Profile- Bryn Mawr doctor could write the book
on pain and problems of dyslexia:
Joyce Vottima Hellberg – Inquirer correspondent
ROSEMONT – As a youngster, Linda Tessler loved to borrow books from her local library,
even though she couldn’t read them. She took out books with titles she wanted to read
and enjoyed just touching the smooth covers and leafing through the pages."I
was tested in the sixth grade and they said I was bright,
but no one knew how to help me," Tessler,
45, said. "They didn’t know why I couldn’t read."
In junior high school, students were grouped by ability, so she said she
became an "official member of the dumb kids’ class." By the time she reached high
school, Tessler was labeled "slow" and told she wasn’t college material.
But Tessler proved the doubters wrong. She not only graduated from college
but also graduate school, earned a doctorate and is a licensed psychologist with a private
practice in Bryn Mawr. However, when she was advised to give up her college aspirations,
even Tessler was concerned about her inability to read, spell or write a coherent sentence.
Tessler eventually found out she had dyslexia, but she was not diagnosed until she was 33 years old.
Tessler said she had wanted to go to college but chose to attend X-ray technology
school at Hahnemann University instead. "I figured I had nothing to lose," Tessler said.
"I flunked out in a month. After that experience, I learned that I
didn’t have to be afraid to fail, because I was doing it so much
anyway," she said. "I decided to go to college because that was what I really wanted. I
figured if I was going to fail, I might as well do it at something I wanted to do." But she
didn’t fail. She achieved despite her dyslexia. "My story is not new," she said.
"There are others like me who have had to overcome dyslexia to do and get what they wanted.
I did not do this alone. I had a lot of help and support."
While she worked toward an undergraduate degree, Tessler said, the hours were
long and laborious. At one point she was told by a reading specialist that she would never finish
college. Tessler refused to quit and she earned a bachelor’s degree from the Mills College of
Education in Manhattan in 1971. It took her six years but she earned her master’s degree in
guidance and counseling from Villanova University in 1976.
Before she began pursuing a doctorate, Tessler said, a morning talk show in
1982 changed her life. "[Olympic gold medalist] Bruce Jenner was on the Phil Donahue Show,
talking about the problems he had in school," she said. "What he was saying started
to sound familiar. So I took myself to be tested privately." She said it was a relief to
find out that she was dyslexic and not stupid, which was how she thought of herself.
"Being dyslexic, I found out that I could have the Graduate Record Exams read to me and
could get textbooks on tape." Using Recording for the Blind services, she has borrowed more
than 300 books. It took Tessler 11 years years to earn a doctorate in psychological counseling
from Temple University, which she achieved in 1988. "No one likes to
think of themselves as disabled. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me,"
she said. Tessler credits her husband,
Denny; her sons, other family members, friends and Knowles Cooke with helping her achieve.
Cooke, 87, a retired English teacher who was a Fulbright Fellow, began tutoring Tessler in 1977.
It wasn’t until their third session together that he found out about Tessler’s dyslexia.
"At the time, I was working as a theme reader for Upper Merion Area High School,"
Cooke said. "I knew about dyslexia but had never worked with a person who was dyslexic.
It was frustrating. Here she was, such a bright person who couldn’t write a sentence.
"There was such an enormous contrast between her attitude and ability and
what she could actually do."
Cooke spent years helping Tessler by taping articles, editing her papers and
teaching her concrete ways to learn about sentence structure.
"Mr. Cooke was also my reader when I took the state licensing exam – which
I passed the first time I took it," Tessler said. Cooke said he cried when Tessler told
him she had passed the exam.
"Her success has been one of the greatest satisfactions of my life," he said.
Published Date: September 4th, 1994.