Blanche Podhajski and Sean Plasse spoke at a StoryCorps booth in Burlington, Vt.
"A parrot flies along, the parrot lands on a car, the car explodes, and the smoke and feathers rise in a figure 8." To many people, that may sound like a cartoon panel. To Sean Plasse, it was a tool for recalling the word "polycarbonate."
Plasse suffers from dyslexia. He is able to understand and recall concepts and ideas very well. But words are another matter.
Trying to cope with his problem in college, Plasse says, he would "convert about 10,000 words into these pictures, every semester" — and live in fear that someone would realize that he had to work so hard to keep up.
When Plasse entered the working world, with a job at a marketing company, things only got worse. In addition to working late nights, Plasse would come in on the weekends to pore over e-mails, circling problem words so he could understand what the notes were about.
Speaking recently to his friend Blanche Podhajski, Plasse recalls the difficulty he had in keeping names straight, even after a year at the company — and even when the names were those of the company's owners. His solution: He kept a stack of business cards on hand, referring to them when he needed to know someone's name.
"When you struggle with learning disability," Plasse says, "it affects everything in your life."
But one day, Plasse came across an article about elite businessmen who had successfully coped with their own learning disabilities. The article, in Fortune magazine, sent Plasse to the phone book, looking for help.
After a full day of tests at a learning-disorders center, Plasse received a stark summary of his abilities — and his challenges.
"Your IQ is in the 99th percentile," the people at the center told him. "But your ability to read and decode words is in the 14th percentile."
The news, Plasse says, changed his life. "I got in my pickup truck and cried all the way home. It was a turning point."
After working with Podhajski at the Stern Center, a literacy group in Williston, Vt., Plasse, 31, learned to overcome his fear of reading. And with a new set of learning tools, he now has his own business: Plasse Contracting.
This story was produced for 'Morning Edition' by Katie Simon. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Sarah Kramer.