STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's Friday morning, which means it is time for us to bring you another installment of the oral history project StoryCorps.
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INSKEEP: For as long as he can remember, 31-year-old Sean Plasse has struggled to keep a secret. Here he tells his friend Blanche Podhajski about the learning disability that he has spent his life trying to hide.
Mr. SEAN PLASSE: I can remember playing Trivial Pursuit with a girlfriend and her friends, and being so terrified to read the questions off the Trivial Pursuit card in front of other people because I thought I'd make a mistake or say the wrong word.
Ms. BLANCHE PODHAJSKI: And yet you graduated valedictorian of your high school class.
Mr. PLASSE: I developed a lot of coping skills in high school. If it was my time to read out loud in class, I might pretend I didn't feel well. I'd also find the smartest kid in a class and ask him to explain the novel to me so I'd understand what was going on.
Even in college, I continued to struggle. I really hit a wall with the amount of reading involved. They used to convert words into pictures. For example, imagine a parrot flies along, the parrot lands on a car, the car explodes, and the smoking feathers rise in a figure eight. That represents a word for me, and that word is polycarbonate.
Poly is a parrot, the car is the car, and the explosives like a bon, and the eight is an eight. I used to convert about 10,000 words into these pictures every semester. So I always live in fear my whole life that's somebody would discover that I couldn't keep up with the pace of work in school.
I ran into the same challenge as I worked in marketing and advertising. I'd be there late at night or I come in on Sundays and print out the emails so I could underline and circle words as I read them.
I had trouble remembering the names of people I worked with and how to spell their names. So I used to keep the business cards of the owners of the companies in the drawer of my desk and I'd pull it out and figure out how to spell their name. This is even after a year of working with the people. And I got laid off because they said I couldn't keep up.
So I became a carpenter, which is a visual field. But I was still struggling as a carpenter. I can remember I was just very down on myself and I didn't know what to change.
But I came across an article in Fortune magazine, which said the dyslexic CEO. It talked about this very intelligent, successful CEOs who'd made it in life with severe learning disorders.
I looked up learning disorders in the phone book. And I went in for this full day of evaluation. At the end of the day, the evaluators came in and they said we want you to know before you left today that your IQ is in the 99th percentile, but your ability to read and decode words is in the 14th percentile.
It's the first time my entire life had even been explained in that way. I got on my pickup truck and cried all the way home. It was just a - it was a changing point in my life, a turning point.
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INSKEEP: Sean Plasse and Blanche Podhajski at StoryCorps. Plasse is now a general contractor in Burlington, Vermont. StoryCorps interviews are housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. And to learn how you can participate, just visit npr.org.
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