Writers use their creativity to slay dyslexia
Rachel Orenda Irvine, 12, and Julie Kay Hope, 47, have a mutual interest in writing novels and poetry and a fascination with dragons.
Rachel recalls dictating a story to her mother at the age of 2 about a cat, a cat door and a gray house.
As she got older, Rachel, a sixth-grader at Acorn Montessori School in Prescott Valley, began putting the thoughts in her head onto paper. She recently placed second in the middle school division of the 2011 Youth Poetry Contest that the Professional Writers of Prescott and the Prescott Public Library sponsored.
Rachel, the only child of Claire Oberst and Dave Irvine of Prescott, also is writing a fantasy novel about three friends. One of them picks up something covered in sand that he finds in a streambed in Switzerland that hatches into a dragon in the warmth of his pocket.
"They have to find a way to take care of this thing," said Rachel, who is working on the 14th chapter and hopes to publish her first book at the age of 15.
Like Rachel, Hope, of Prescott Valley, developed an interest in writing at a young age.
"My passion for writing came in second grade," she said.
Hope pointed out the numerous awards that she received from 2005 to 2008 from the International Society of Poets, which published her poetry in compilations. She self-published the poem "The Night Mrs. Claus Took the Reins."
Hope and Rachel, who have never met, have other things in common as well: They write despite dyslexia, a disorder that impairs the ability to read and write.
Rachel won her award for a poem titled "Dyslexia is My Captor."
"Dyslexia is my captor/and also my delight," her poem begins. "It closes many doors for me/but lets in more light."
Dyslexia inspired Hope's dragon character Serkeff Can that is frustrated because it has difficulty reading. Hope said a little boy teaches the dragon to read.
"As an adult, I'm the little boy. As a child, I am the frustrated dragon trying to learn," she said.
Hope, who operates a public relations and marketing business out of her home, said her mother, a junior high school English teacher, detected her dyslexic symptoms when she was 4 or 5 because Hope wrote words backward. However, she was not diagnosed until her junior year at the University of Arizona, where she earned a bachelor's degree in speech communications.
Symptoms for dyslexia may be detected as early as preschool, said Lissa Howard, a Prescott-based certified Barton tutor/testing specialist who tutors Rachel and 21 other dyslexic children.
"Even something as simple as tying shoes is difficult for a dyslexic because it is a sequence of steps," Howard said.
Rachel admits having a hard time tying shoes when she was 4, adding she noticed reading difficulty early on.
"It was kind of alien to me in first grade looking at the words," she said. "Like I had to recognize the word 'the.'"
She said her dyslexia did not worsen as she aged while admitting books became more difficult because "the reading level is going up."
Like other dyslexics, Rachel and Hope have a problem with spelling. Rachel said she might misspell one or two words in a 10-word sentence.
"The English language is funny in the fact that things are not spelled phonetically, and I spell phonetically," Rachel said.
Hope said she spells phonetically as well, and is a 98 percent auditory learner.
"I am not good at visual," she said. "I am like a 2 percent visual learner."
Hope said she recognized the letter "B" as a "D" or a "G."
"Not only did I write from mirror image backward, I wrote from left to right," Hope said. "That is my problem, and I would drop letters. I won't even see that I dropped letters."
Hope said she has had problems with numbers as well, and failed a math class in college that she later repeated.
She said a teacher in first or second grade sparked an interest in writing.
"She took some construction paper and she went through the halls, and she put up these dinosaur footprints, and that was the first time I got excited about writing," she said.
Hope, a native of Lincoln, Neb., who moved to Prescott Valley from Glendale a year ago, said she became "very good" with rhymes despite dyslexia.
"I think that poetry is definitely a way to work your dyslexia, to work it out, because first of all you have to rhyme words," Hope said.
Rachel said she worked out dyslexia by creating stories in her head.
"It helped me because I could not focus on what the teacher was saying (in class) because it was kind of beyond me when I was small," up until fourth grade.
Rachel "writes stories like crazy," Howard said. "Her stories are so descriptive, and her vocabulary is immense."
Rachel gets high marks from a professional: Tom Erdmann Jr., a published poet who judged the contest.
"It was consistent," Erdmann said. "Kids at that age have difficulty being consistent."
Erdmann, 68, acknowledges her poem might have struck a note with him. He also is dyslexic and did not learn how to read until fifth grade.
A retired high school English teacher, Erdmann said his mother was a writer and encouraged him to write.
Erdmann shares an interest with Rachel and Hope.
"I do enjoy fantasy and science fiction," he said. "I like the creativity that it takes to build a whole world that is different from ours."
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