Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Defining Dysnomia

I want you watch my "Tag! You're it" vlog post. You know, this one. Not just because it's funny, because it is. I want you to watch it and count the number of times I:
  • Say "um" or some other word that isn't English.
  • Close my eyes wall talking
  • Not look at the camera
There's a reason for this.

I have a condition, learning disability, whatever, called Dysnomia. If you've been following my blog for sometime, you may have seen this post where I first mention it, albeit briefly.

I generally don't talk about it, but it came to mind when I was showing my son my vlog and he started joking about how many times I said "um". He didn't intend it to be mean, but it stung a little. It also got me thinking about how many other people noticed.

Dysnomia isn't a new problem for me, I've had it for my entire life. Yes, it is technically a "learning disability", but I just view it as a challenge. To be honest, a frustrating challenge a times.

Here are the basics of Dysnomia that I found at this site:
Dysnomia is a difficulty retrieving the correct words, names, or numbers from memory. Dysnomia is a learning disability present from childhood which can affect speech, writing, and/or math. Word recall problems are classified as dysnomia when they are severe enough to interfere with learning or with daily life.

NOTE: I'll list all the sites with relevant info at the end.

Unfortunately, I was not "diagnosed" with this disorder until college. This resulted in years of frustration on my part and ridicule by my peers. I lost a lot of arguments because I couldn't come up with responses fast enough. It made me feel stupid and I avoided any verbal confrontations as best I could. Writing was also difficult for me. So much so, that I dreaded having to write anything for class.

Somehow, I managed to finish school and get through college. My English grades weren't always that good, but I still managed.

Eventually, I went to the college's speech and language clinic after my girlfriend, now my wife, suggested I might have a problem. They weren't an accredited clinic, so they were only able to do some basic testing, but based on their tests, I scored at the bottom of normal. This indicated to them that I had an issue.

One of the things I found out was that I write, by hand, 15 WPM. In contrast, I was typing at 60+ WPM...my typing speed is a lot higher now. I have no idea how fast.

The other thing they discovered was that I had compensated for it to the point where they couldn't help me. No therapy. Nothing. The college offered accommodations, but I was so used to not asking for help, I rarely did.

How I deal with it:
  • I rarely take notes. I have a choice of either following what the teacher says, or write something down. I can't do both. So I do my best to memorize everything.
  • I convert everything I read into pictures (if possible). Every fiction book I read is stored as a movie in my head. I remember every book I've ever read.
  • I don't remember addresses, I remember landmarks. If I give you directions, I will mention landmarks more than street names. It will drive you insane.
    • I recommend using a GPS to get anywhere I tell you to go. It will be easier.
  • I type more than I write by hand. Typing is a different mechanism and uses a different part of my brain. I have fewer problems typing and I make sure I have spell-check turned on.
  • I won't always look at you when I'm talking. I'm working on it, but it gets distracting sometimes when I do look.
  • I say "Um" a lot.
  • I drink caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant. It helps me focus better and seems to help.
  • I pre-think what I'm going to say before I call someone on the phone or have a face-to-face conversation.
So, there you have it. My private shame that nobody can see...unless you watch that vlog post.

On a final note. This has not stopped me from writing creatively. I might not ever get the word counts that some people get, but I'll be able to write it. It might take a few extra drafts to make sense, but I'll get there. This "disability" is not going to stop me from writing. Ever.

'Till next time.


  1. Wow. This kind of sounds like my daughter. The landmark things. The inability to remember numbers. She does alright with writing though. I'll have to check out the sites you mentioned.

    Good for you not letting it stop you. Writing drives me nuts sometimes and I don't have any kind of disability. I have a lot of admiration for you. Thanks for the post and the information.

    And my two year old would emphatically agree with you that raisins are evil. haha (Saw your twitter)

    1. Thanks.
      Early diagnosis is so important. Definitely look at those sites and then talk to your pediatrician. I recently had an IQ test that verified the memory issue. My recall was significantly lower than it should have been given my IQ.

  2. *Hugs* I know how that is. i wasn't "diagnosed" with Dyslexia and Dyscalculia until my sister was in High School. I compensate so well, most people don't notice(except for my editor). My handwriting is horrible, so I type almost everything. I believe those of us writers that have to overcome obstacles to write have to support each other. We focus on each other's ABILITIES and forget the dis. Happy writing!!

    1. *HUGS* :D Thanks. My handwriting is ok, but I often put letters in the wrong place, mispell words, or even leave out important things like nouns. Typing is so much easier.

  3. It's tough when you have a challenging situation that isn't easily recognized or understood by peers. And, especially in high school, kids are mean. It's wonderful that you've figured out some ways to work around it and not only cope with, but utilize these challenges. Good for you.

  4. When I watched your vlog I didn't get onto anything out of the ordinary -but then again I say "um" a lot too so you're not alone there! I love that you make books into movies in your head - that's a fabulous gift and worth saying "um" for :) xx

    1. I've always done that with books. Just the way my brain works. It also means I don't forget them. I might forget details, but if I pick up a book again and read it, I'll remember everything within a few pages.

  5. I "um" a lot when talking, mostly when nervous, but that's probably why I also didn't notice you saying it any more than average! I enjoyed your vlog :) I've yet to get the guts to do one (although only about 10 poor souls would actually see it, haha), so I applaud you. And your attitude! Sorry it made growing up difficult at times though. Bullying was just as epic back in the day as it is now, but now it seems to have a name and a media presence. Back then, when I got mocked and tormented by other kids, I just went home and cried. These days, kids go to the news! Anyhow. Tangent. :)

    1. Yes, I almost got into the bullying topic, maybe another time. I've found a way for my oldest to deal with it to much success.

      It's not as bad as it used to be. I actually thought about that vlog for a bit before I started. Would have been worse if I did it off the cuff.

  6. thanks so much for sharing this, andrew. so fantastic that you overcame monumental obstacles to communicating and writing and WROTE AN ENTIRE BOOK!

    i do have to say that many of the markers you shared as examples - i.e., not being comfortable making eye-contact, issues with communication, and especially the way your brain processes information visually - remind me of some of the characteristics of autism. Not that i think you have autism or even aspergers, although there are many high-functioning people with aspergers who are geniuses.

    but i have to point you in the direction of the most famous woman with autism of our times, temple grandin, because she thinks exactly like you do - in pictures. i can't imagine memorizing everything i heard or read or being able to visualize it in my head. so amazing. she's the same way. she even has a book entitled "thinking in pictures" that i would encourage you to read. she is such a brilliant woman. i had the privilege of hearing her speak when she came to tulsa last year - so fascinating.

    1. I was actually worried that I had Asperger's at one point. I did some psych testing and it indicated that I do not have Asperger's. There are incidence of Autism/Asperger's in my family, so it is possible that I skirt the line with some of my behaviors (there is a genetic component after all). However, I don't meet all the criteria for it, so therefore, I'm not. I might hover near the line, but I don't cross over it.

      The hardest hurdle I had to overcome with writing a novel was my fear of translating the pictures into words. Once I got over it, I didn't have as many issues with the writing.