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  • Thrive Detroit

Detroit Woman Fighting Illiteracy by Dealing with her own Learning Disability

Dyslexia is a learning disability that can hinder a person’s ability to read, write, spell, and sometimes speak. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in children and persists throughout life. — U.S. National Institutes of Health

She stands before new students at the Dominican Literacy Center located on Detroit’s East side recounting her story of being held back in school.  Kristina Matthews, 34, has dyslexia and still struggles with reading and writing. She finds it difficult to explain how words get mixed up in her head. “When it comes to a small word, that’s when I really have to focus in on sounds and that is a challenge for me with my dyslexia, because sometimes it turns on and it turns off…It’s kinda tricky,” she explains with a chuckle.

Matthews speaks slowly in a whisper but at other times giggles at her own shortcomings about the learning disability that’s hampered her ability to read and write. “When the dyslexia hits and I kinda freeze up, I go to another source.” she stated, pulling out a handheld spell corrector that she describes as her coping mechanism.

Matthews is on staff at DLC as the Learning Pair Coordinator where she matches students with tutors. She is also a student there struggling to make sense of the condition she’s had since a child.  Matthews’ dyslexia was diagnosed in the second grade when she was going to be passed to the next grade, but her mother wouldn’t allow it. “She actually made me repeat the second grade twice, when my sister was getting promoted,” recalls Matthews with a laugh. Matthews spent years in special education for English classes, but was mainstreamed in others.  She credits her mom with pushing her through school—always reminding her that her dyslexia was a gift and she was not going to give up on her education.

After five years at DLC, Matthews has advanced six grade levels and is now reading at 11th grade equivalency. She has also attained her Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts and will begin work on her Bachelor’s Degree in January. She has had to learn basic life skills like writing a check, making a grocery list and says her biggest struggle is reading out loud. “But I learned that staying where things are familiar to you, you can’t really learn or grow, so you have to step out the box and it has been some headaches. It has been some stomach aches, because of what people would think, because I am this age and I do have this issue”, Matthews added saying she doesn’t tell many people about her condition. “Having to depend on somebody is terrible. You just want to learn for yourself, so at this point I am so excited…Me and my tutor are focused on catching my mistakes in my writing skills…and it’s just wowing me to have two or three paragraphs on paper,” Matthews said excitedly.

Matthews credits her faith for giving her the strength to move beyond her learning disability and face life with more courage.  “I can’t do anything without God. I always like to give him the credit and ever since I’ve been here (at DLC) I’ve been doing better and I’m asking for more work now. I like learning. I want to be like that little three-year old—like a sponge, because I didn’t catch a lot of things when I was younger. Now I’m excited and I want to do new things. It only helps my dyslexia, it only helps my spelling. I can never forget going back and helping somebody else”, said Matthews.

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