How to Look at Dyslexia as a Gift

The Gift of Dyslexia

Key takeaways: 

  1. Dyslexics are people who can change the world because their brains work differently.

  2. The strengths of dyslexia outweigh the difficulties with reading.

  3. The challenges they face in school help them learn resilience and persistence.

  4. Parents need to focus on their child’s strengths and gifts rather than the reading problems.

  5. Without dyslexia, we cannot grow as a civilization.

Dyslexia makes it challenging for children (and adults) to read and write. It is a common neurological condition, but many people do not know about it. Despite the challenges, students with dyslexia can learn and be successful academically. In fact, 100% of our students with mild to moderate learning differences have been accepted into colleges.

The Expert Speaker Series at American Heritage School recently hosted Laurie Frydenlund, a dyslexia expert who provides training for school systems around the country. It is her theory that while many see dyslexia as a “bad” thing, it can actually be a gift.

Why would you describe dyslexia as a “gift”?

Laurie: It is a gift in a specific way. People with dyslexia have incredible “right brain” strengths. They are creative, energetic, hardworking, artistic, and fun. Still, they have challenges when it comes to reading and language-based learning.

What are the characteristics of people with dyslexia that you see as strengths?

Laurie: They have a lot of amazing qualities. They are curious, empathetic, and love to work with their hands. They are good at puzzles and think logically. They also tend to have amazing intuitive skills, with an enhanced ability to read other people.

There are many very famous and accomplished people who had (or have) dyslexia, including Albert Einstein, Daniel Radcliff, Tommy Hilfiger, Andy Warhol, Richard Branson, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and even authors like Agatha Christie.

How can they be taught to learn most effectively?

Laurie: Children with dyslexia are extremely logical. They have trouble processing random information and prefer when new information is presented in conjunction with things they have already learned. This allows them to retain new information better.

One reading method that works well for kids with dyslexia is called structured literacy. It focuses on a specific form, format, and sequence in how it is taught, so it is very logical. Engaging multiple senses when teaching lessons can help, too. If kids can touch and manipulate an object and hear the sounds it makes, they can better understand it.

What are some of the challenges facing these children?

Laurie: Since dyslexia is a language-based disability, they will always be slower when reading, spelling, and writing. It will probably always require more effort and energy to accomplish those tasks. There may also be difficulties when it comes to the reading portions of math problems or science concepts.

How does dyslexia affect kids emotionally? 

Laurie: Dyslexia can affect a child’s self-esteem, especially when they are young. Those first few years of school are devoted to learning how to read. They struggle to learn, while most of their classmates automatically “get” it. They don’t understand the lessons, and even worse, they don’t know why. They get frustrated and can “hate” school. They may even begin to think they are stupid. 

However, many of those issues surrounding self-esteem will go away once you finally address dyslexia.

What can parents do to alleviate frustration and self-esteem issues?

Laurie: It’s important to discover areas where your child excels and develop those interests. Remember, children with dyslexia may be incredibly artistic, gifted in music or drama, or have an uncanny ability to take things apart and put them back together. They might be brilliant with computers, which use logic-based programs and systems. Or they might be amazing athletes.

What’s the best learning environment for kids with dyslexia?

Laurie: Any environment where they can touch objects and move around is best. One method to try is manipulating tiles when they are learning to spell. Lectures can be supported with interactive questions, models, or graphs/diagrams that can be touched and manipulated. This can work for any subject, including history and social studies.

What advice can you give for older students who have to read more complex materials like Shakespeare? 

Laurie: There are 3 ways to read: with the eyes (the conventional way), with your fingertips (how sight-impaired people read), or with your ears (which is how many dyslexics read). Research shows that the same part of the brain is activated whether you are reading with the eyes or the ears. So, it is important for children with dyslexia to read in all three ways. 

How can students keep up as they enter high school or college?

Laurie: It’s important for students to learn how they learn. In other words, what method helps you learn and retain information? It’s also important to build executive function skills, including organization, time management, prioritizing, and making goals.

If you learn by listening, try recording class lectures and listen to the recording when you get home, making detailed, color-coded notes to help you remember.

It’s important that students learn how to be their own advocate at school. You can do this in several ways, including attending parent-teacher conferences, meeting with your teachers individually, and talking to a guidance counselor or expert at school.

What else can teachers do to help?

Laurie: Understand that students with dyslexia may need more time to complete tasks. They have to take in language, interpret it, come up with an answer, and get that answer down on paper. This process can take a while. They might also be slow processors or have a small working memory. Either way, they might need extra time to complete tests and assignments.

Even midterms or finals can be turned into more creative or project-based assessments. Maybe assign a project that demonstrates knowledge of the material rather than a written test.

What are the signs that could indicate a child might have dyslexia? 

Laurie: There are four main signs that might indicate a problem.

  1. Struggles with reading, spelling, and writing

  2. Talking late (child should speak words by age 1 and sentences by age 2)

  3. Trouble distinguishing between right and left

  4. Mixing up syllables or sounds in words when speaking

If you notice these signs – especially if you have family members with dyslexia – your child should be evaluated.

If you have a child with dyslexia, what should you look for in a school?

Laurie: First, you want a school that excels in reading instruction, with a focus on dyslexia. We suggest choosing a program that uses the Orton-Gillingham approach, which is a specific type of learning model designed for people with dyslexia. There are other programs such as Wilson Reading System (used at American Heritage School), which can also be helpful.

Make sure your child has the accommodations they need in the classroom, including smaller workloads/homework, more time to complete tests/assignments, and alternative methods for taking tests or completing written assignments. 

Who should you go for an evaluation if you suspect dyslexia?

Laurie: It’s important to choose someone who has experience testing for dyslexia. There are psychologists, neurologists, and neuropsychologists who specialize in diagnosing these types of reading disorders. A psychological evaluation will be done, which includes IQ testing, visual processing, spatial processing, reasoning, and working memory. 

What is the most important tool for students going to college?

Laurie: Most computers have a voice to text software, which is helpful for students. They can also use an Echo Livescribe Pen (Smartpens), which records and takes notes during lectures. These devices help get notes down on paper faster. Students can even take notes as drawings that they understand. 

Students do not have to wait until college; these tools can be used starting in middle school.

Get help for your child with dyslexia

If your child has been recently diagnosed or has been struggling with dyslexia for some time, we can help. 

The American Academy is a specialized program designed to teach students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties. We provide Individual and Targeted Attention for students, including multi-sensory teaching methods and reading programs that incorporate the latest educational research and resources. We also employ ESE (Exceptional Student Educators) certified teachers who have training and experience with dyslexia. Plus, we have full-time assistants in all lower school grades, and they work together with classroom teachers to provide a comprehensive education for every student.

Want to learn more about Dyslexia, a neurological disorder, including the challenges and gifts of dyslexia? Listen to "The Gift of Dyslexia" our latest episode on Experts in Learning Differences, A Speaker Series hosted by The American Academy, featuring dyslexia expert and educational trainer, Lauri Freeland.

To learn more about The American Academy program and how we can support your child's academic success please contact us directly.