2009-05-08 / Front Page

Moms move mountains

By Pamela Edwards

Wendy Bryan Wendy Bryan Wendy Bryan will be giving her mother Mary Bryan a special gift this Mother's Day, a master's degree in social work from the University of South Carolina.

To Wendy and her sister Jamie Simpson, their mother has been their strength and support all their lives.

As a toddler, Wendy sat too close to the television; she fell down a lot, getting more than her share of bruises and scrapes. She constantly held on to her older sister for support. The world was a scary place to Wendy.

Mary realized her little girl couldn't see well and began taking her to eye doctors. The first one said nothing was wrong, and she was just shy, clinging, and a bit spoiled. Mary didn't give up. She finally found an eye doctor who specialized in children, who said Wendy had a severe vision problem.

Mary remembers when Wendy was fitted with her first pair of corrective glasses. She reached up and put her tiny hand on her mother's face and told her she was beautiful.

Quiet and withdrawn during her school years, Wendy struggled to learn to read and write, never mastering these skills. She was shy and quiet and well- behaved and her struggles went unnoticed at school.

With her grades barely even mediocre, Wendy dropped out of high school but later earned her GED. She became a single mother at the age of 23 to daughter Mary Katherine. Mary Katherine was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (high functioning autism) at a young age, and Wendy began another bat- tle as an advocate for her special needs child. Wendy knew what it meant not to have a good education. She made sure her daughter received the best care possible and worked hard to see she was given every opportunity to reach her full potential. Mary Katherine is now 15 years old.

Wendy has fought a lifelong battle with severe, clinical depression, stemming from her vision problems and struggles in school. However, she didn't give up or give in. She decided to go back to school, which was met with much skepticism.

When Wendy told her mother about her desire to get a degree, Mary moved from Hilton Head to Columbia. She worked two jobs, provided a house, and gave Wendy the support and encouragement she needed to fulfill her dream. Sister Jamie also moved to Columbia. With this support team, Wendy began her college career.

During college, Wendy had to take a foreign language to graduate, but no matter how much she studied, she could not pass Spanish. Wendy could understand the Spanish teacher when she spoke and could speak Spanish back to her; however, she could not for the life of her, read or write in Spanish. It just made no sense to her at all.

After lengthy discussions with her advisor, Wendy was put through a series of tests and diagnosed with severe, profound dyslexia. She was told her dyslexia was the reason she had struggled so hard to learn reading and writing as an elementary school student. She had never learned to read; but she had memorized by sight an extremely large vocabulary of words.

Not only did Wendy have vision problems, she actually saw the world in a completely different way. Once she learned why she had struggled to learn, that she was actually quite intelligent, Wendy went on to earn a bachelor's degree in social work.

Wendy has earned two degrees and will be launching her own business, South Carolina In Home Educational Learning Products (IHELP) in June of this year.

IHELP is an internet- based series of lessons geared toward educating parents of children with special needs, teaching them to be appropriate advocates for their children. IHELP also is a resource for special needs children as they grow older, assisting them in becoming independent, and their own self- advocates.

Wendy says she does have one pet peeve that she would like to clarify, "All social workers do not work at DSS, and they are not baby- snatchers. A degree in social work is one of the most versatile degrees you can receive, opening unlimited venues. When pursuing a degree in social work, you must reach deep down inside yourself, discovering your own prejudices and issues. You must learn about people… and then learn to help them."

When Wendy Bryan receives her master's degree in social work on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 10, her wish is that her mother's name, Mary Bryan, could be on her diploma also. Mary Bryan taught her daughter, Wendy, a valuable lesson, when faced with opposition, you can't give up. Mary never gave up on her daughter, and Wendy never gave up on herself, her own daughter, or her dreams.

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