Andy Geiser had nearly completed high school when his grades began to plummet. But a counselor discovered that Geiser wasn't stupid or lazy. He was dyslexic.
Like many of the tens of millions of other Americans suffering from the learning disability, Geiser's problem had gone undetected for years. However, by paying close attention in class, he had managed to get A's and B's, despite his difficulty in mastering written language.
But as college prep classes got tougher and more reading was required, Geiser's grades dropped to D's and F's.
Now that he is aware of his handicap, the 24-year-old Geiser hopes to focus public attention on the brain disorder that medical authorities estimate affects 10% to 15% of the population.
At Mason Regional Park in Irvine Sunday, Geiser, a triathlete and junior at the University of Hawaii, began the first leg of a promotional 3,700-mile, cross-country bicycle ride that should end on July 31 in Washington, D.C.
Geiser will peddle his bicycle two to six hours a day, stopping along the way to make speeches and distribute literature on behalf of the Orton Dyslexia Society, named after neuropathologist Samuel T. Orton, who pioneered diagnostic and teaching methods for dyslexics during the 1920s.
Medical authorities believe dyslexia may begin during fetal development in the left half of the brain--that portion controlling language skills. It is most commonly known as a disorder in which letters are seen backwards or upside down, but it can affect all language skills. The afflicted have included Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Woodrow Wilson. Countless others, however, have been misdiagnosed as trouble-makers, mentally ill or retarded.
Geiser said that after his disability was diagnosed, it was more than two years before he could admit to himself that he was dyslexic. Ultimately, however, he left his Oklahoma home and enrolled at Hawaii, where he has maintained a B average.
No Special Help
Geiser said he had no special therapy but improved his reading by sitting up in bed for hours at night, reading slowly aloud.
"But I don't condone that at all now," he said. "Everyone I talk to, I say go to a specialist for help."
Among about 100 well-wishers on hand Sunday was Mary-Louise Kean, associate professor of psychobiology and cognitive science at UC Irvine.
"There are a lot of (students) who probably have slight dyslexia and they are told they are slow readers," Kean said. "Their parents will be told their child is not performing up to his potential."
Without special attention and therapy, most of those children will go on to adult lives in which they "won't have the professional success you'd expect on the basis of their other talents," she said. In many cases, it is the parent who first suspects there is something biologically wrong, she said.
Geiser, who proposed the promotional tour to the Orton Dyslexia Society, said he hopes his bicycle ride also will help raise money for the education of elementary and high school teachers to enable them to detect dyslexia at early stages.
"If all my effort and work make a difference in just one dyslexic's life, I will consider this entire project a success," Geiser wrote to the society.