The Flip-side Strengths of Dyslexia
There’s a saying that goes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” It is very common to find someone in a dyslexic child’s parents’ or grandparents’ generation, and siblings and cousins, who also had or have similar struggles and strengths. According to a study by the Dyslexia Research Trust, at least three genes are linked to dyslexia and “at least ten genetic factors are thought to be involved.” Which genes are involved in any one person gives rise to the variation in how it affects them. If there is one “apple” in the family, it’s likely there are more.
“Falling from the same tree” can give the dyslexic child hidden talents. Consider Uncle Stan, who didn’t have much time for reading but was a skilled artist with a blowtorch. Or the career of Cousin Samantha, who was slow to read, slow to write, but finished her engineering degree in material science. Shouldn’t your nephew Josh be admired for his precocious ability to pilot an airplane before the age of 14 even though he can’t spell simple sight words or sign his name in cursive? Relatives, siblings, and ancestors who display visual-spatial, mechanical, or technical aspects of thinking are likely the same ones challenged by reading, writing, and arithmetic. In some relatives, you might see only the strengths of dyslexia and no particular challenges. Sometimes called stealth dyslexics, such people are smart enough to hide their challenges or come up with creative workarounds to overcome them.
A stigma surrounds people with dyslexia. Parents often unwittingly reinforce this stigma. Parents who are still coming to grips with their child’s differences may feel they can’t talk to others about it. Who would understand? Because of the negative labels society uses, parents sometimes refuse to have this difference properly identified; they don’t want their child to know they’re different.
But a dyslexic kid already knows they’re different. Dyslexics can tell that learning is harder for them than for others. They have been wondering, perhaps longer than their parents, “What’s wrong with me?”
They need acceptance and support from teachers, friends, and family throughout their entire lives. A balanced perspective that addresses both strengths and weaknesses can make all the difference. Help a dyslexic understand what it is they’re dealing with, but redefine dyslexia as a positive, powerful difference. If parents can identify the flip-side strengths that go along with the challenges, dyslexic kids can learn to embrace their unique wiring.
Accept dyslexia in your loved one as you would accept a musical talent, a sense of style, or the ability to bake bread. Be the one to unmask the flip-side strengths.
You’re Not Going to Cure Dyslexia
You can help the dyslexics in your life gain some eye-reading skills, and you can help them get their thoughts on paper in a more standard format, but you’re not going to cure dyslexia. In fact, you wouldn’t want to. Many of the qualities you love and adore about the dyslexics in your life probably include parts that are wired in – the trade-offs for things that are tripping them up.
I hope this strengthens the perspective and helps you adopt an alternate viewpoint. I hope it frees you to let go of needing to find a cure. The goal should be to help dyslexics become the highest-functioning people they can be.
Beth Ellen Nash is a nationally requested speaker and the Intervention Specialist for Wings to Soar Online Academy, the online school she founded to empower dyslexics and other outside-the-box learners to gain the skills and confidence for independence and success so they can not just survive but thrive in school and in life. She is an Orton-Gillingham trained tutor and has 17 years’ experience working with dyslexics. She has also done extensive research on phonetic spelling patterns and work frequency. Beth Ellen Nash is the author of Dyslexia Outside-the-Box, a book that provides a fresh perspective on the 3-D, visual-spatial, big-picture thinking, and other strengths that are the flip sides of the more familiar challenges of children with dyslexia.