Drs. Bennett and Sally Shaywitz “originated and championed the “Sea of Strengths” model of dyslexia which emphasizes a sea of strengths of higher critical thinking and creativity surrounding the encapsulated reading weakness found in children and adults who are dyslexic.” As parents and teachers, we can see this in our students. However, partly because of our left-brain dominant school system, I think many dyslexic students have trouble believing this.
According to Yale’s Dr Sally Shaywitz, one out of five people are dyslexic. You can’t see dyslexia so it is often easily ignored and misunderstood. In an article by Blake Charlton, a dyslexic, author and physician, he wrote, “I believe that scientific evidence and social observation will continue to show that defining dyslexia based solely on its weaknesses is inaccurate and unjust, and places too grim a burden on young people receiving the diagnosis. A more precise definition of dyslexia would clearly identify the disabilities that go along with it, while recognizing the associated abilities as well. If the dyslexic community could popularize such a definition, then newly diagnosed dyslexics would realize that they, like everyone else, will face their futures with a range of strengths and weaknesses.” (New York Times, May 22, 2013)
I saw a quote from a student after being told by her parents that her dyslexia is a gift. She said, “Where can I return it?” How do we get our students to believe that their difficulty in reading and learning is a “gift?” Here are some ideas:
- Remind your child that they have a specific reading disability, not a learning disability. Dyslexics can learn a lot of things very well.
- Correct any negative self-talk about their learning. Help them re-phrase any put-down statements they may make. Encourage your child to verbalize what they are good at. For example, Claudia from Ottawa tells me her daughter now says, “Although I struggled with reading, I am a great figure skater.” ( Her daughter is on track to become a fluent grade level reader.)
- Let them know that one out of five people are dyslexic. Explain that while most people are left-brain dominant, dyslexics are right-brained. Their dyslexia bestows them with many unique talents.
- Help them find their strengths – art, music/dance, athletics, drama/role playing, computers, building things (Lego!), engineering, inventing, creativity, outside the box thinking etc. Because their brains are wired differently, dyslexics are often very good at problem solving and great visual thinkers. They often have great spatial awareness and can see things in 3D. Their creativity and ability to come up with new and inventive solutions leave left-brained concrete sequential thinkers like me in the dust.
- Emphasize that the world needs and benefits from dyslexic brains!
- Educate yourself and others about the strengths of dyslexics.
- Let them know everyone has to be taught to read! You can tell them that with the help of technology, they can become good readers too.
While not all dyslexics will become a Steve Jobs, Einstein, Edison or Leonardo, all have unique talents and great brains. All deserve to have their full potential realized so they lead happy, fulfilling lives and become contributing members of society.
Please note that I am a teacher, not an educational psychologist. I will never give you a formal dyslexic diagnosis for your child. However, having helped hundreds of struggling readers over the past twenty years, I am comfortable saying that if your child is smart ( average to above average intelligence) and had >32 week gestation and had lots of literacy in the first five years, but struggles with reading, they are probably right-brain dominant and dyslexic. Remember dyslexia is genetic, with genes on at least four different chromosomes. This helps explain why it is a spectrum reading disability.
OnlineReadingTutor™ has now helped hundreds of struggling readers and dozens of students who have been independently and formally diagnosed with dyslexia.
I would like to thank Lisa Livingston of Virginia for the idea and major contribution to this blog. Lisa is a mother of a smart grade 8 dyslexic. She frequently reminds her child that dyslexia is indeed a gift.