Dyslexia is a common disorder that predominantly affects reading and writing. Some people with dyslexia also experience difficulty with spelling, math, visual-spatial skills, memory, and fine motor skills. Despite all of these issues, some with dyslexia go on to achieve amazing results in their lives, becoming entrepreneurs, inventors, as well as doctors and attorneys. At the same time, there are a disproportionate amount of dyslexic people who become incarcerated. Given these two very different pictures, is dyslexia a gift or a curse?
Why would people look at dyslexia as a disability?
Certainly dyslexic children can encounter many difficulties in school. They may see their friends easily learning to read and spell. They may feel that things come easy for everyone else in the class and they are the only ones who struggle. This can lead to frustration and a loss of confidence.
Also, children with dyslexia are frequently told what they did wrong and where they fell short. Words are very powerful, especially the words that parents and teachers use to describe their children. When children hear words such as, “dumb” or “slow” or “disabled”, they begin to own these labels and soon they are defined by them. Once they believe they are somehow inferior, they may stop trying in school, and resign themselves to the fact that they cannot succeed.
So why would anyone call dyslexia a gift?
First, as with most things in life, dyslexia is an extremely variable condition. Some people with dyslexia may note only mild difficulty with reading, while others are more severely affected. Obviously, it is easier for a person with mild dyslexia, to find compensations and overcome the difficulties and find her success in life. Someone who is more severely affected may find that it is difficult to get past these challenges.
However even the most severely affected people with dyslexia can find success in life. Often it starts with having the right mentors, who encourage them and help them develop their strengths. When a dyslexic child has a parent or teacher who believes in him and continually encourages him and points out his strengths, he is more likely to develop a persistent attitude and continue to try new things.
Also, if a child is given the ability to use accommodations and assistive technologies to deal with her difficulties, these challenges will be less likely to stop her. For example if a child has a very creative mind, yet finds the physical act of writing to be very laborious, she may get shut down and all of these great ideas may never come out. However, if that same child has a teacher who recognizes her creativity and allows her to use assistive devices such as computers, dictation software, and audiobooks, she will have the opportunity to show her creativity. Then she will receive the positive feedback that will help her persist further.
Finally, there is much talk about the creativity of people with dyslexia, how they can often see problems from unique angles. So even, if these people struggle with school, many times when they graduate and are able to pursue their passions, they can find brilliant solutions to the world’s problems and then develop successful companies that produce those solutions.
What can we adults do?
1. Remember the power of words and use them to encourage all children.
2. Help dyslexic children find their passion in life.
3. Use lots of positive reinforcement to help dyslexic children see their successes.
4. Emphasize a dyslexic child’s strengths so she feels smart.
Using these four steps may not totally erase the challenges of dyslexia, but they will go a long way to helping dyslexic children view their condition as a blessing.