Disabilities Impact All of Us — Not Just “the Disabled”

J. Andrew Shelley
3 min readDec 27, 2021

Episode 12 of American Butterfly: Dyslexia School

“Dxisyela makses it diftucilt to raed.”

For the sake of my brother, we participated in a summer dyslexia school. The program first directed us to modify the dietary intake of its participants. It then augmented their approach to reading and writing, trying to rewire mental pathways. Like all the mothers, Mom became a teacher in the program. The whole experience felt a little cult-like.

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

After July 4th, we began purging the empty sugars from the house and our bodies, ten days before the start of dyslexia school. No more Coca-Cola, chocolate chip cookies, or snack-size Snickers. No more lemon cake on Sunday, a favorite of Dad’s. Supposedly, processed sugar engendered outbursts of energy, and bursts of energy triggered hyperactivity, and hyperactivity impaired learning. In order to give my brother the best chance, the whole family had to participate for about six weeks.

From 5 to 15% of the US population is thought to suffer from dyslexia. At least twenty million Americans struggle to read because of biological issues that require specific interventions.

Everyone took turns working with JT. We would listen to him while he read out loud, correcting and assisting as needed. He would drag his hand along a “memory” board, supposedly stimulating critical centers of the brain through an additional sensory pathway. It became such a habit, we all started rubbing our hands along the rough side of melamine boards scattered around the house. It worked in a way for me. I still picture a “b” written as a “d” when I rub my hand over something rough. To this day, I give thanks to the sturdiness of the uppercase “I” because it is largely immune to transliteration.

Photo by Rob Hobson on Unsplash

The impact on JT was hard to perceive. Perhaps he focused a little bit better and ultimately became skilled at gathering quantitative information from technical material. He never became a confident reader of books termed “literature,” but it is hard to know if that was wholly a result of his disability or inclination.

The most conspicuous change during those summers came in my father. Mom was the first to observe that while on the low-processed-sugar diet, Dad became more patient and less easily angered. He was better able to deal with uncertainty and the challenges posed by three children and daily life. His fuse was a lot longer.

There is significant research linking sugar consumption, mood variation, and stress. Daily sugar intake is linked to long-term depressive and anxiety disorders, more so in men than in women.

When confronted with a perspective that he disagreed with, Dad would often, in his own words, “see red” and fall back on an easy defense: “Everyone knows that…” or “When you get older…” or some common refrain that often demeaned a group of people. As a boy, I felt his belt do the talking for him on many occasions. It possessed a certain crisp eloquence he did not.

In those summers, Mom was right. Dad was a little more able to face difference in the world, a little more able to discuss possibilities before retreating behind his long-established lines of defense: his shaking anger and his platitudes about the way the world is supposed to work.

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The above is a modified excerpt from the novel, American Butterfly. The story is told through the eyes of a man raised in the South, living in the North, and struggling to understand love in the modern world.

It directly engages recent decades. It embraces the events that have shaped today’s world. And it draws upon the past to help us understand the many sides fighting America’s Culture War.

All through a family story, different and similar to yours and to mine.



J. Andrew Shelley

Battler for better. Top author in culture. More listening, more understanding, less outrage. Book: American Butterfly