06/21/2008 at 05:40 PM EDT
of Dancing With the Stars
is opening up about his struggles with dyslexia.
"My career actually started in the second grade as class clown," says Ziering, 44. "That's no joke. I was always making people laugh, and it was really to mask a learning disability. ... When it came time for me to read out loud, I would crack jokes or create a diversion."
It was then that he was diagnosed with dyslexia, and for four years he worked to learn to read.
"I would work through flash cards ... to help condition me out of seeing letters and numbers backwards and upside-down," he says. "I finally trained my eyes to look at the top left corner of the page rather then the bottom right side of the page."
Now, Ziering, who spoke last week at the launch of Intel's connectingforcare.com
in New York, hopes to use his fame as a means for giving back.
"I view having celebrity as having capital, and I don't know a better way to spend that capital other then helping people," says Ziering, who also starred in Beverly Hills 90210
Because his father, who "worked three jobs to make sure that his family never went hungry," now suffers from renal disease, Ziering is a caregiver and the
national spokesperson for the site.