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Archive for Thursday, April 11, 2002

Erin Brockovich to talk of her dyslexic childhood

April 11, 2002

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School sometimes felt like a lesson in alienation for Lawrence native and dyslexic Erin Brockovich.

From the time she was in second grade and teachers began to notice she might have a learning disability, Brockovich, now 41, and a celebrity after she became the subject of the Julia Roberts' film, was pulled from the regular classroom for special education instruction.

"I remember the feeling of being so demoralized," Brockovich said in a telephone interview from her California home. "You're 'the dumb one.' It labels you. You're different than the rest of the class. That's hard on a kid.

"Schools almost demand that you conform to this one way of learning, and I couldn't do it."

Brockovich went on to become a nationally known environmental activist. Saturday, she will talk about growing up dyslexic at the eighth annual conference of the Kansas-Western Missouri Branch of the International Dyslexia Assn.

Her presentation, scheduled for sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Lenexa Holiday Inn, 12601 W. 95th St., Lenexa, and the conference are open to individuals interested in dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Registration is required, and attendance is limited.

Dyslexia is difficulty with language, said Linn Suderman, director of Lawrence's Dyslexia & Learning Differences Center and secretary of the Kansas-Western Missouri Branch of the International Dyslexia Assn.

Dyslexics may have trouble understanding differences in sounds, sound sequences and patterns, she said. They often have trouble comprehending what they read.

If not caught  and Suderman said students with dyslexia routinely remain unidentified in public schools  the learning disability can begin to take its toll on a student's psyche.

"It begins often to affect the self-image of the student," said Suderman, who will talk at the conference about assessing dyslexia. "They begin to look around, and even if no one says anything to them, they know they can't do it like the other students can."

When that happens, dyslexic students may find ways to compensate for what they see as their inadequacies. Such was the case for Brockovich.

"I was extra-charming. I was the fun one. I was the one with the cutest outfit," she said.

Brockovich graduated from Lawrence High School in 1978 and then "partied my way right out the door at Kansas State University because that's all I was good at, or so I thought. I bloomed late in life."

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