Published in the Dec. 2, 2020 Stow and Bolton Independent
By Ann Needle
Scott Cumming declared his avowed mission these days to be, “I never, ever want anyone believing they were born stupid.” As an adult dyslexic, Cumming’s tool in achieving that goal is dyslexictogether.org, which he is building from his own, painful experiences of severe struggles with reading and writing.
Support groups for adult dyslexics are not common, perhaps because of the shame people feel at not mastering the written word, Cumming said. Yet, dyslexictogether.org points out that up to 20 percent of the Earth’s population is dyslexic.
“There’s almost nothing out there,” Cumming remarked of support resources and groups for adult dyslexics. “I started this because of that. There’s no safe haven where someone like myself can go to say, ‘you’re just like me.’”
Cumming said he has tested at a sixth-grade reading level. “It’s a huge struggle. I thought I was born stupid. Because everything around us is all printing or reading.” He said he lost out on job opportunities “because I couldn’t do the paperwork.”
Through his school years, Cumming’s then-undiagnosed condition kept him in special education right through high school. Looking back at sixth grade, Cummings remarked on a distinct memory of battling through reading: “I would read the line, go backwards on the line, read it again.”
At Minuteman High School, Cumming said the head of the SPED department noticed he had a knack for printing. This woman changed Cumming’s curriculum so he could spend more time on printing. “She basically saved my life. If it wasn’t for her saying this boy belongs on a printing press, who knows how much I would have struggled in society.” Cumming said he successfully ran his own print shop until about 15 years ago, and now works as a master mechanic.
As a parent struggling to help his daughter with her homework, Cumming recalled enrolling at Middlesex Community College in SPED-level classes about 20 years ago. That was when he tested at a sixth-grade reading level.
Now 59 years old, Cumming noted that he was not diagnosed with dyslexia until age 56. This came after Cumming reported he typed “I can’t read, write, or spell” into an online search engine. Given the results, “I knew immediately I was dyslexic.” Until that diagnosis was finalized, Cumming said, “I spent my whole life not telling anyone I couldn’t read, write, or spell.”
Not “Reading Backwards”
Along with connecting adult dyslexics with one another, dyslexictogether.org is designed to offer scientific insight into this condition, and erase a few myths — such as dyslexics read backwards. On this piece of misinformation, Cumming explained that, when he does not pick up what is being said when first reading a line of type, his eyes automatically go back over it until he understands the words. “It’s not that I’m reading backwards, I’m going back over the letters.”
And, forget the notion that some dyslexics are too lazy to learn reading: Cumming reported studies show dyslexic children try three to four times harder than typical kids to learn to read.
“It comes down to phonological trouble,” Cumming stressed. “It comes down to the left side of the brain not picking up on letters and sounds.”
Cumming launched the website on Oct.15, and is also on Twitter and Facebook. Cumming said up to this point he has self-funded the non-profit site, but donations are also being sought. “I went with a non-profit because I have a tough time going to a [for-profit] web site thinking, they want to make money off of me — so is their information true or not?” But he knows that to achieve his dream for the site he will have to raise money.
Cumming has a market research company tracking the site’s traffic and penetration, and the activity so far confirms the need for the site. “The reports so far show at the end of 30 days, our numbers are as good as someone who’s had a website up for three months,” Cumming remarked.
Also working with Cumming on writing is Stow’s Julia Nord, who Cumming praised as “able to communicate with the other 80 percent of the people [non-dyslexic] out there. She understands what a dyslexic person goes through.”
For those wanting to help with the site, Cumming said that he is seeking a volunteer who could work with web site development tools such as Google and WordPress.
Meanwhile, dyslexia offers its own gifts to some. Dyslexics often seek out creative ways to manage life around a lack of reading skills — as Cumming did with his mechanical abilities. Cumming reported that a British researcher discovered more than 30 percent of dyslexics are entrepreneurs, “because they don’t think like everybody else.” A few of those creative business folks: Richard Branson and the late Steve Jobs.
As for his website’s user base, Cumming said, “I’m looking to build a community of dyslexics where they can learn and share experiences, and feel comfortable and supported.” If readers have any questions about dyslexia, he welcomes them to visit his site at www.dyslexictogether.org and use the Contact Us page to get in touch.