Carly Benus was 22 when she hit rock bottom. Living in Ohio, she’d been fired from the umpteenth job she’d held since high school — this one at the Cleveland Airport, where she didn’t even make it through training — and felt worthless as she faced a future of dead ends.
As she drove home on the freeway after losing her job, she became distraught. Sobbing, she yelled at God, “Tell me where to go — I’m tired.” On an impulse, she took an offramp and ended up at a satellite campus of Kent State University. She parked and found her way to the administration building, still in tears.
“I still can remember that day, opening up that door,” Benus says. “It was like the heaviest door I’d ever opened in my life.”
Carly Benus was 22 years old. She’d graduated from high school four years earlier, and she couldn’t read.
The day Benus walked through the door of that college building more than 20 years ago marked a new beginning for her. After whispering to a secretary that she had a reading problem and needed help, Benus was pointed down the hall to the college Skills Center where she found an English professor who would change her life.
The professor, Betsy Hoobler, gave Benus a skills test which showed her reading at a second grade level, and spelling below that.
Benus broke down crying and told the professor her story — about her mother’s struggle to keep her out of a school for retarded kids, and of the countless punishments she’d received from people who didn’t understand her learning disability.
She graduated from high school without being able to read, Benus told the professor, because “high schools don’t fail you if you don’t make any trouble.”
At that time, the term dyslexia was little known in the general population. But Hoobler, the professor, had been studying learning disabilities and quickly realized that’s what Benus suffered from. Hoobler, who tutored students in English, agreed to help Benus once a week during her lunch hour.
Over the course of the next few years, Benus learned to read. In three years, she was reading at the 11th grade level and not long after, she moved to Arizona and enrolled in a community college.
In 1993, Benus earned her bachelor’s degree in adult education with an emphasis in learning disabilities, and she went on to get a master’s degree in counseling. But through it all, she struggled with her dyslexia. While still in college and searching for an adult reading program, she stumbled on a dyslexia program developed by the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital.
The program uses a “multisensory” approach to reading and learning. Benus explains that people with dyslexia often have one sense — sight, hearing or touch — that is stronger than the others. This may be especially true for people who suffer both dyslexia and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), which often go hand in hand. (Benus herself also suffers AD/HD.) Among other devices like coding and phonics, the multisensory approach teaches people to use several channels for information to travel through in order to be learned and remembered.
“I never thought I’d be working on a reading program and working on finishing up my bachelor’s degree and going on to a master’s,” Benus says. But the Scottish Rite program worked so well for her that, while she pursued her master’s degree, she worked as a developmental screener at the Phoenix Scottish Rite Childhood Center, testing people with dyslexia and learning disabilities.
After earning her master’s degree in counseling in 1997, Benus became a language and learning disabilities therapist at the center, working with both children and adults one-on-one and in groups.
Now, Benus has taken it a step further and become certified to teach the Scottish Rite dyslexia program. She moved to Hood River last summer and is already working with several clients, mostly children. But she also likes working with adults and hopes to be able to help others the way she was helped by Betsy Hoobler, the English professor in Ohio.
“It’s a different world to live like this,” Benus says. “Some days you just want to cry about it.” But Benus is living proof that the limitations of dyslexia can be overcome.
“I never thought I could do what Betsy Hoobler did for me,” says Benus, who feels “honored” to be able to help the people who come to her.
“It’s the gift of reading,” she says. “And what more precious gift could one give?”