Cami Cox, a dyslexic student at Baylor University, says Dr. Seuss books are still a challenge. But undaunted, she will return this August as a sophomore and put in extra time to decipher college-level textbooks in her studies to become an elementary school teacher.
Cox, a Cedar Park resident, might be who Seuss had in mind when writing “things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.” Due to her determination, she’s since been accepted to Baylor University and she was awarded the Girl Scouts Gold Award — the organization’s highest possible honor — for developing an engaging simulation of what it is to be dyslexic for student peers.
“Earning the Gold Award is something I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Cox, who received the award at a ceremony on June 10 on the state Capitol House floor. “When I started Girl Scouts in first grade I told my mom that I was going to earn the Gold Award one day. By completing this project, I met a 12-year long goal. It affirmed that I could do anything if I work hard enough, and nothing and no one can hold me back.”
For Cox, reading books can feel like deciphering hieroglyphics and writing feels backwards, like using her non-dominant hand while watching through a mirror. There were a few people who told Cox she would fail advanced classes or never go to college because of her dyslexia. In one case, one of her teachers would often make her miss recess to do the schoolwork she missed while in dyslexia class.
“Dyslexia affects every person differently. It affects writing and spelling most for me,” Cox said. “When asked to write an assignment, I can think of the words in my head but they kind of get lost on the way to the page. Because of this, it takes me much longer than it would take a peer. Also, every word looks different, so if I see the words cat, hat, bat, mat, I don’t see that they are the same with just a different first letter. They all are separate words for me.”
From her diagnosis as a Leander ISD first grader until now, Cox said her parents, Sandy and Brian, have been her greatest supporters. She also praises the help she had from two of her LISD teachers, Kathy Thompson and Renee Kosarek.
Throughout her education, Cox wanted to teach others what dyslexic students experience. This is where her simulation project comes in.
“In 5th grade, I asked my dyslexia teacher if I could bring my friends to dyslexia class so they could understand what it was like,” she said. “It wasn’t allowed, but it planted the seed for the simulation.”
Eventually, as a Cedar Park High School junior, Cox had the opportunity to advocate for herself and other dyslexic students by designing a dyslexia simulation for her GS Gold Award project.
“I created Dyslexia Decoded: A Dyslexic Simulation for School Age Children with the mission that after going through the simulation, every student in the class would have a better understanding of dyslexia and what it feels like to be dyslexic,” she said. “Hopefully, it will change the way they treat their dyslexic peers.”
Her model is like a similar simulation offered by LISD to family members and teachers of dyslexic students. Her target was fourth and fifth graders, and it featured three parts for the three biggest struggles dyslexic students confront: reading, writing and spelling.
For the reading, Cox wrote a book where symbols instead of letters make up the words. The point was that when someone with dyslexia read a book, it could look like a foreign language. For the writing activity, students traced a star using their non-dominate hand and by looking at the star through a mirror next to their worksheet, thus simulating how difficult it is to use the opposite side of your brain to do a simple task. For spelling, students spelled 15 “nonsense” words that Cox said were not “real” words but followed language rules. The class then graded their tests.
After the simulation, Cox asks the students to answer questions about what they learned and how the simulations made them feel. She reached her goals for the classes that went through the simulation, but she feels there are always more students that need to be educated about dyslexia.
“Sadly, there are still a lot of people and teachers that believe that if someone has dyslexia, they are dumb,” Cox said. “I have never felt I was not smart because I have dyslexia, I view my dyslexia as a gift instead of a curse. Most dyslexics are very creative because they must use both sides of the brain at the same time, as opposed to using one side at a time for the average person. If I didn’t have dyslexia, I might be less creative, and therefore I wouldn’t be the same person at all.”
“Backing down”, etc., are not words that are anywhere in Cox’s vocabulary.
“I have known since I was three that I wanted to be a teacher, so I had the dream before I knew I was dyslexic,” she said. “However, my kindergarten and first-grade teachers made such a huge impact on me. They inspired me to try and make the same kind of impact on other students. I’m hoping that my dyslexia background will help me be a better and more accommodating teacher. I plan on continuing to educate my students about different learning disabilities. Ultimately, I want my classroom to be a safe place for all children to learn and explore our world.”
Cox has posted “Dyslexia Decoded” on a website for easy replication and use. To access the project, visit http://cami056.wixsite.com/dyslexia-decoded.