it. They had no idea what it was.
And a lot of them didn't even know what dyslexia was like. I got halfway through a year and this teacher was yelling at me and he was really upset and he was like, "Why can't you do this?" And I was like, "Do you know what my disability is?" And I had to explain it to him and he was just sitting there and he was like, "Oh, is that what that means?" And I was like, "You're my tea... What are you doing? I've had you for almost a full year now, what's going on?" There's a lack of understanding and I think that's where a lot of the communication and everything is lost.
Chelsie Spencer (21:20):
So what are some of the main misconceptions you've noticed by neurodivergent students or people in general?
Sierra Goodfellow (21:28):
I think it depends on kind of who you're asking. Like if you talk to kids, I had a thing when I was growing up when whenever I told somebody that I was dyslexic and then I explained to them like my classmates, I was like, "Oh, this is what happens and everything," they would instantly give me a piece of paper and a pencil and they'd be like, "Try to spell this word, try to spell this work." And then, they would take that word, whatever I tried to spell and they'd be like, "Oh my gosh, this is what she thinks it's spelled as." And I didn't really know how to react because it wasn't like they were trying to be mean, it was just that they didn't understand the whole thing and they were just amazed that this was a thing and that this was something that I struggled with because when you're a kid and you can't...
Like kids are brutal, like with their honesty, it's insane, but they, just sometimes, don't understand things the way it is. And so, the misconceptions became like, "Oh, you have a disability, you can't understand, you can't do this thing." I had people who would come and sit down to help me read, like fellow classmates who would start reading and they'd be like, "Thuh space-ship," and I'm just looking at them like, "Are you good? Do I need to help you right now too?" It was the weirdest thing, especially with kids.
And then, with teachers, it's also like you get kind of the backend compliments of like, "Man, for someone with a disability, you're doing really good in this class." And I'm like, "Yes, because I'm getting the help that I need. Thank you so much for this." And it's a lot of misunderstanding and it's a lot of thinking like, oh, there's this thing wrong with you so that's the only thing that matters about you.
When, in my experience, for all the friends that I've had and everybody that I've met who has this, it's like it's kind of like there's almost an imbalance, so you're really lacking on one side, but then, that means that you're going to have almost like an overabundance of talent on this other thing and you just got to find what that other thing is. And that's something that's not very much talked about. Usually, it's all of the side effects. But I didn't learn about the good sides of dyslexia or kind of what it can help with until way later in my life. And then, I was like, "Oh, my gosh, so it's kind of cool to have this. It's like a superpower."
And I told my mom that and she almost started crying because she had seen how much it kind of affected me throughout my life and for me to finally be like, "But it can also be a good thing," was just a big thing for her and me.
Chelsie Spencer (23:58):
That's amazing. Out of interest, what do you feel is your kind of superpower or special talent?
Sierra Goodfellow (24:06):
I would say it is definitely the way that I look at problems. I have a way of... I also have... What is it? ... the kind of over-visualization in my head. I'm really good at doing things arranged from like, I can measure things in my head and then accurately measure them somewhere else. Like I can look at a room, be like, "This is how much space we have," and then go to a piece of furniture or go to how much we're going to need, something, I can do the math in my head and then it will have the exact amount that we need later. So I'm able to do that. I'm able to think through complex problems, but just in my head without anything else. Yeah, that's pretty big. Then it's just communicating it to other people that can be a bit of a problem.
Chelsie Spencer (24:52):
Yeah, that's amazing. Why do you think inclusion is so important in the classroom and in the rest of the world as well?
Sierra Goodfellow (25:02):
I think it's important, not only for kids who have learning differences or neurodivergence, I think it's also important for the other kids to kind of be exposed to the range of different people and the way that different people think. Because like what I said before, maybe they can't read the text but they can help you solve a problem a lot quicker than you would've originally been able to if you guys had just been... because they can just think of it in a different way.
And if you have a kid who's never experienced anybody with dyslexia, autism, Tourette's, anything like that, and then you just release them into the world, that is not going to be a good thing for anybody, because even if they don't mean to, it's going to cause some pretty awkward situations.
Like in my future job, if I'm at a job and I'm with somebody who does not understand why I have my assistive technology or what my disability even is, I've been in situations where it's turned into a pretty vicious conversation on their part where they've just been angry at me for even thinking like, "Oh, well, why do you get this and why is that? That's not even fair." And I'm like, "Okay. Okay. You don't understand what's happening."
I think that's why inclusion is so important for everybody. And even for the kids, when you have a disability like this, it's so incredibly isolating, especially if you're in a small school and you don't know anybody else who has it and especially with a disability like dyslexia where you have so many different ranges of how severe it can be.
So for me, as someone who has very, very severe dyslexia, I would meet somebody else who has maybe not so severe dyslexia and they'd be like, "Oh, it's not a big deal. Oh, it's fine." And that would destroy me. And it's very important to be able to meet other people who are on the same level as you and people who understand and have that feeling of like, "Okay, I'm not being isolated anymore. I'm being included in what's going on. I can help in my own way."
And it also kind of teaches people that you can't fit everybody into the same job. Everybody's going to be able to help in their own special way in a group. And the sooner people learn that, the way, way better life is going to be for them.
Chelsie Spencer (27:20):
Totally. In regards to the world as well, if we actually focused on people's strengths as opposed to their disabilities or things they're not so strong at, you could actually make such a change in the world. And that's, again, what we're trying to get people to see as well. So like you said, focusing more on the positive aspects. What advice would you give to other students who are struggling in class due to suspected, but maybe not even diagnosed, neurodivergence or learning difference?
Sierra Goodfellow (27:50):
I would say, you have to find your strength, no matter what it is. And I personally, I'm severely dyslexic, yet my favorite thing in the entire world to do is write. I've written entire novels before and I just keep them on my computer. But that's what I love doing, and I stopped doing it for years because I thought, "No, it doesn't matter." First of all, no one can understand my stories. Like I would write something down and then I wouldn't even be able to read it myself. So I just kind of gave up on that. And then, years later, I started writing again like for a school assignment and after that, I was like, I can't ever give this up again. When you find that thing, especially as someone who's so limited with what they can do, it's very freeing.
And you have to know that even if you're not the best at it, it's going to grow in so many different ways. Like I have become a very, at least I believe, a very well outspoken person and very good at public speaking and presenting and all of this. And I think it definitely comes from finding confidence in that first thing. So I was able to find confidence in writing and after that I was able to kind of grow through it.
And you just got to know that it's going to be really, really hard. You are going to struggle, but you're also going to realize that it's preparing you, even before you know, you're going to see that it's preparing you for your entire life. Starting university, I was in class and we'd be doing stuff and kids will be freaking out. They're like, "I don't know how we're supposed to do this. I don't understand. This is taking me so long and dah, dah, dah, dah." And I'm just kind of sitting there and I'm like, "This has been my entire life. I know how to buckle down and do this." And it all pays off, it does. And you just got to surround yourself with people who understand or who are willing to support you in their own way and however you need them to.
Chelsie Spencer (29:50):
Amazing. That's really good advice. What would you say to school administrators about kids using assistive technology in school? So like you said before about maybe some of the negative comments as well, if you can think of that in your answer.
Sierra Goodfellow (30:04):
I think that with school administrators, there's definitely needs to be a lot more almost training about kids with disabilities. I had one school administrator once who kind of, under the radar, moved all of the kids, like separated all the kids who had disabilities in a class and kids who didn't, because they were splitting up the classrooms anyway, and he somehow got all the kids with disabilities in another room. And later, I ended up having a conversation with him and he asked for my opinion on it and I was like, "I mean, I don't really have a say in it. Whatever." And he just looked at me and he had this huge, big grin on his face and he was like, "Yeah, I figured you'd be more comfortable with your people." And then, he just walked away and I was left standing there just like, "Well, excuse me?" And it's all of these misconceptions of, "Well, they're going to be more comfortable with people who operate on the same level as them. I'm like, "No, that's not at all what's going to happen."
And I think there needs to be so much more understanding and even maybe showing school administrators like, "Okay, this is a kid who has assistive technology and they are doing amazing in their studies and everything." Because I feel like that can also be a pretty good way of showing it to them is like, this is going to help this student learn better and then help the scores of the school. Because I've had many principles in my life and the way that I've been known to all of them universally is the kid with a disability who has amazing grades. That's how I've been known to all of my principles. And I don't know, it sounds really messed up, but showing them the worth of investing in these kids. And that's the only way that I was able to get any of my assistive technology was to show them that if you invest in me, then I will pay off in the end. And that's the only reason, I truly believe, that they made anything happen.
Chelsie Spencer (32:06):
What would you say to those that believe using assistive technology is cheating?
Sierra Goodfellow (32:13):
Yeah, no, I got that a lot, especially in high school. But the thing is that with assistive technology, it's like everybody kind of starts on the same playing field, like about up here, and then, when you have a disability, you're starting from down here. And the assistive technology just kind of bumps you up so you're on the same level.
And I actually had this happen a couple of times where I was in class or something and we were taking an exam or a test or something like that and the teacher left the room and a couple people in the classroom just looked at me and were like, "Hey, you're looking up the answers, right? Tell me what the answers are that you're looking up." I looked and I was like, "That's not at all what's happening right now. I'm using it to read to me." And they didn't understand.
And in my mind, anybody who says that assistive technology is cheating, give them the assistive technology for the day and just kind of be like, "Okay, use it what it's for, like what it's worth. Take the computer, don't look up answers, but have it read to you an entire paragraph and see how long it takes and see how you an AI reading to you for that long."
And I kind of have friends who would use my assistive technology and they would come out of it and they'd be like, "I have no idea what she just said." They couldn't understand. I've used it for so long that my brain has been coded to listen to this specific voice say these things and understand it. And then, I would introduce to other people like my friends who have never experienced anything like it and they couldn't even understand her. And it's just the craziest thing because it's not doing anything that anybody else in my class couldn't do. It was all stuff that was basically just putting me on the same level as they were.
And I was like, okay, if you want more time on a test, say I study very hard for a test and somebody else doesn't study nearly as much, but we both get the same extended time. I'm going to use that extended time to properly be able to analyze everything, all that kind of stuff because I need it to finish the test. The other person is just going to sit there, stare at his paper, answer what he can and not do anything with the extra time because he doesn't have anything to do with it, there's no reason for him to have it. He's either going to leave early or he's just going to spend the rest of the time just wondering what the test is, what's happening.
Chelsie Spencer (34:32):
If every learner had access to the right tools for them, even at an early age, for example, what do you think the difference or the outcome would be?
Sierra Goodfellow (34:42):
I think that there would be a huge boost in just confidence and then even creativity in the school. I have tons of friends in my university right now who have some form of disability and everything, especially in the engineering programs. It's insane. I come across so many kids who have severe ADHD or are on the spectrum of autism and all that kind of stuff and they never got that kind of support, they either did or they got it very late. And the ones who got it late, they made it to university but it's horrible to listen to them talk about their experiences or even talk about themselves, they have no confidence whatsoever.
And I then, I've seen plenty of kids, my mom has introduced me to a couple of kids, because she works in elementary school, who have disabilities or have dyslexia like mine. And I go to talk to these kids or I go to interact, and the more I hear about them, they are so ashamed of themselves and about this thing that they can't control and they don't want to talk about it. They look like they're about to cry and I'm like, "No, it's okay. It's not the end of the world. You're going to make it. I was literally told by a school board that I would not be able to graduate middle school and I'm going to an engineering school. It's going to be okay." It's building the confidence.
And then even, for me, being able to advocate for myself has made it so much easier to advocate for other people and to help and just to speak out and be like, "Listen, this is a problem. We need to be working on it because there's so many kids with so much potential who are just getting left behind and it's heartbreaking."
Chelsie Spencer (36:31):
Amazing. Is there anything else that you just would like to add? Any other things I haven't covered that you think you really want to mention?
Sierra Goodfellow (36:40):
Man, I've spent a lot of my life trying to advocate for myself and other people. And when I made that blog, it was towards the end of a time where I thought the whole journey of me trying to get my assistive technology had ended because I was leaving high school and I wasn't going to be with my case manager anymore and any of that. So I wrote the blog as kind of a final farewell and I was like, "If I do good enough on this, my ELA teacher might show this to her last class as an example and maybe somebody will hear it and understand, maybe somebody is going to hear it and be like, "Oh, that's what that disability means or that's what it is.""
And I have been absolutely astonished with how many people have even seen it. Not even how many people have told me like, "Oh, this was amazing," the amount of people who have even opened that page and seen it and been like, "This is pretty cool," that is absolutely incredible to me. I didn't think anybody outside of an ELA classroom was going to even look at this and think like, "Huh, okay." And that, I can't even thank you guys enough for this opportunity, for even being able to make any kind of a difference with this community that I've seen and I'm still a part of and I'm still trying to help with even where I am now.
I'm in university, the struggles have still continued to be really hard. So I ended up switching programs halfway through the year. And in my first program, I had my assistive technology for all my exams. And then, I switched and they made me completely redo all of it. And then, the last half of the year, I didn't have any of my assistive technology. And that was a huge moment for me where I was like, this is always going to be a thing, this is always going to be a problem.
And then, even I was taking one of my final exams, where when you finish it, it was for SolidWorks, which is a 3D working program, and I was taking it and the correct amount of extra time was not available to me. And it was a huge problem. And they brought somebody in and the guy, first of all, started defending himself on, "Oh, this isn't my fault, blah, blah blah." And then, he started grilling me on like, "Well, did you study enough? This has never been a problem before. It must be something with you." And then to offering me like, "Oh, if you come in tomorrow then maybe we can do the entire exam again."
And I showed up the next day and the people who were involved weren't even at school. And when I finally was contacted about retaking the exam, I was already in my other program and I told them, I was like, "I want to retake it because I want to get this," because they can pass the exam, you get a certification that you can then use in your job. And they told me that because I'm no longer part of the program that I couldn't take this exam. And I was just left sitting there and I was like, "What?"
And the thing that made me the saddest was that it didn't even surprise me. Like when he first came in and he had this look on his face of like, "I don't really know what's going on here," I knew exactly what was about to happen. I knew exactly what they were about to say. I knew exactly what was about to go down. And I knew that I wasn't going to get my... And there was nothing I could really do about it. And it can make you feel really upset about that kind of stuff. And just sitting there and just being like, you took that opportunity away from me, something that I paid for and because of this, because of your poor communication, now we're here. Lots of room for improvement.
Chelsie Spencer (40:28):
Donna Thompson (40:31):
Thank you Chelsie, and thank you to Sierra for sharing your experiences with dyslexia with us. I'm sure many of our listeners can relate to some of the things that you talked about. I especially loved how Read&Write has helped you find your passion in writing and storytelling. Technology really is a great enabler.
So look, I promised to share some insights and a takeaway with you before we finish up today, so here they are. One thing to know, just recently, we surveyed over 3000 school personnel in the US to get their insights and experiences with dyslexia. 50%, that's five, zero, of the teachers surveyed said that assistive technology is one of the best ways to help dyslexic students. It improves their literacy along with their ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. One thing to think about of those surveyed, 54% said their districts provide accommodations only when a need is declared, and this is despite teachers saying there's a lot of value for all students to access assistive tech. So think about how assistive technology can benefit all learners, whether you're an educator, a learner, or a parent.
And one thing to do, so we know that when students with different learning needs get the right type of support, it makes a lifetime of difference. So we want to help your students with dyslexia in the classroom. We've uploaded some useful information to our website that you should check out and we'll put the link in the show notes so you don't have to memorize it, but here it is, texthelp.com/resources/inclusive-education/dyslexia-strategies. So you can see now why we're adding the link to the show notes.
But that's us for today, folks. I hope you find today's session interesting. Why not subscribe to the show so you can catch the next episode? Search for Texthelp Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service and subscribe from there. Thanks for listening and have a great day.