Dyslexic Jackie Stewart Former race car driver Jackie Stewart talks about his personal battle with dyslexia, chronicled in his new book "Winning is not Enough. The Power Of dyslexia is dedicated to serving the dyslexic community by providing a Free online community where dyslexics and those touched by dyslexia can post questions, provide advise and chat with other community members.
How people with print disabilities can get my books and many others for FREE
Wow, what an honor! The organization Learning Ally has recorded both my books (For the Children and The Power of Dyslexic Thinking) for its audio library.
Having my books available through Learning Ally brings my struggle with a print disability full circle. In the 1970s, this organization began to serve an increasing number of people who had learning disabilities, and I was one of them. I received my textbooks in audio format as part of my Individual Education Plan in school.
Now, my books will be available to people just like me through Learning Ally. The old Hair Club for Men commercial comes to mind: "I'm not only the president, but I'm also a client." I am not only an author, but I'm also a client!
You can imagine my delight when I received an email saying my books had been approved for recording. I was doubly delighted when I was asked to record an introduction for each book. Learning Ally has recording studios around the country utilizing a volunteer force of more than 5,000 people who donate over 332,000 hours annually to recording books. I was invited to the studio in Charlottesville, Virginia, for my recording session.
(Note: Some of the medical terms and situational content contained in this article may be unsuitable for children under the age of 18 years old.)
What does a urinary track infection and an ear infection have to do with dyslexia? Paperwork!
A major contributor to urinary track infections (UTI) is caffeine. A major contributor to caffeine being in my body is a hectic travel schedule: a five-hour plane ride, followed by a same-day, four-hour drive up the California coast to San Luis Obispo, four days of work, three time zones from home, and then steps one and two repeated to get back home. For me, this is a pretty good formula for UTI and a trip to the doctor.
I am a fairly active forty-two-year-old, and, as such, I have my records on file at several local urgent care facilities. The office I headed to for my UTI was one of them. I had previously visited it with two broken ribs from a freak zip line accident in my backyard. My wife had done the necessary paperwork, and I was admitted.
I was not anticipating any paperwork for this UTI trip because I was a returning patient, but a full dyslexic paperwork meltdown was on the way. I did not read the notice taped to the check-in desk window, which was not uncommon for me, so when I was handed the new patient form, I was horrified and glanced over and read the notice I had previously ignored: "As of 8-1-09 we will be using a new practice management system which will require all patients to fill out new paperwork in full."
Welcome to my dyslexic nightmare.
It is only appropriate that I start this blog by letting you know it is being posted from 30,000 feet in the air, on the Gogo in-flight internet. Yes - you and I, along with my computer and the Internet, are flying AirTran Airways from Los Angeles, California, to Atlanta, Georgia. Technology has come a long way, and the ability for dyslexics to utilize it has come just as far. The idea for this blog came to me as I was preparing for the trip to California last Saturday.
I was running around my house frantically looking for my Magellan RoadMate 700 portable GPS when it hit me. What would I do without my GPS system? For the past six years or so, I have been traveling approximately one hundred thousand miles per year to attend conferences, school assembly programs, and university lectures. My GPS has played a huge role in my being able to travel like this.
I go where my inspirational programs are needed. I board a plane, fly to my destination, and jump in a rental car. The first thing I do in the car is check the cigarette lighter, not because I smoke, because I don't, but because I have to plug in "my girl," who takes care of me on the roads and gets me to my destination. When she comes alive, it is like music to my ears: "Proceed to highlighted route," "Left turn in one mile," "Left turn now," and, yes, even "Whenever possible, make a legal U-turn" but eventually, I get to hear "You have arrived".
Most people love a little technological convenience in their lives, but for me as a dyslexic it is more than just a convenience. When that GPS box lights up, it is like a warm blanket telling me that I don't have to "literally" read the signs to get to where I am going. What a relief.
Dyslexia is inherited, and my family tree is thick with dyslexic branches. My grandfather, father, older brother, and I all have struggled with dyslexia. Does it affect more boys than girls? Current research suggests it affects just as many girls as boys. My family seems to be a bit heavy on the male side, though. That is why I was not surprised when my wife and I started seeing signs that our four-year-old son might be having issues. It was not much, just an occasional "I don't like school" or "School's too hard." With my family history, we decided it would be better to be proactive than reactive.
So, the next day my wife walked into my son's preschool class and asked his teacher if she would meet with us concerning our son. She did not hesitate, and they set the meeting time. Our parental instincts were confirmed the day of the conference when his teacher leaned across the table and said as compassionately as she could, "It does not seem to be sticking." She was referring to his learning of letters and his memory for names. She explained that the letter of the week might be "A." They would work on this letter all week. At the end of the week, she would show him the apple they had used to illustrate the letter. She would ask, "What is this?" Instead of "apple," he would say "tractor." She told us he could describe an apple and could tell her it is something that people eat. He knows what an apple is, but he cannot recall the name of the object or the letter it starts with. Listening to my son's teacher, I was thinking, "This sounds just like me." I took the Woodcock-Johnson-Revised Test of Cognitive Ability at age twenty-three and scored on a kindergarten level in Memory for Names. Also, like my son, I have trouble with the beginning and ending sounds in words. I could tell by the tears swelling in my wife's eyes that she had been hoping that this was one family trait that would die on the vine, but as the reality of the situation set in, the tears became too much, and she had to take a break to compose herself.
I was packing to go out of town when my seven-year-old daughter asked, "Dad, where are you going?" I replied, "Paws." She then asked, "What is Paws?" and I told her, "It is where Jim Davis creates the Garfield comic strip." She gasped and exclaimed, "You're going to Garfield's house!"
My plane landed at the Indianapolis International Airport, where I met up with a group of people from the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. We were going to Paws to facilitate the transition of SparkTop.org from the Schwab's Foundation to the Professor Garfield Foundation.
During the hour-and-half drive from Indianapolis to Muncie, I was trying to imagine what the corporate headquarters for the global icon Garfield would look like. After all, we were talking about Garfield, which is syndicated in 2,570 newspapers worldwide, is read by approximately two hundred and sixty-three million readers, and has won four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program. Guinness World Records named Garfield "The Most Widely Syndicated Comic Strip in the World." I was envisioning a large glass skyscraper with a twenty-foot-high bronze cat in the lobby.
7 Ways to help dyslexic children succeed
1. Full disclosure is the order of the day
It has been my experience that children want straight answers to what is happening with them and why. Educate yourself on dyslexia, and then share what you have learned with the child. If a child is left to his or her own devices to figure out what is wrong, the chances are what he or she comes up with will be worse than what is actually happening (i.e. 'I'm just stupid' or 'my brain is broken'). Educate yourself and your child to demystify the situation.
2. Reinforce strengths
The average child spends a tremendous amount of time mastering how to read and write. If a child has learning challenges, this time can become associated with struggle and defeat. It is critical that you find alternative ways for this child to experience success. Be attentive and aware; seek out the child's strengths and magnify them. Keep in mind that a child may look to you as a barometer of their overall worth. Remember that a child's strength may not always be a traditional strength like sports. It may be more unique, such as Lego construction or being a good friend to others.
On Wednesday, February 17, I was a guest on the blog talk radio show Midlife Matters with Les Brown. you can click on the blog talk microphone image (left) to hear the interview. The conversation Les and I had started me thinking about the global state of dyslexia. During the interview, I expressed this theory.
We are in phase two of a three-phase process necessary to eradicate dyslexia as a fundamental learning disability in our society. Phase one is what I am calling "The Age of Ignorance," phase two is the "The Age of Awareness," and phase three will be the "The Age of Consciousness."
Note: The thoughts expressed in this article are that of the author and in no way reflect the Virginia Department of Education's position on learning disabilities of a neurobiological nature (dyslexia).
What Causes Dyslexia?
I am asked this question frequently during television, radio, and print media interviews, but recently when a Facebook friend asked me what causes dyslexia, I did not feel restricted to the standard medical explanation I usually give as an answer. I decided to share what I believe to be a more humanistic and holistic cause of dyslexia. Here is my answer.
The cause of dyslexia is a perfectly healthy, functioning brain being born into a largely literate society. You see, the root cause of dyslexia is a largely illiterate society becoming largely literate over the last two hundred years. There is nothing medically wrong with a dyslexic person's brain. I have seen fMRI's and MEG scans to prove it. This leads me to believe that dyslexia is a technological disability, not a physical disability.
When Alan Meckler, the CEO of IT and online imagery hub Jupitermedia (JUPM), was accepted to Columbia University in 1965, the dean's office told him he had some of the lowest college boards of any student ever admitted. "I got a 405 or 410 in English," he recalls. "In those days you got a 400 just for putting your name down! Yet I was on the dean's list every year I was there, and I won a prize for having the best essay in American history my senior year."
It wasn't until years later, at age 58, that Meckler learned he was dyslexic. He struggles with walking and driving directions, and interpreting charts and graphs. He prefers to listen to someone explain a problem to him, rather than sit down and read 20 pages describing it. As a youth, Meckler discovered a unique strength—baseball—and cultivated it religiously to compensate for weakness in other areas.
All of these things, according to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a professor of learning development at Yale University, are classic signs of dyslexia. Shaywitz has long argued that dyslexia should be evaluated as an asset, not just a handicap. She recently co-founded the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, dedicated to studying the link between the two. "I want people to wish they were dyslexic," she says. "There are many positive attributes that can't be taught that people are generally not aware of. We always write about how we're losing human capital—dyslexics are not able to achieve their potential because they've had to go around the system."
It's not clear whether dyslexics develop their special talents by learning to negotiate their disability or whether such skills are the genetic inheritance of being dyslexic. It's a question Shaywitz plans to explore, along with trying to change the way dyslexia is viewed in the educational system and the business world. One project at the center will be an education series to train executives to recognize outside-the-box thinkers who don't perform well on standardized tests.
Shaywitz recently tested a well-known CEO (whom she declined to identify) for dyslexia. The man confessed that he'd hired an outside company to help identify future leaders within the organization by administering a reading test. "'The irony is,' I told him, 'you're eliminating and sifting out all the people like yourself who might actually be the ones to be creative and make a difference.'"
That kind of rejection, along with a penchant for creativity, may help explain why so many dyslexics are inclined to become entrepreneurs. Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at Cass Business School in London, believes strongly in the connection.
In a study to be published in January, Logan found that 35% of entrepreneurs in the U.S. show signs of dyslexia, compared to 20% in Britain. Logan attributes the gap to a more flexible education system in the U.S., vs. rigid tracking in British schools, and better identification and remediation methods. "Most of the people in our study talked about the role of the mentor and how important that had been," Logan says. "The difference seems to be somebody who believes in you in school."
The broader implication, she says, is that many of the coping skills dyslexics learn in their formative years become best practices for the successful entrepreneur. A child who chronically fails standardized tests must become comfortable with failure. Being a slow reader forces you to extract only vital information, so that you're constantly getting right to the point. Dyslexics are also forced to trust and rely on others to get things done—an essential skill for anyone working to build a business.
"People really struggle to delegate, and these people have learned to do that already," she says. "If you're bogged down in the details, you're not out there looking at where your business needs to go."
Paul Orfalea, who founded the copy-and-graphics chainKinko's 37 years ago, has both dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. He proudly attributes much of his business success to an inability to do things most others can. "I would always hire people who didn't have my skills," he says. "My secret was to get out of their way and let them do their job." He is also inured to failure. "You know what's great about a C student? They have risk-reward pretty much well-wired," he says. "A students are always putting in maximum effort, and C students say, 'Well, is it really worth it?'"
Cisco Systems (CSCO) CEO John Chambers says dyslexia helps him step back and see the big picture. His third-grade teacher discovered his reading trouble; he says alternative teaching methods and supportive parents helped him learn to deal with it at an early age. "Dyslexia forces you to look at things in totality and not just as a single chess move. I play out the whole scenario in my mind and then work through it.… All of my life, I've built organizations with a broad perspective in mind."
Meckler, who was one of the first to convert his IT trade publications into a sustainable, ad-supported business model for Web publishing, also strives for the big picture and has little patience for details. "In business meetings…I can hear a whole bunch of people talking about a lot of things, and I seem to be able to cut right to the chase," he says. "I think my mind has been trained…to zero in on the salient point."
Those entrepreneurs who have embraced their dyslexia have also made it their personal mission to pave an easier way for the next generation. Discount brokerage pioneer Charles Schwab (SCHW) started the Charles & Helen Schwab Foundation, a resource center for kids and parents to overcome learning and attention disorders. Orfalea founded the Orfalea Family Foundation, to support and identify different learning styles and try to remove the stigma that comes with them.
Ben Foss, a researcher in assistive technologies in Intel's (INTC) Digital Health Group, started a nonprofit and made a documentary film about the first man in America to win an employee discrimination case based on dyslexia. He's now working to adapt technologies for the blind to also assist people with learning disabilities, too. Despite the titans of business disclosing their dyslexia to the world, Foss says it's still daunting to climb the corporate ladder as a dyslexic. "If you're John Chambers, Charles Schwab, or Richard Branson, sure. But if you're a corporate VP in the mid-ranks, there's a very large disincentive to saying you're dyslexic, because you're still being evaluated," he says. "Ironically, talking about it on your terms is what allows you to become successful."
Of course, being a misfit often lends itself to great entrepreneurship. Health-care entrepreneur and real estate magnate James LeVoy Sorenson has more than 40 medical patents to his name and is responsible for inventing the first computerized heart monitor, the first disposable paper surgical masks, and the first blood-recycling system for trauma and surgical procedures. He also dropped out of community college at 18, and was told by grade-school teachers he was either "slow-witted or developmentally disabled."
At 86, Sorenson says overcoming dyslexia trained him to be persistent and solve problems in new ways: "I like to add one word to the end of many sentences: 'yet.' Instead of saying, 'I can't do it,' I say, 'I can't do it—yet.'"
Coppola is a reporter for BusinessWeek.com in New York .