Friday, November 2, 2012
The Brilliance of Dyslexia
I have known many bright, insightful, inspired and successful people who suffer from dyslexia, and that information is important for teachers - especially English and literacy instructors - to remember. Interestingly a study by Charlotte Gill called Dyslexics Bank of Disability found that "self-made millionaires are four times more likely than the rest of the population to be dyslexic." The reason, of course, is that dyslexics struggle with basic linear sequential reasoning that is the foundation of standard literacy. Instead - and perhaps because of their "disability" - dyslexics are big picture thinkers who thrive in the challenge of creation and innovation and synthesis. In other words, because they can't read, they have adapted in other ways to simply "figure it out on their own."
When I was very young, I heard stories of a family friend who struggled in school because of his dyslexia, yet went on to develop a software and technology company and is one of those "self-made millionaires" - by the age of thirty nonetheless. From what I understand most of our neighbors believed his father - a businessman and inventor - was also dyslexic. In the early days of the tech revolution with VCRs and cable and home computers, my family noticed that he "never read the manual" for any new device. He just figured them out. In fact, when he would come to help "install something," people might hand him the manual, which he would casually toss aside. The ability to simply "see" the way things work is, in many ways, superior to being able to read "how things are supposed to work."
I've had other friends who are great critical thinkers and leaders despite their dyslexia because they excel in figuring things out mechanically, or perhaps because they have strengths in the sort of people skills - or EQ - emotional intelligence - that is integral to much success and achievement. Thus, as educators, we must figure out ways to expand our classroom instruction to honor and develop these right-brain thinkers who work beyond the obvious and sequential. One key strategy I've used and expanded over the years is the "multi-genre" research project. There are many avenues by which students can display their knowledge. And we need to teach children how they are, not how we expect them to be.