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  • Writer's pictureThe Dyslexia Initiative

Honoring Our History

by Ashley Roberts

"The Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos), is a Mexican holiday where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration. A blend of Mesoamerican ritual, European religion and Spanish culture, the holiday is celebrated each year from October 31- November 2. While October 31 is Halloween, November 1 is “el Dia de los innocents,” or the day of the children, and All Saints Day. November 2 is All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead. According to tradition, the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31st and the spirits of children can rejoin their families for 24 hours. The spirits of adults can do the same on November 2nd."

What a marvelous history we have.

If you have read Wolf's Proust & the Squid or Seidenberg's Language at the Speed of Sight you have taken a detailed journey into the evolution of the brain, and how neuroscientists theorize and study the evolution from a nomadic people looking for danger on the horizon to no longer needing that part of the brain, and evolving that part of the brain into the reading centers. You have read about decades of research and neuroimaging and proofs of how the reading centers of the brain function and how the "normative" brain differs from the dyslexic brain, and how remediation can change the brain over time.

The science clearly also points to the genetic nature of dyslexia and how it is hereditary, passing from one generation to the next in the beautiful wonder that ties us together across generations, across centuries.

For many, the journey of dyslexia begins without being aware of the family history, and sometimes even within ourselves. Within the journey that is dyslexia, we delve, ask questions, study, wonder.

Things begin to make sense and fall into place for some. Older generations step forward and tell of struggles, issues, fear, shame. Sometimes the "ah-ha" moments come in reflection on past conversations.

I know for myself, as our little family began our journey we looked at my husband's family, knowing it was indeed there, suddenly understanding the struggles of my son's grandfather, the "ah-ha" moments with the stories he told, the hardship that school was, all well after his passing. Others in the family step forward, ask questions, take ownership of their own dyslexia.

One of my own parents coming forward only recently, telling of their struggle with words on a page and how hard school was because of it. A childhood memory coming forward of me asking, "Why don't you ever read?" The answer being, "because I hate reading." The truth being that the words moved on the page and the struggle to just read the words stole all comprehension and only gave frustration and anxiety.

But the truth is the brain is truly the most wondrous thing in existence. Scientists have been fascinated by it for centuries. As our science and techniques improve, they understand more, ask new questions, go down new research paths. They are children in a candy store exploring the aisles, unable to reach most of what's on the shelves, hoping one day they will finally get there.

The brain will likely be studied for centuries more as they delve deeper into how it functions, synapses, neurons, repairing damage, stopping Alzheimer's and other diseases, seeking to understand the true wonder of processing and the various methods the brain can use to go about the same function.

But what can't be lost is what came before, and where we have yet to go. Generations gone. Generations yet to come. The endless link of genes. The lineage that make us, well, us.

My ancestors that came before me are a part of me. In the genetic make up that is me, it looks like dyslexia is there, but missed me. In the genetic make up that is my husband, dyslexia is definitely there, but missed him too. It's in our code though, in our DNA, and from the two of us it combined into our son, a dyslexic human being.

For how many generations does it go back I wonder? At what point in our ancestry did it appear? The mystery is we will never know. Before 1877 when "word blindness" was finally described, no one knew. A literate society was a relatively new concept in the history of mankind and many parts of society were still illiterate. The prevalence of "word blindness" would not have been noticed, or for the vast majority of society, even mattered.

But think about it, the ties that bind from one generation to another, the genetic link, the lineage we continue to pass onto future generations, combined and recombined over and over again, in the beautiful wonder that is the human being, that is each and every one of us.

It's really awe inspiring if you think about it. It's almost like you can touch finger tip to finger tip from generations past to generations yet to come, and find your place, your perfect place in the story of life. It makes el Día de los Muertos even more magical.

So when the gates open tonight, until they close again, and all the time thereafter, remember your legacy; remember those that came before you, how they contributed to the beauty and wonder that is you and that is your child. Know and understand your place in this lineage and how you will be a part of the generations yet to come.

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