Monday, February 27, 2012

Dyslexic and Proud

Tucker Nichols
For most of my life I've struggled with dyslexianot just because of the challenges it caused for me in school, but because of the perception most people have of dyslexia. So, I think it’s time for me to speak out and maybe, in my small way, I can help educate people about dyslexia.

In elementary school, when I was first diagnosed with dyslexia, I had many teachers who treated me like I was stupid and the other students teased me. In high school, I was singled out and made to attend a study hall for “learning disabled” students for one of my class periods. This meant I didn’t have time in my schedule to take the fun/useful electives other students did, like home economics or typing. I was not allowed to take advanced placement (AP) or “gifted and talented” science classes, even though my test scores qualified me for them and I had a love of science. The school administrators explained that I could not be both “gifted and talented” and “learning disabled.” If I took AP science, I’d no longer be eligible for the extra help I needed as a dyslexic student. I was also told that college was not in my future and directed to peruse the less rigorous 21 credit high school diploma not accepted by most 4 year universities.
Now I am consistently hearing similar stories from other dyslexicsand sadly, dyslexic students are still treated this way in many schools around the country. Even some of my closest friends have looked at me like I just told them a horribly embarrassing secret when I reveal my dyslexiaas if I should be ashamed I’m dyslexic. Many people seem shocked I would expose such a “defect.” I believe this is because of misinformation and backward ideas about dyslexia. So, let me clear a few things up.  

Dyslexics are not stupid, dimwitted, or slow. In fact, most people with dyslexia have higher than average IQs.

Dyslexics are not lazy. Most people with dyslexia are bored in school because they’re brighter than average and/or the information is being presented in a way that is not understandable or interesting for them.

The term “learning disabled” is misleading (and offensive, in my opinion). The fact is dyslexics are not disabled at all. Our brains simple absorb and process information differently than others and because of this, conventional education and teaching methods do not help us learn. They can, at times, hinder our success.  

The fact of the matter is that individuals with dyslexia have some advantages (you might even say gifts) that “regular” folks don’t have. I recently read an interesting New York Times article on the subject. The article, by Annie Murphy Paul, revealed some of these advantages.  One such advantage is the ability to absorb the “visual gist.” In other words, “see the bigger picture” and not get lost in the detail – allowing for more rapid absorption of all the information in a scene.

One of my favorite passages from the article discusses one of two studies preformed by astrophysicist, Michael Schneps (you really should read this article):

“In the second study, Mr. Schneps deliberately blurred a set of photographs, reducing high-frequency detail in a manner that made them resemble astronomical images. He then presented these pictures to groups of dyslexic and nondyslexic undergraduates. The students with dyslexia were able to learn and make use of the information in the images, while the typical readers failed to catch on.

Given that dyslexia is universally referred to as a “learning disability,” the latter experiment is especially remarkable: in some situations, it turns out, those with dyslexia are actually the superior learners.”

Dyslexics can also see patterns, connections, and similarities more easily than others. We are highly creative and often possess superior reasoning skills. So, I guess my point is – We’re not stupid or mentally challenged.  We just absorb and process information differently. We even possess some extraordinary skills. Maybe it’s time to stop treating dyslexia as a disability and find ways to unlock and celebrate the hidden potential of today’s dyslexic students.

Here’s a great video about famous people with dyslexia including Albert Einstein, Charles Schwab, Henry Ford, and Richard Branson:

Other famous dyslexics:
Steve Jobs
Erin Brockovich
Thomas Edison
John Lennon
The list goes on and on...

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