Sun | Feb 25, 2018

Dyslexia - Our Mount Everest

Published:Sunday | May 29, 2016 | 12:00 AM
At his lowest Christopher Barrett said his love for airplanes was what kept him going.
Since his first flight when he was eight years old, Barrett has always had a passion for airplanes.
Christopher Barrett doing what he loves to do - fly.
Barrett believes that being a pilot was his destiny.
Barrett has been a successful entrepreneur for the past 17 years.

Christopher Barrett remembers teasing his younger sister who has the skin condition vitiligo. "I remember, in our youth, how I would sometimes tease her about the discolouration of her skin, not knowing at the time how cruel my teasing was until one day I saw her cry after I said something mean. I was not the most sensitive 13-year-old, and I was suddenly quite ashamed of my insensitivity," said Barrett.

"I grew up a lot in that moment. Needless to say, I never teased or mentioned the topic in a negative way ever again."

Vitiligo causes small to very large blotches on the skin. Barrett's sister has battled the condition since she was 11 years old.

In a conversation with her recently, she told Barrett that she wanted to bring more attention to her condition. "It is difficult to imagine the stares, teasing and whispers she had to endure from other kids as she grew up, and I am sure she still gets some of that today," said Barrett.

Inspired by her courage, he decided to share his story of his own struggle with a condition - the learning disability Dyslexia.

In a revealing post on his Facebook page, Barrett stated: "My hope is that anyone who suffers from Dyslexia, especially children who may read this, will perhaps be inspired and know that they are not alone and that it is not an affliction, but more of a 'let me see how I can grow from this challenge'. It is our Mount Everest. If approached correctly, it will build your character and forge for you a sense of pride and fulfilment. However, on the opposite end, if ill-approached it can bring you to your knees in utter despair and sorrow."

Here is Barrett's story in his own words:

I was diagnosed at the age of three, and my mother and father - bless their hearts - were very aware from early on that something was not right with my inability to retain information. But they did everything in their power to help me.

I remember many nights when my father and I stayed up doing my homework at the dinner table. He would patiently teach me how to write, add, subtract, etc. He never got mad at me for being slow. He was patient and kind in his delivery. After homework was finished, he would always rub, then kiss the top of my head and say, 'I love you, son'. He would then leave the table and head to bed. I learned much more than academics from my father in that time. There has never been a better father.

I could not read until I was seven. Comprehension, to me, was like trying to bend a spoon with your mind. I was held back in many of my classes. Extra lessons were a part of my lifestyle. Maths? A more frightening subject did not exist.

I attended St Andrew Preparatory School. I was on the football and track teams. I excelled in athletics. I was pretty darn good, actually. However, everyone of my peers knew that I was not on the same level as they were academically. They would ask: "Barrett, why are you in that other classroom all the time?" or "Barrett, why you so dunce?"

I could not answer as I did not know.

In those days, any academic test results were public knowledge. Everyone knew your score on any test no matter how small. The big test, of course, was Common Entrance. This was the 'daddy' of them all. It was pass or fail. It determined which high school a child would qualify for. A low score meant you would have to settle with a less-desired school. A high score meant you could attend a better one.

Back then, the names of students who were successful in the exam were published in the newspaper. Well, you guessed it. I did not do well. My name was nowhere to be found in the paper. It broke my mother and father's heart. They so hoped I would have passed. Needless to say, I was devastated. I went into hiding. It was as if time had stopped. I felt embarrassed, weak, hurt, worthless, and like a nobody. All those after-school extra lessons were for nothing, I thought. I hated life. I hated me.

There is one thing that kept me from losing it. It was something that I did not choose - it chose me. Even today at age 43, it still runs in my blood and soul - a passion for airplanes and flying.

Being a pilot was always my dream. It is this passion that kept me sane and focused and kept me out of trouble. It has been my vice since my first flight to New York on that Air Jamaica Boeing 727 in 1981. I was just eight years old. I vowed to become a professional pilot no matter the cost. Dyslexia would not cut my wings.

Fast forward to my late teens and early 20s, I learnt to hide my dyslexia pretty well by developing a healthy thirst for knowledge and by trying to learn a little bit about everything. I was focused on keeping my mind and body active, as well as learning how better to deal with intolerance and my failures. I learnt also, just as importantly, to deal with my achievements.

Remember when I said earlier that in prep school I was asked, "Barrett, why you so dunce?" Well, I remember the kid that asked me that back then. One day I was sitting as first officer in an Airbus A320. The captain and I were going through our pre-flight checklist for our flight to New York. As I was entering the route on the flight management computer, an attendant asked me if I would like a drink. I looked up to respond and, guess who the flight attendant was? Yes, Mr 'Why are you so dunce?' himself. He looked flabbergasted.

I do not fly for any airlines today. However, I still fly privately whenever I get the chance. I have been a successful entrepreneur for the past 17 years, and today I own one of the fastest-growing micro finance institutions in Jamaica - Sprint Financial Service.

I cite my achievements, as simple as they may be, not to boast, but to let all of us who struggle with Dyslexia or any other form of disability, know that you can follow your dreams and achieve them regardless of your afflictions.

You cannot teach will power. You cannot teach desire. You cannot teach passion. You must find your will power, desire and your passion. They will guide you through any disability.

We must own our afflictions, embrace them, learn from them. Do not be scared, for fear only gives them power.