I’m a nationally syndicated columnist, author of several books and a speaker on global business, labor and economic trends. I’m also a beneficiary, not a victim, of dyslexia, a learning disability characterized by reading, writing and decoding difficulties. Why do I say beneficiary? Read on.
As a child, I experienced the difficulties of dyslexia firsthand. Growing up, I often felt dumb, lacked confidence and had low self-esteem. I couldn’t read until much later than my classmates, albeit slowly, and continue to have difficulties with math. When paying bills, for example, I still say each number out loud, highlight each digit and review it several times before I hit send on my laptop.
To this day, I still have stomach aches weekday mornings Monday through Friday, but not Saturday or Sunday. This was caused by the anxiety I felt waiting for the school bus and knowing that when I arrived at school, I would not be able to complete tasks, somehow embarrass myself and feel stupid.
Stop Treating Teachers as Cheap Labor
Before the Christmas vacation in first grade, I recall being very excited hearing bells ringing in the hallway. Our teacher told us it was Santa’s elves putting candy in our boots. We all darted out of the classroom into the hallway. I was shocked to find sticks in my boots. Was I a bad kid? My teacher, not being familiar with dyslexia, probably thought I was lazy.
Needless to say, I failed first grade. However, I was fortunate to repeat it at a nearby school that had an excellent special education teacher. Her instruction, along with support from my family and friends, helped me cope, build much-needed confidence and self-esteem. My father repeatedly told me that I could achieve anything I wanted if I was willing to work hard. He also told me that if it took me twice as long as other students to complete my homework or study for tests, that’s what I had to do.
Other dyslexics are not as fortunate as I was and don’t have the educational assistance, emotional support or encouragement I received as a child. Consequently, it’s estimated — and is no surprise — that dyslexics include over 30% of high school dropouts, 50% of all adolescents involved in drug and alcohol rehabilitation and nearly half of all those incarcerated in the United States.
The brains of dyslexics are wired differently. On the upside, dyslexics think outside the box in a non-linear way, in pictures, not words. Research indicates dyslexics are highly creative, insightful and intuitive, and are able to identify complex patterns much more easily than the average person. I credit this characteristic, which I identify as big-picture thinking, for my ability to connect the dots in seemingly unrelated economic trends and other factors.
In the United States, it’s estimated that dyslexics, who may represent as much as 10% to 20% of the population, comprise approximately 35% of entrepreneurs, 40% of all self-made millionaires, and 50% of rocket scientists at NASA. Dyslexia is so common at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it’s called “the MIT disease.” Interestingly, years ago, the American Astronomical Society noted that astrophysicists with dyslexia at times outperformed their non-dyslexic colleagues in identifying the distinctive characteristics of black holes.
Many of the world’s most famous and successful people are dyslexics. This reportedly includes Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo DaVinci, Bill Gates, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Charles Schwab. Their genius didn’t occur in spite of dyslexia but, more likely, because of it.
In addition to its advantages, dyslexics also often learn to cope with difficulties and deal with failure, which is part of any successful process. I suspect many of my early achievements were motivated by my need to prove I wasn’t a failure.
The advantages of dyslexia are extensive, but they often remain untapped if dyslexic students don’t have access to quality special education services. Although mandated by US federal law, students don’t always get an adequate individualized education plan or the help they need.
According to Annual Performance Reports from the US Department of Education, the cost of schooling a child receiving a special education can be more than twice the average. Since poorer school districts are not as well financed as wealthier ones, and teachers are not always sufficiently trained, many children with dyslexia fall through the cracks, as the numbers above make obvious. This needs to change.
Just as important, the advantages of dyslexia will not be obtained if the child has a negative attitude or a poor opinion of themselves. I’m reminded of the wise words from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t … you’re right.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.