“There’s nothing scarier than a blank canvas or a blank sheet of paper. There’s nothing more exhilarating, there’s nothing more debilitating. Story telling is what I want to do with every fiber of my being and yet it’s the thing I’m most afraid of.” – Gianna Biocca
Gianna sits behind the last buffer between herself and public humiliation: the student reading in front of her. Desperately, she scrolls down the funneling sentences to find her paragraph. Words shift with minute movements in her trembling hands. She can feel the impatience of her classmates and the scorn of her teacher.
She has precious seconds to prepare. The outcome is nearly always the same though. Struggling to interpret shapes on paper and translate them, Gianna’s reading disability is put on full display in the classroom.
Gianna’s mind sees things differently. Instead of seeing letters form words which form thoughts, her mind looks through words to find pictures, real-world associations. Words without pictures, the glue that holds together a sentence, her mind translates into shapes.
In a rigid school system, “different” only equates to failure, stupidity, laziness… excuses. How can a child understand her own learning disorder? How can a developing mind comprehend an end to suffering?
Gianna asks, “How are you supposed to express your differences? You have nothing to compare it to; that is your forever.”
A gifted mind is shunned in a place without vision. Her mind’s inability to process in the standardized method created her daily pattern: word distortion built confusion, which brought frustration, and panic followed. Then the physical effects would begin.
Nausea might have been a side effect of a side effect, the real culprit was likely her migraine; itself caused by trying to process in a way unnatural, trying to fit into a mold created by a severely lacking ability on the part of the teachers to listen with intent.
At recess, she sat alone.
“Why don’t you play with the other children?” she was asked.
“I’m so stupid.” Gianna responds. “I just want to die.”
That was the first grade; this is how her story begins. In fact, Gianna was too young to remember saying that she wanted to die, her mother would hear about it from a teacher after school. Over twenty years later, the pain is still very clear; dyslexia is still a very broad term.
In those ensuing years, Gianna recalls as a blend of likewise stories. “You make a child believe they’re stupid, and it imprints on them. It never leaves you. It is always haunting.”
There’s no cure for dyslexia. That’s the hard truth which sometimes still haunts the authoress. Dyslexia has many forms, not all of them affect reading and writing. Some are kinetic; often it is misdiagnosed as A.D.H.D.
Gianna describes dyslexia’s one common symptom: ”The scariest part is that it gets to a point where you’re not just defending your own worth to someone else; You have to start defending your worth against yourself.”
The only way to diagnose dyslexia is with an I.Q. test, which exposes the discrepancy in students’ learning abilities. After the problem first surfaced, Gianna had many years ahead before she could be diagnosed. In the meantime, she and her mother, Lana would work long nights after school with a scarcity tools.
Lana recalls, “A family member told me, ‘don’t ever let Gianna believe she can’t do things.’” She would read from text books into a tape recorder for her daugher, help her edit papers and tie words to her thoughts. Gianna’s father was not so patient.
He would march her to a bookcase and make her try to read at home after school. She would stare up at rows upon columns of books as thick as the day was long, stuffed with paragraphs packed with shapes bereft of meaning.
Lana knew that her daughter was capable, bright. Communicative. “That woman deserves sainthood.” Gianna says about her mother, “She put up with me just being exhausted, miserable, ornery, hard-headed and not wanting to work anymore, because what I wrote down wasn’t matching what I was saying verbally sometimes. I had to learn how to be a different kind of story-teller young.”
After her daughter was diagnosed, Lana found a book titled, The Gift of Dyslexia. The author is Ron Davis, whose eventual influence finally aligned Gianna’s way of processing with the world around her.
Lana explains, “We call it ‘dyslexia’ like it’s an illness or disease because we only teach one way of processing information. We don’t teach in the way that people with dyslexia learn. Gianna sees patterns. She sees light bulbs where we see obstacles.”
Mother and daughter attended a Ron Davis seminar. Lana remembers the tears streaming down their faces as they listened to the story of another dyslexic. His success in life would help Gianna find hope.
Educational therapists with training based on Davis’s experience helped Gianna understand the way in which her mind naturally processes information. Associating words to pictures helped, as did kinetic interaction with the words themselves. It seems fitting the first word given a picture is “time.”
Gianna explains, “You make the word ‘time’ with clay. You build the whole solar system, the earth rotating around the sun. That’s ‘time.’ Something clicked in my brain over the course of that summer. I did get a lot better. I was not fixed. But I was able to build some adaptations that make life a lot easier.”
With a new set of minute movements, a beautiful pattern began to displace the meaningless shapes. Through looming obstructions, Gianna’s lithe mind found its own way of bridging communicational gaps.
“I wanted to tell stories, so I found a different way.” Gianna explains, “Art just kept popping up in everything I did. Once I got into this book project and began research, I was more and more hopeful because I saw that dyslexics can find what they love and do it.”
Gianna graduated in 2008 from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communications. Currently, she’s working at Ventana Medical Systems, in the Global Marketing Communications Department, where she bridges communicational gaps on a regular basis.
Some imprints remain despite her achievements, but there is a memory that brings tears of joy to Gianna.
She pieced together a manuscript from journals that she kept since childhood. She handed the manuscript to an editor at the University. The editor, visibly shaken, told Gianna, “My son’s going through this right now. He’s eight. We can’t have him tested yet. But this really helps me feel like there’s hope, that we can help him somehow.”
The manuscript is now a completed book. The Frustration of Dyslexia a Kinetic Experience Book shows readers the perspective of a dyslexic, requiring physical interaction with the pages that simulates how a dyslexic needs to manipulate words mentally. More importantly, it’s about the world in which a dyslexic can become isolated.
“I very much want to be the voice for that kid who’s too afraid to talk about it… crying in their room and they don’t know what’s wrong and they’re too afraid to ask for help.”
She also wants teachers and parents to understand that dyslexia can be a gift.
“Stop trying to fit children into molds; thinking differently is a really good thing. It’s invaluable in problem-solving. I don’t have the same strengths as others, but I am built to constantly adapt.”