My daughter picked up a lot of nicknames in her first few years of school. She's a smart kid, but her inability to read made her a very easy target. Her desire to please everyone added to her struggles as she refused to defend herself.
In Kindergarten we were told she had ADHD and warning signs of dyslexia. Halfway through first grade, amid another crying homework session, the first breakthrough came while staring at the three words on the page of the reader.
"Which word do you want me to read?" she cried.
"That one right there," I pointed.
"Mom, every word is written three times!"
I closed the book. Enough said. This was her first oral depiction of dyslexia. Since her official diagnosis through Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia at Scottish Rite Research Hospital and intense therapy sessions through the Alpha Phonics program at her school, I have learned a lot more about what dyslexia is, what it means, and how to help those with it. In honor of Dyslexia Awareness month, it is time to set the record straight.
What is dyslexia and how can it impact a child's future?
Dyslexia is not about intelligence, and it has nothing to do with a person's vision. Brain imaging software now shows that dyslexics use a completely different part of the mind to process information. Because the brain processes things differently, it can affect everything from reading, writing, spelling, math, and even motor skills. Dyslexics aren't dumb; they are simply wired differently.
The good thing is that the differences also make dyslexics really good at spatial reasoning, and they are often very creative. That's why there are so many successful entrepreneurs, artists, engineers, and novelists with dyslexia. Famous people you might recognize with this diagnosis include Walt Disney, Robin Williams, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Tommy Hilfiger, Woodrow Wilson, George Washington, and Nolan Ryan.
What does dyslexia mean in today's society?
The primary difference in how dyslexics like Einstein and da Vinci were considered geniuses in their field while dyslexics of today are often mislabeled with inferior intelligence is the way our value system has changed. Our society is so concerned about standardized test scores that we often don't take time to look at the actual intelligence of a child. There is so much pressure on teachers that if any student falls outside the lines of what is labeled as normal, the student can easily be left behind unless they have an advocate on their side. The problem isn't the teachers; it is a flaw in the current business strategy of our school system.
Hans Christen Anderson, for example, escaped the realities of his struggling family and inability to read by memorizing stories and creating new ones. This famous dyslexic would go on to be one of the most notable storytellers in history. In today's culture, he probably wouldn't have been able to pass a test and his parent's lack of time to be involved in the school may have left him in the special education department where they wouldn't know how to deal with his brain's wiring either. What an incredible disservice to his gifted mind.
What can be done about dyslexia?
As technology advances, grassroots efforts are popping up all over the country to get all states and schools to recognize that dyslexia is a Learning Difference that can be helped with proper intervention. New Jersey, for example, officially recognized dyslexia this year whereas Texas has a handbook for schools to follow regarding dyslexia. States are all over the spectrum of acceptance.
A person never outgrows dyslexia or "gets over it." The goal is to learn how to deal with the obstacles that the Learning Difference brings. For students, using an Orton-Gillingham based program can help retrain the brain in the way it processes information. This type of intervention is fought for across the U.S.
Some students successfully self-accommodate without the aid of a program. They memorize text, use Cliff Note-type aids, and choose a social clique other than those focused on high grades. Given that the science has only recently begun to identify the physical brain characteristics that make dyslexics unique, many adults over 30 made it through primary school, secondary school, and even college by finding ways to deal with the obstacles that dyslexia presents.
A final note
A diagnosis of dyslexia is not the end of the world. In fact it can be the beginning of a beautiful journey because as you learn to deal with the obstacles, you also discover the gifts that a dyslexic brain has that open doors to an amazing future.
If you want to learn more about dyslexia, check out some of the great resources through the International Dyslexia Association. This nonprofit provides suggestions for testing locations throughout the United States, and it stays current with articles on the latest research and information about dyslexia. They are currently running a campaign to put an information kit into the hands of every school in the country.