“Why are we here, but to make sport for our neighbours, and to laugh at them in our turn…” Mr Bennet wryly opines in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But when the sport itself becomes a laugh, where does a kid go?
You can go a long way, if you are a quiet, inspiring dyslexic like Roger Missen. I recently met him while on duty as a cruise chaplain; and he told me how right off the bat, dyslexia had literally hijacked his dream of becoming a baseball star…
When he stepped up to the plate, the other kids all saw him holding the bat with his left hand above his right. They started yelling: “Other way round!” So he grabbed the other end of the bat.
“Time!” his coach called, hustling over to show him - again – how he should hold it. With the right grip, the full meat of his bat met the next pitch, which flew into the outfield; so he started running – straight to third base!
Standing victoriously on third, he saw the right-fielder throw the ball to first base and put him out!
Sports fans would relish his victory over the odds, to make it into baseball’s Hall of Fame; but his story ends far more effectively.
He still sensed the pain of the derision that was piled all over him that morning, but self-deprecating humor sprinkled the lighter side of dyslexia into our conversation. As he explained: “My favourite cartoon shows the Dyslexia Support Group’s secretary, on the phone with a difficult caller, and she finally says: ‘Tell me sir, what part of the word 'ON!' don’t you understand?’”
He also told me of a dyslexic friend, receiving a card inviting him to a toga party, so he went along dressed as a goat!
Dyslexia made his high school years a constant misery. “I could never get my head around any new work, and my high school career–guidance teacher kept pointing nowhere jobs at me. He meant well, but I remember one day standing up in his office and telling him: ‘I’m going to be a teacher!”
Deciding to turn his personal struggle with dyslexia into a personal strength was no easy move, but he coupled this determination with his faith in God.
“God has helped me to accept myself and to laugh at myself. But he has added his own generosity to my predicament, because he keeps helping me to understand how to bridge across to students who feel stuck with their own learning difficulties. I tell them about having been dyslexic since I was a kid. Not that they take long to notice anyway, but it seems to help them to accept themselves and see some humor in their own challenges.
“I use acronyms to help them grasp the basics and grow on from there. My first one was ‘MAP – Make A Plan,’ to help them get organised, and to see past all the learning-difficulty labels that they might otherwise accept as excuses for not making any effort.
“Then I thought of ‘VTV’ - which even dyslexics can remember backwards! It means ‘Visualise the Victory.’ One kid applied it to his own baseball dream; stitched ‘VTV’ onto his baseball bag; and he hit three home runs in his first game!
“The bible talks about faith being ‘the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen,’ (Hebrews 12:1) so I sense that God is working through it all.”
When he mentioned “WIN-WIN,” I expected him to describe developing their negotiating skills, but hhad his own twist. “I tell them it means: ‘What’s Important Now – What Is Next?’
“As I see them applying WIN-WIN to decide their priorities, their classroom participation improves and they show more confidence to face their wider world,” he told me, with a warm grin.
Roger has inspired me in so many ways, because by faith and courage he keeps finding new “dyscoveries within the dysfunction,” for he never has allowed his predicament to become a predict-ament that would lock his future into his past mistakes.
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