Reading Speed

Holy crap, it has been a long time since I wrote a blog post!  But no matter, I’m back and want to write again.

I am not going to discuss what I’ve been up to since my last post, I’m going to do that at another time.  I want to discuss something that I kind of need to process right now.

I want to share what my dream job may be (it isn’t solid because I haven’t done it yet).  My dream job is to be an editor who reads other people’s stuff and helps make it the best it can be.  Another dream job is a professor of English, reading students’ papers and helping them write their best paper yet.  Another dream job is to be a freelance writer, who reads expectations and desires for the final outcome and delivering them.  But perhaps these are not to be.

A year ago this August, I took a 4 hour neuropsych test to determine if I was autistic (spoiler alert, it turns out I do…*gasp in shock because I “don’t look it”* /heavy sarcasm).  But the results told me more than just about my autism.

They officially diagnosed me with autism, but they also noted my reading speed.  My reading speed is at the 2nd percentile when compared to my same-education peers.  To give a rough estimate of it, if 100 people were to take it, 98 people did better than me and I did better than 1 person.

To give you the actual number, I read between 70 and 80 words per minute.  Most people read around 300 words per minute.  My reading speed is what is expected of 1st graders.  I just finished my masters degree and am going on for my PhD in rhetoric and professional communication, a heavy theory reading field.

And remember my dream jobs?  How can I possibly succeed when I read at a 1st grade reading speed.  How can I survive in fields that favor hyperlexics (demands/expects them?) when I am the very definition of hypolexic?

This is where I got to when I was outlining.  Now, I go without any script or idea of what I am going to say next because I don’t quite know the answers to these questions, at least not off the top of my head (or the bottom, or any part for that matter).

What got me thinking about this was that I just registered for student disability resources and yesterday had training on how to use the Kurzweil 3000 program, a text-to-speech software.

The only thing that I can think about regarding the dreams and the PhD program is that maybe I am looking at this situation wrong.  In fact, I am almost positive that I am.  I am looking at my reading speed from the perspective of special education.  It’s low, let’s fix it.  It’s low, let me find a hack that let’s me still read.

But, I have been playing around with Kurzweil and reading articles using the software (I have been reading them.  Even if I have been listening to them, it is still a form of reading, just as typing is a form of talking).  And it is so much easier.  I tested my reading speed on my own several times today and it all came around the 70-80 mark.

Special education drilled into my brain the idea of: fix it, fix it, fix it.  It was never about move past fixing it.  Individual education plan goals and objectives are all about fixing it, making abnormal person A into normal person A (apologies for the language, please let me know if I should change it).  So, if that was the way I was supposed to work with my students, that is the way I dealt with and still deal with myself.

But if my master’s program taught me anything, if my amazing experiences in the autistic community have taught me anything, if my amazing experiences in the neurodiversity community have taught me anything, it is that I have to question everything that I hold true.  Every position that I take, every thought I have, must be questioned.

The questions are numerous, unending.  Is this correct is is it wrong; is this ableist; is this fucked up?  The questions must never stop, because if they do, then my activism begins to stagnate and I become no better than Autism Speaks.

So, the questions I ask myself here are: is my reading speed really a problem in my dream jobs?  Is it really a problem in my education program?

To begin answering these questions, I am reminded of one of the biggest reasons I always heard from members of an IEP team for not using assistive technology (like text-to-speech) was that they need to be ready for the real world.  Well, does the real world have text-to-speech software?  Yeah, it does.  So, I can’t use that argument for myself.  I used it in my master’s because I didn’t go forward to the disability office until I was already done with my classes and taking master’s thesis credits.

Another question I ask myself, and one I think illustrates the internalized ableism I have is: Will my reading speed ever be as fast as others?  I know the answer, it will not.  It never will be, no matter how much I want it.  But here, I have to stop myself again and question the assumptions I made when answering the question.  Will my reading speed ever be 300 words per minute?  I immediately said no because I defined my reading speed as the reading in my head.  The assumption I made was that reading speed and text-to-speech are mutually exclusive.

Can I read 300 words per minute with text-to-speech software?  Yeah, and I can go faster.  So, I find myself having internalized and ingrained ableism by assuming that the way people typically read (by looking at words and processing them) is what reading means.  Even though several paragraphs ago, I mentioned the opposite.

So, text-to-speech is my reading and that is different from how I have done it for 26 years.  But for 26 years, it has always taken me 5ever to read stuff.  I have developed strategies where I don’t read things, not completely.  I just skim, but my comprehension goes to complete shit.  My skimming strategy was to read the first and last sentence of each paragraph starting at the end and moving backwards.

That strategy worked for me, I gained insights that no other person in my classes did because I read the article in a different way (arguably, I actually read some of the article, as compared to my classmates).  But my different way came at a cost, I didn’t learn everything I could have because I didn’t read everything that I could.  Because if I did, then I would not have been able to read every article.

But now, I can.  I can read my books, my readings, at the speed that other people automatically do.  I read an article today that would have taken me almost an hour to read if I hadn’t read it with text-to-speech.  Text-to-speech took me about 10 minutes.

So, are my dream jobs out of question because of all of the reading?  No, they aren’t.  But I know that there are entitled, ableist assholes out there who think that I should, “live in the real world” because I “won’t have access to text-to-speech all the time.  That I should just give up on my dream jobs.  And some of those assholes may just be the ones who could give me a job.  And honestly, fuck them, I don’t want to work for their company anyway if they are going to say/think that.

And so, it will be interesting reading my student’s papers in the fall.  I’m going to probably make mistakes, and I am going to tell the students about everything so they know why it may take extra time in the beginning as I begin to understand how to use text-to-speech for the purposes of teaching/grading papers.


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