Recognition Ceremony for the Children’s Dyslexia Center on June 7th, 2011

I was asked to speak at the annual Recognition Ceremony for the Children’s Dyslexia Center on June 7th at the Eastern Star Campus in Oriskany, NY where they honored 22 children and 5 tutors this year.

 I had planned to arrive about 1 hour early to tour the center, however I was delayed by a couple of wildlife rescue situations, orphaned raccoons and rescuing turtles, as well as slow traffic. I arrived at 6:30pm and was warmly greeted by Linda L. Martin. Linda was able to give me a brief tour of the Children’s Dyslexia Center (www.cnyclc.org) which was quite impressive.  Their mission “To provide the highest quality multisensory reading and written language tutorial services for children with dyslexia through a network of nationally recognized centers of excellence. To offer training and certification in the Orton-Gillingham method for tutor/scholars. To continue to support clinical research programs that focus on dyslexia.” They encourage anyone who has, or knows of, a school-age child who is struggling to keep up because of poor reading and writing skills to contact the center to apply for the program. There are over 55 centers in 15 states that the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Jurisdiction have been national leaders in providing support to help children and their families deal with the tremendous difficulties associated with dyslexia.

 The Center is beautiful! It’s warm, inviting, well organized and functional. The design of the center allows for effective, one-on-one, tutoring of the children in a warm and quite environment that is designed to allow the children to focus on the lessons. The resources available to the children and tutors are amazing. I wish I had taken pictures to share because I was astonished by the volume of resources and how well organized the materials were.

 Near the main entrance is a tree-of life like display that is used to recognize specific people and companies that have donated money/services. As we are all aware times are tough. With a high unemployment rate and the struggles with a significant recession many non-profit organizations are struggling and some have had to close their doors. Thank God the Children’s Dyslexia Center of CNY has been able to continue the great work that they have been doing.

 The ceremony was very nice and I was asked to speak to the children and families regarding some of my experiences with dyslexia. It’s been quite some time since I addressed school aged children and began by sharing some of my accomplishments and challenges in life related to dyslexia. In hind sight I wish I had spoken at the end of the ceremony as I was able to gain more understanding of the children and tutors as the ceremony progressed. As the people who know me realize a great deal of the information I take in and incorporate into my processing involves seeing and feeling (emotionally) the people. The tutors were all warm, open and proud of the children that they have helped with the challenges they face.

 Some of the children were bright and obviously proud of what they had accomplished over the last 1-2 years going through the program. However I felt that some of the children felt uncomfortable being recognized during the ceremony. I imagine it’s like how I feel when people say they think I’m so amazing because of my accomplishments given my dyslexia and learning to read when I was 28. It’s a mixture of feeling very uncomfortable and appreciating that people think I’m smart. I felt a connectedness to the children and felt an ache in my heart for them. I know the pain that they must feel, feeling less than. I wanted to spend some time with them one-on-one, giving them time to focus on something they’re excited about to allow them to let go of the pressures of learning objectives. I recognize the load of raw painful emotions associated with feeling different is so great that it’s hard to accept the positive words of teachers, tutors and parents. I just want them to know that we are all the same. We all feel different.

 It was a great experience for me to be at the ceremony. I sense that I may be doing more of this sort of thing in the future. However for now I will crawl back into my little world. I call the My Sanctuary.

 If anyone does read this please leave a comment. Not sure if this blog stuff is right for me.

 Remember that Life is School and the Lesson is LOVE!

Annual Recognition Ceremony for the children and tutors at the Children’s Dyslexia Center

I’m looking forward to speaking at the ceremony for the children with dyslexia and their and families on June 7th. It’s great to celebrate the results of their hard work. Hopefully I will help to inspire the children and encourage the kids and families to engage in discussion.

Followup on talk with Medical Students

Yesterday I spoke with second-year medical students at SUNY hospital Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse New York. Dr. Haldipur, professor of psychiatry asked me to speak with the second-year medical students last year and invited me back again this year. I was asked to speak for about 10 min. and then answer a few questions. I believe the goal that Dr. Haldipur had was to have me share some of my experiences in order to help the students that will ultimately be pediatricians be able to recognize children with disabilities such as dyslexia earlier in their clinical practices.

By the way, I was asked to moderate this encounter yesterday when I tweeted that I was about to speak to the medical students. Unfortunately, I don’t really know how to moderate such an event. So I thought I’d give a brief summary of the short meeting.

Dr. Haldipur introduced me and I started off letting the students know that discussing this particular subject matter stirs emotions within me and I noticed my voice crackle a little. No matter how many times I talked publicly about my experiences and feelings regarding my learning differences and challenges it still stirs tremendous emotions in me. It’s all about my self-esteem.

I began by telling them that ultimately I have been very successful and that I’m a board-certified veterinary internist. I love my work, and I love working with animals. I then shared a few of my experiences growing up. I grew up in the outskirts of Oswego New York. There was a swamp in my front yard, Lake Ontario a few hundred feet to the north and I was surrounded by woods. We were a few miles from most other homes however there were a few permanent homes within a couple blocks walking distance. It was a wonderful place for a child to grow up and explore! I loved it. I shared an experience that I had when I was in Catholic school and I asked the nun, ”how do you hold the letters on the page still?”I was punished, made to feel like I didn’t belong and possibly like I was working with the other side (the devi)”. This all seems rather dramatic to me at this point however those were my feelings at the time. The main thing I learned from that encounter and multiple brief encounters thereafter was to keep my mouth shut about being different. Watch what everyone else does, including turning pages at the appropriate time and try to pay attention to what the teacher saying.

I talked more about having a very low self-esteem, coping mechanisms for avoiding reading and writing. I shared how I used to physically injure myself so that I wouldn’t have to take a test. I shared an experience when taking a Regency exam I got in gasoline and my eyes and the teacher read the questions to me and I told her the answers. I just barely skimmed by. I also shared how recently my mother had told me that the truancy officer was always trying to track me down. That was surprising and she told me that. Although I knew I absolutely hated school I didn’t realize how much time I used to skip out.

One important thing that I told the medical students was that I got a reputation of being disruptive, a troublemaker and not conforming. Remember that I didn’t actually feel that way but I knew I had to act out to protect myself from “them” discovering who I really was. I was a phony pretending I was like everyone else able to read and function in society.

During the 10 min. or so I noticed many of the students actively taking notes as I was talking about my experiences. I still find this interesting. I went on and told them some of my accomplishments including building my own home which was the first completely passive solar home in this part of the country. And then I shared with them the day that I faced that I couldn’t read. I came out of the closet when my daughter recognized that I was making up stories to go along with the pictures when I was pretending to read a story to her. At that time because of an injury I couldn’t avoid what has been disclosed by going off to work as I always had. So I begin the laborious process of teaching myself to read. I think it was about then that I let the students know. “I hate to read!”. It’s physically exhausting, I get terrible headaches and I still suck at it. I told them I envy how some people don’t have to think about the act of reading and can totally become absorbed in the story that someone has written. I have no idea how that can be. It seems impossible to me.

Most of the students stopped writing when I said that. It must have had an impact with the way that I emphasized how I hate to read. I then told them that I entered school when I was around 30 years old. I was accepted at SUNY Oswego and ultimately graduated summa cum laude. I was then accepted into the veterinary curriculum at Cornell University and became a Dr. of veterinary medicine in 1997. And since then have been an instructor at Cornell University, and have become board certified in internal medicine.

I feel uncomfortable saying these things. I feel like I’m bragging. It doesn’t feel right. I know that has to do with my low self-esteem. I hate that I feel that I must compensate for feelings so in adequate.

I believe that I’ve probably gone over my 10 min. talk and asked if there were any questions. One student asked me how I actually figured out that I had a learning disability. I told her that that was one of those profound moments, after I had started learning to read and I heard a woman speaking on some TV program describing what she will experience when she learned to read. That was a very important moment in my life! I realized that I wasn’t alone. There were other people who have similar difficulties reading. It’s amazing how important it is to feel that you’re not totally alone, unlike everyone else. However I pride myself on being able to do-it-all on my own.

Another student asked what kind of system I used in order to help me learn to read and to function in school. Wow, the students were actively listening and wanted to get something out of what I have to share with. I explained how I developed a color coding system. I use lots of colored pencils, colored pens and highlighters to create notes. One color would indicate take-home points from a topic. Another color would represent supportive information about those take-home points. And another color may represent a brief story to help me graphically see the point. I’m a very visual thinker. I think in pictures. I created lots of drawings in my notes. Students would often enjoy reading my notes and some said that my notes help them to learn more about the subject than what they had gained from reading alone.

There were a couple of other questions which I can’t recall at this time. Sorry about that.

I hope that the time that I took to meet with the second-year medical students will pay off and they will be able to help children, family members and some of their colleagues in dealing with people who are different.

My goal is to be helpful. How can I be helpful? I hope that you can recognize that there are differences amongst all of us. All those these differences make us feel separate and uncomfortable because we don’t understand. It’s worthwhile identifying these differences, recognizing them for what they are. They’re just differences. Okay I’ll stop here before I go too far with my preaching.

All I hope that this is of some value to someone out there.

Identity Theft

Well I wish that I could say it’s never happened to me but it has. It’s happened 3 times.  Fortunately each time it was detected quickly. It’s very frustrating, painful and embarrassing when it happens. It also takes a lot of time and effort to straighten the mess out.

Most identity thefts do not occur while online however all access to financial institutions should be restricted to secure connections only. Don’t use your laptop to check your bank account or send personal information via e-mail in public Wi-Fi spots. Some people recommend restricting all online transactions to a computer that is not used for any other purposes.

Safeguard important personal information including your name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name.

Maintain a secure and up-to-date record of all of your accounts including credit cards, debit cards, store cards, checking accounts, 401(k) s, IRAs, savings accounts, investment accounts, etc.. The records should include the name of the institution, type of account, contact information, website addresses, usernames, passwords, pin numbers, and answers to security questions for each site. This record should be maintained in a very secure location and encrypted if it is digital format (i.e. on your computer, server, thumb drive, USB stick or an external hard drive). Make certain that you backup this data regularly.

Ways that identity thieves can gain your personal information include:

  • thefts of identifying information from your home or vehicle
  • stealing records from your employer or gathering personal information from other employees or by hacking into your employer’s records
  • Phishing, where the thief sends you an e-mail disguised to look like an entity or organization that you trust, i.e. your bank, in order to gather personal information from you.
  • Pharming is another tool used by identity thieves where the thief redirects you to a false website that they created that looks just like the website you would expect.
  • Identity thieves can also pose as a landlord or employer in order to gain access to your credit report.
  • Of course they can steal your wallet or purse. Never leave your purse visible in your car regardless if the car is locked.
  • Keep an eye in your mailbox. Identity thieves can steal your mail, including bank and credit card statements, preapproved credit card offers, new checks or tax information.
  • They can even obtain information directly from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official.

 Reduce the risk of identity theft by:

  • removing your mail from your mailbox immediately after its delivery or purchasing out lockable mailbox
  • deposit all outgoing mail in a post office collection box, not your mailbox
  • keep your personal information items in a safe place and don’t share this information with friends or acquaintances
  • Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Never write down your Social Security number, commit that number to memory! Never carry that number with you unless it is in an encrypted format.
  • Immediately upon receiving a new credit card sign it or write see my picture ID so that you must show the cashier your photo ID when the card is used.
  • Never loan your credit card or debit card to anyone
  • Never throw away documents in the trash that have your personal information on it. SHRED it!

 If you are a victim of identity theft

  • Contact the fraud departments of each of the major credit card bureaus immediately (listed above) and review them for any errors.
  • Check all of your existing credit card  accounts to determine if there are any fraudulent charges.
  • Put a Security Freeze which is used to prevent the credit reporting company from releasing your credit report without your consent. This should be done on all three companies.
    • Equifax 1-800-525-6285
    • Experian 1-888-397-3742
    • Trans Union 1-800-680-7289
  • Close any accounts that have been tampered with or fraudulently opened using your identity
  • File a police report with your local police department.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission 1-877-438-4338

A great source of information that can help you can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/

Financial Security Requires Your Attention

I am not a Lawyer or financial advisor. However, I believe that if we don’t take the things I’ve listed below seriously then we may regret it.

  • create an emergency fund,
  • check your credit reports regularly,
  • find out what your credit score is, 
  • creating a will, living trust  and other important legal documents

Create an Emergency Fund in a savings account to help you with unforeseen emergencies such as losing your job, sudden illness of a family member or a pet. Determine your monthly expenses and start saving money in a liquid account. Try to save enough to cover at least 6 months.

You should seriously investigate and then consider creating at least some of the following legal documents.

  • Last will and testament (Extremely Important)
  • Living will (Important because it’s usually not subject to probate which means less time until the assets get to your beneficiaries and less court costs)
  • Living trust (Makes certain that everyone knows your wishes regarding artificial life support which hopefully will reduce the stress of loved ones)
  • Power of attorney (allows you to designate someone you trust to manage important financial and legal matters on your behalf.)
  • Pet protection agreement (helps to make certain that your current and future pets are cared for by someone you trust.)
  • Do you wish to become an organ donor? These web sites may be helpful

Most of these topics can be investigated further at http://www.legalzoom.com/ . It’s a good starting place to learn about each of these important legal documents. Talk to your lawyer about the potential benefits, pitfalls, and how each of them pertains to you.

Become familiar with ways to identify and prevent identity theft.

Check your credit status with the three major credit bureaus at least once a year. Consider reviewing a report every 4 months. You can get a free copy at https://www.annualcreditreport.com

  • Equifax 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian 1-888-397-3742
  • Trans Union 1-800-680-7289

Who checks your credit score?  It’s not just the lending agencies! A low credit score can make it more expensive to get a phone, tougher to rent an apartment, higher security deposit, and make it more difficult to get the job.

Know your FICO score! Take the necessary steps to improve your score because it may help you to get better rates on insurance (Home owners and auto), mortgages and other loans.

To increase your FICO score:

  • Pay down credit card debt on your most recent late activity first because paying off older debt, which is years old may not help your FICO score. It may not be factored in. However you will still need to pay what you owe after you pay down the more recent late activity.
  • 30% of your FICO score is based on your debt ratio. The lower the better. It’s the amount you owe verses the amount of credit you have. If you owe $800 on a card that has a line of credit of $1000 you have a high debt ratio (80%).  However if you owe $800 on a card that has a 10,000 line of credit you have a relatively lower debt ratio (8%). Lower is better.

To learn more about the makeup of your FICO score go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FICO_score#FICO_score_and_others

Suze Orman  has excellent resources on her website and I have learned a lot from watching her shows.  http://www.suzeorman.com/

Dyslexia Discussion with Medical Students

This week I will speak with medical students at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University about my experiences with dyslexia. I hope to stimulate a discussion about the differences in learning and hopefully address the stigma that is still a real challenge.

Some thoughts…..

As a veterinarian I spend a significant amount of time working with people from all walks of life. I have discovered that many of my clients are or have close friends or family members that have physical, learning or have mental health issues. I think that were all challenged in some way.

When I was young I remember being so embarrassed that I could not read. I felt stupid. Those feelings didn’t resolve when I graduated from high school. I was still functionally illiterate. I knew that I didn’t belong around everyone else and I would act out inappropriately. My mom tells me that I was always skipping out of school and the truancy officer was always in touch with her. I don’t recall that my truancy was a big issue however it must’ve been. I hated school! I got physically sick thinking about school and would physically hurt myself to try and get out of going to school. I would make up any excuse to avoid the stress and pressures that I felt in that environment.

So why did I feel that way? Yes there were some inappropriate things said to me and done to me like you are stupid, you’re retarded, if you work hard enough you can be a bricklayer. However, I really can’t blame all of my feelings on those statements. I don’t believe that the teachers, guidance counselor or my family realized that I had a very serious learning disability. Hell I didn’t know I had a learning disability.

I believe that the teachers and my mother meant well by addressing the obvious problems, namely my behavior. After all, my acting out, and inappropriate actions were real and something that needed to be addressed. However no one actually ever got to my underlying problem, the dyslexia.

Make things worse, I would rather have people think I was wild and crazy than dumb.

I felt rejected by my family and didn’t have any of my own friends. I can’t blame this on anyone because I would probably push them away every time they tried to get close. I feared being hurt.

Thought it was time to write these things down in hopes that it may help someone understand somebody they love with the difference.

Regarding Social Media

Well, where should I begin? I’ve always considered myself to be antisocial. However when I really consider my interactions with others I guess that I’m not truly antisocial. I’m just not very comfortable in social situations. As a professional I enjoy communicating with clients, patients, and staff. However I have never felt comfortable in what are more typical social settings such as weddings, parties, or even bumping into someone I know at the grocery store.

So why am I even considering venturing into this scary world? I don’t know. I just feel that it’s time to test the waters. What will I do with his vehicle of communication? Well I hope to learn without feeling stupid. I also hope to determine if this is a means in which I can communicate with those individuals who have been reaching out to me.

By the way, most people that have gotten to know me are little stunned when they hear me say that I’d rather dig a ditch than go to a party. However, because they have known me for some period of time I believe they are comfortable knowing that it’s not a reaction to them, it’s just one of my own personal issues.