The following comments were written by Meghan Lil, who I knew as a darling, sassy little lass, 8 or 9 years old at the time of our first meeting. In my mind’s eye, she’s still a kid. In reality, she’s a beautiful, intelligent young woman. In her words:
“When I was in first grade, I was seemingly a normal child in every respect, except for one… which I worked hard to keep hidden. I simply could not read like the rest of my classmates. I couldn’t distinguish between similar sounds, such as B’s and D’s. I had no idea how to sound out the letters of the alphabet. Words made no sense to me. I lacked the phonetic skills to decipher even the simplest words. No matter how hard I worked at learning my ABC’s or even hearing the difference between ‘bad’ and ‘dad’ – I could not do it! I worked hard to compensate for this shortcoming, by memorizing the week’s readings for the Friday test and forgetting them days later. My teacher did not pick up on this; but my mom did. One day, my mom trapped me in the car, as she usually does when she wants to grill me for information, and told me I didn’t know how to read. We were driving over a bridge so I knew I couldn’t jump out of the car to avoid this conversation, so instead I denied it. She then looked right into my eyes and told me that she knew. So I looked up at her and I put my finger on my mouth and said “Sssssssshhhhhhh! Don’t tell anybody it’s a secret! No one is supposed to know!”
She went to my teacher at the time, Mrs. Lillian, and told her that I did not know how to read. My teacher thought my mom was nuts, one of those overachiever parents. She said “so she is not getting all A’s, that’s fine, what is the big deal?” However, after that, Mrs. Lillian moved my seat to the front and then kept a close watch on me. Within a month she saw what my mom had seen the whole time. My mom then went to my godmother, Aunt Patty, who was a learning disabilities teaching consultant at the time. Mom asked Aunt Patty to do an evaluation on me. She thought mom was worried too much too. That’s when the walls came crumbling down. Aunt Patty gave my mom information about auditory dyslexia. I had always had trouble having people understand me, and me them, but this was bigger.
This could have been one of the most detrimental moments in my life, but instead, it’s the time when four amazing people came into my life. Dr. Tallal, Dr. Miller, Dr. Merzenich and Dr. Jenkins changed my life. What I participated in became the Fast-ForWord program. This new program combined speech therapy, neuroscience and computer games to aid in the process of learning phonetic and reading skills. I was one of the first six children to be involved in this program.
Now, 13 years later I am 21 years old, and a sophomore at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. where I am a biology major with a concentration in psychology. When I am not studying incredibly hard, I love being with my friends, sailing, shopping, listening to music, and cooking. And perhaps most importantly, I love to read – a feat that, while seemingly a routine task, was one that did not seem possible to me just a few short years ago.
Recently I truly realized the impact that participating in this program and these four doctors have had on my life. I e-mailed Dr. Tallal when I graduated from high school. I was not concerned with my reading disabilities, but I was nervous about college and scared that my niece, born on September 23 of my senior year, would go through what I went through – you couldn’t ask for a worse punishment then to sit and struggle through three letter words while your best friends were reading books.
Dr. Tallal, the warm hearted person she is met with my mom and I soon after. She then told us in so many words that, at the time I was involved in the program, they weren’t even sure it would work. Well, I am living proof that it does. While we were having lunch my mom and Dr. Tallal were talking about some of the events that happened during my time in the program. All I could think of after hearing the stories is how embarrassing I could be as a child. They told me that Dr. Merzenich, this genius of a man, asked a group of us how we liked the games they had created for us, and I looked at him and said that they were dumb and boring. I asked my mom later why she didn’t stop me or put duct tape over my mouth. I felt horrible until my mom looked at me and said that is why they wanted me in the program, because I was so brutally honest…….
Now that I’m in college, I know that I want to be a Doctor. I am not sure if I want to be a medical doctor or a PhD. What I do know is I love people, how they think, how they act, it amazes me. Well to be honest with you I want to save the world but that is not possible, so I’ll just start with one person at a time. As St. Francis said: “start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible and suddenly I’ll be doing the impossible”. I have learned from Dr. Tallel, Steve, and Dr. Merzenich that touching even just one person’s life makes a world of difference. If I can do for others what they have done for me, then I will have succeeded.”
This delightful, poised, self-confident young woman shall achieve good things in life. I think that we can count on a good measure of them coming from a good heart!