Caregiver wants to tell world about dyslexia


Kim Johnson, a caregiver in Spuyten Duyvil for the past five years, wants the world to know what it’s like to have dyslexia.

For years the mother of three kept her disability a secret from her children and others until she realized it was nothing to be embarrassed about. Now she has three children’s books to her credit teaching about dyslexia.

“People don’t understand exactly what it means unless you have dyslexia,” Johnson said. “The struggle you have everyday, trying to read certain things, trying to fill out applications, trying to do a lot of things that other people … can do.”

Johnson was awarded the Black Excellence & Literacy Award by the Freedom Youth Family Justice Center Inc. on March 29. One of her friends runs the agency and recommended her for the award.

“I cried like a baby,” Johnson, 52, said. “I was very honored.”

A minister and New York City chaplain, Johnson, grew up on the lower east side and discovered she had dyslexia when she was about 14. It wasn’t until she was 27 that she learned how to tell the time on an analog clock.

Some of the signs of dyslexia in children, she said, are having trouble paying attention when reading, seeing words backwards, having trouble listening and shying away from reading in front of others.

“When I decided to tell my kids, my two oldest kind of had an idea,” Johnson said. “My oldest son knew because he remembered me getting children books and reading to them. But he knew that I wasn’t reading the story because it wasn’t matching up with what I was telling them. I was just making it up looking at the pictures.”

That experience ended up becoming the story of her first book, “Mommy’s Secret.” In fact, all three children’s books Johnson has written are based on her lived experiences, including “Mommy Teaches about Dyslexia” and “What It’s Like Being Dyslexic.” The kids featured in her stories are her children and granddaughter.

“Writing my first book wasn’t easy,” Johnson said.

“Mommy’s Secret” took about a year to complete and was published in March 2017. Her son’s friend, Nary Tiang, who was about 18 at the time, did the illustrations.

“I had the story and my son’s friend happened to be at my house one day and she was drawing,” Johnson recalled. “I was like ‘Wow, you can really draw. Could you do me a favor?’”

The book follows youngest daughter Kaliyah, older sister Danielle, and brother Nat, confronting their mom to find out why she’s been sad lately. Embarrassed, she admits she cannot read or write. In response, her children support her and commit to helping her learn.

The second book, “Mommy Teaches about dyslexia” was published in 2020 and follows Kaliyah again. This time it is her friend, Andrea, whom she learns has dyslexia, as Andrea avoids rehearsing lines together for a school play.

“What It’s Like Being Dyslexic” was released April 2022 and follows Andrea and mommy navigating the everyday challenges of dyslexia. Baobab Publishing illustrated both books.

Johnson also published a fourth book titled “50 Shapes of Rings” in 2022, which is about a personal relationship. She is working on a fifth book.

Before the pandemic, Johnson did four stage adaptations of “Mommy’s Secret” at her daughter’s middle school. She hopes to do more plays at schools in the future. There also was an animated adaptation of the book by Sugrpinkcar Studios that can be watched on YouTube.

“I’m praying it reaches as many people as it can,” Johnson said. “I just want it to go where it needs to go, where God needs it to. Hopefully one day I can do a movie.”

Another dream of Johnson’s is to start a support group in which people with dyslexia can come together and discuss it in a similar vein to Alcoholics Anonymous and other such groups.

“This is something we were born with. This was nothing we asked for,” Johnson said. “This was just something that happens to people. But being dyslexic, I’m very gifted as well. I have a lot of gifts. I’m really good at what I do.”

Johnson has also been trying to contact Mayor Eric Adams for an opportunity to share her story about dyslexia in city schools.

Adams, who is dyslexic himself, announced plans in 2022 to open two schools to serve children who may have dyslexia, an effort to tackle the literacy crisis. Though the New York Times reported school officials planned to screen nearly all students for dyslexia, the city said the effort reached only a fraction of kids across the boroughs in 2022, with about 1,500 students across 133 schools being assessed.

It is estimated one in 10 people globally has dyslexia, according to Cross River Therapy, which provides therapy to children on the autism spectrum. In the United States, more than 40 million adults have dyslexia, but only 2 million receive a diagnosis. Cross River said one out of five students have a learning disability centered on language, with dyslexia being the most common.

These days, Johnson said, most people don’t know she’s dyslexic unless tells them.

“I used to be very embarrassed of it and now today, I’m like I don’t care who knows it and who I tell it to,” Johnson said. “Because it is who I am.”

Johnson’s books are available on Amazon.

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