Schneider’s own journey begins in the Great Depression era of the late 1930s. As a young student at a Catholic school, Schneider said it was no secret among his peers that he struggled with reading, writing and recalling numeric sequences in school. Later in life he would discover dyslexia was the cause of his difficulties, but as a child, little to nothing was known about the condition to those around him.
Already an introvert, Schneider said the incessant bullying he experienced because of his dyslexia drove him further inward.
“I knew I was having a hard time in school because I got teased a lot,” he said. “I am an introvert, so the experience I was having at school added to that in the sense that I became even more shy and reluctant to talk to other people.”
Much to his mother’s shock, Schneider’s teachers recommend he be held back to repeat the third grade — a situation the young boy’s mother felt must have been a failing on her part. Wanting to spare her son and family humiliation, Schneider’s mother convinced his teachers to allow her to tutor her son in a desperate effort to raise his grades. The school agreed, and soon Schneider began weekly after school lessons filled with memorization drills.
Despite his mother’s lack of professional training, and an undiagnosed learning condition, Schneider was given the go-ahead to move on to fourth grade.
He persisted in learning to hone in his literacy and sequencing skills and by eighth grade had worked up a habit of hard work, he said. Slowly but surely, the learning process began to get easier, but the intelligent young man still struggled to make good grades. Poor marks nearly kept Schneider out of college, but with luck and persistence, again, he was able to convince the school to take a chance on him, even if it meant being placed on academic probation.
By the time he graduated, Schneider said he’d experimented with enough “trial and error” when it came to his personal learning process that his struggles in class became fewer and fewer. But still, the challenges he’d faced all his life lacked a name.
“I still didn’t have the label ‘dyslexia,'” Schneider, now 82, said. “If [words] had two consonants together, I would try to say to myself, ‘Now you have to remember this word. It’s a five-letter word, you should be able to remember it.'”
“I’d put it in my memory bank and when I went to get it the next day, it wasn’t there. It was a strange thing.”
It wasn’t until later an acquaintance of Schneider told him a learning condition called “dyslexia” was the reason he had a hard time remembering things like phone numbers and mixing up words and letters.
At that point, putting a name to his struggles didn’t matter much, Schneider said. He’d already learned to cope on his own.
By early adulthood, he had learned that he could do anything he put his mind to. Schneider had so far learned to conquer all the things that stood in his way, like being held back or rejection from college, and the revelation offered a new sense of confidence and hope. What he once saw as difficulties, he now had solutions for.
“I had learned that if I keep trying and not give up that I could defeat it,” Schneider said. “I decided that I could do anything I want to do. If I’m willing to work at it, I could do it. And actually, it turned out that way.”
Schneider graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineer in 1959 and worked for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency before heading to work for NASA in the midst of the space race, where he worked as a research engineer.
Schneider became a college professor, airplane pilot, computer systems manager for the federal government and has even mastered the art of sculpting.
But if he’d had the proper diagnosis and support system earlier on, he could have avoided years of confusion and feelings of defeat as a child, he said.
“I was [labeled] ‘handicap’ because I didn’t know about dyslexia and I didn’t have a trained person to guide me,” Schneider said. “I had my mother of course, but she didn’t know any more about it than I did. Her philosophy was to just keep trying. That worked OK, but I’m sure it took many years longer for me to get to the point where I was able to cope with dyslexia.”
“If I would have had more tools and guidance and help with this in the beginning, I probably would have gotten to …whatever my potential was going to be sooner.”
Add to that list another accomplishment that seemed nearly impossible as a boy: Author.
Schneider said he never thought he could become an author, but with the tools available on computers now like spell check and other editing software, the task is much more feasible. After publishing a memoir, Schneider said he decided to re-imagine the book instead as fiction, replacing himself with the character of a young boy named Clarence who struggles in school but embarks on a lifetime of adventure.
The result is “Say Yes On Saturday,” which Schneider said he hopes not only gives his children and grandchildren something to remember him by, but that people who read it can relate to it — especially when it comes to having challenges in the classroom.
To those out there struggling with dyslexia today, Schneider said to never give up.
“Have heart, because if you’ve got dyslexia you’ve also got a potential advantage in life over other people who don’t have it,” he said. “You have the possibility of being more creative and having more persistence and tolerance for risk, and there are a lot of other people in the world who are famous now because they were able to overcome it.”
“If they can do it, you can do it, all you have to do is not give up and keep trying, and things are likely to be OK.”
Read more here about how the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education’s Orton-Gillingham reading method is changing the lives of students with dyslexia.