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Dyslexia Forced Graduate to Create Own Path for Success

Stephanie Gross
Bryson Patterson

May 1, 2000 -- Diagnosed with severe dyslexia at age five, Bryson Patterson was told that he would never finish high school. Despite a learning disability that causes him to read slowly and spell poorly, Patterson will earn a bachelor's in history May 21 from the University of Virginia after conducting extensive Civil War research.

For his senior thesis in history, he researched coastal fortifications used during the Civil War. Working with his advisor, noted Civil War scholar Gary Gallagher, Patterson read dairies from the 1860s, tattered records exchanged between Civil War generals and fragile copies of speeches held by veterans groups and the Daughters of the Confederacy. Although the dyslexia makes reading a slow, laborious process, he does not regard it as a handicap -- just "a way of life" -- and found the long hours of research "a fun, learning adventure."

To complete his studies through high school and at U.Va., Patterson relied heavily on listening to the full texts of books on tape provided by the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. A lover of history, he was limited during high school days by what books the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic had in its library. At U.Va. staff members of the Learning Needs and Evaluation Center would contact professors to learn what books would be appropriate resources, purchase the volumes, and then read aloud the material while recording it. Patterson could take the tapes home and listen to them while following along with the text.

"It's wonderful to be living in a time where there is so much technology to help the dyslexic," Patterson said, adding, "I'm fortunate to have parents who have recognized my problems and made things available to me."

After hearing that the dyslexia would so likely frustrate their son that he would fail in school, his parents, Robert and Maureen Patterson, sought tutors to help him. From the ages of five through 13, he spent two hours a week working with tutors who helped him read, spell and pronounce words. "If it weren't for those tutors, I don't think I would be able to read. If it weren't for them, I don't think I would enjoy studying. I thank God my parents could pay for the tutoring to meet my special needs. My parents made a lot of sacrifices," he said.

A graduate of Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg, VA, Patterson enjoyed success in high school. He served as student council president and was on the honor roll. After a year at Hampden-Sydney College, he transferred to U.Va. because of its national reputation.

After graduating from U.Va., he and two Hampden-Sydney graduates plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail. Although he admits he is "not placing any bets on finishing" the 2,200-mile trail that runs from Maine to Georgia, he and his friends have set a goal of completing the trek by Thanksgiving.

As he hikes, Patterson plans on thinking about how to revise his senior thesis. He hopes to find a journal to publish it after he completes the revisions.

"Bryson's paper, with a bit more research and some revisions, has strong potential to be published in one of the popular Civil War journals," said history professor Gallagher. "He analyzed the evidence from a fresh perspective."

For more information, Patterson can be reached through May 22 at (804) 295-3889.

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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