Turning Weakness into Strength: How Dyslexia Didn’t Interfere with Passion.

By Steffanie Costigan

Feb. 27, 2024

Growing up I have always struggled with severe dyslexia; academically it has always been such a hindrance to my education and self-esteem. Despite this learning disability I felt trapped by, it didn’t hinder my imagination and curiosity. As a child, I took a very different perspective on the world around me. 

I would look up at the sky when a big breeze of wind blew past me, and just stare into the sky thinking what if the wind came from an invisible dragon that was flying past me? Or on long car rides when I would go on family trips to the USA. I would stare and watch the long green ditches that seemed to have no end and think what if it was the long tail that connected to a dragon? You can tell from my past recollection that I have always had a fascination with dragons.

I recall being around three or five years old and grabbing storybooks though I could not read them I would flip through the pages. Eagerly I carefully fold a stack of paper in half making it look like a book. Where I would copy some of the pictures from my storybook onto my homemade book making up my own story and what I imagined the storybook I couldn’t read was about. 

This was the beginning of my growing passion for writing. As I got older my curiosity grew and so did my thoughts on storytelling, although back then I used mostly my drawings and pitchers to tell my stories as I was unable to write and read at the level of my peers. It was not until I had reached grade six, I had a teacher assist me in a test due to my learning disability. She transcribed a story I created from a picture attached to the test. 

I was happily surprised when I got my test results back; I had scored one of the highest for storytelling within my year level receiving a little certificate of recognition. I felt maybe I could be a writer, maybe I could publish books when I grew up. It didn’t take long for me to discover with my challenge of dyslexia I had to work so much harder than the normal writer. My spelling was unrecognizable, my grammar was non-existent.

I struggled to grasp the simple rules of spelling and grammar. I long to read a book all the way through and actually understand what I was reading. I felt so humiliated in school when I had to read out loud and peers laughed out when I could not read the simple words on the page. My teachers would poke fun at me, verbally jabbing me that my blonde hair must affect my intelligence. 

As degrading as it was it only made me more determined to prove them all wrong. Every day I would sit at my computer when I got home just listening to instrumental music and I would work for hours on end on the same story I had been working on since I was 12 years old, on Land of the Dragon. The little friends I had I would read what I had written over the phone for hours and they enjoyed talking, listening and giving their feedback to me. 

I remember coming to a crossroads in my life where one of the boys who was particularly cruel, told me if our teacher couldn’t get his book published what made me think I could ever get my book published? I felt so discouraged believing he was right. I love writing but at the same time, it was my weakness. In order to be successful in something you have to be good at it. And I was not good at spelling or reading, I thought. 

Coming home that day feeling deflated I expressed my hurt feelings to my father and the advice he shared with me has never left me to this day. “You don’t become talented overnight, you work for it. Someone can have the ugliest singing voice and turn it into the very best by working hard and practising every day. Sacrificing tireless hours can turn a weakness into a talent,” he said.

His words rang with truth and that is what I did. I worked endlessly writing every day for hours, I went to bed dreaming about my book, and I would wake up in the middle of the night and write down my dreams incorporating it into my book. Although I was scared to go to post-secondary thinking I was not smart, and not a good student. With encouragement from my husband, I went to school again.

I realized I had a love for anything and everything with writing especially creative writing and I was shockingly better at it than I thought I could ever be. I used tools to help me with reading and grammar, it took me a little longer with my writing assignments than other students, but I was succeeding. I took my time to publish Land of the Dragon because I knew I needed to feel personally satisfied with my story. 

My instructors told me my story was well done and they were confident it could easily be published in a publishing house. However, I wanted to follow my own path in publishing. I hope whoever takes the time to read through all of this realizes when there is a will there is always a way, even if it is your weakness, it can become a strength.


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