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Dyslexia Is a Learning Disorder Not a Thinking Disorder

'The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia'

Photo by Eye to Eye National  

Dyslexia as a disorder causes a reader to jumble and misinterpret letters and symbols. The scramble, nonetheless, does not amount to a thinking disorder, and while it can be overcome in spades, there is one factor that always remains.

"Dyslexia robs you of Time," relayed David Boies in the HBO Documentary, The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia. A film which was produced by James Redford, son of screen legend Robert Redford.

Cracking the Learning Code

For a little background, he was an attorney who argued to overturn California’s Proposition 8 and the ban on gay marriage, while representing Al Gore in Bush v. Gore in 2001. On film, Boies went onto designate the journey each dyslexic must make before learning becomes possible.

Boies called the process “Cracking the code,” and the revelation did not fall on the deaf ears of the screening audience. As such, a knowing applause emerged from the gathering of teachers, students, and parents at the Windward School in White Plains, New York.  

Fourteen-year-old Skye Lucas who appeared in the film and, on the panel that followed, verified the sentiment. Nearly illiterate when entering Windward in 7th grade, Skye said, “I didn’t know how to learn yet.”

The crucial elixir that helped Windward develop turned out to be flash cards, and the straight A's she earned this past year provided the proof. Unfortunately, the educational system in general lags behind in recognizing the condition. The same goes for addressing the deficiency through proven interventions. “In Skye’s case," said Geralyn Lucas, "her previous school gave up on my daughter.”

Strengths and Weaknesses of Disorder

That said, one of the main hurdles is getting schools to understand the paradoxical nature of dyslexia. "The condition contains both strengths and weaknesses, and that can be difficult to convey,” said Dr. John Russell, headmaster at Windward.

Boies’ resume clearly spoke to that. In addition, the common factor shared with Skye, and names such as Richard Branson and Charles Schwab, who both appeared in the film, is an elevated level of creativity.

Leaving their imagination situated well out of the box, development becomes a matter of giving the student the chance to express their right brain. As a result, educators need, but don’t always take into account, the added time factor alluded to by Boies above. This especially in terms of taking tests.

Schools must recognize time constraints.

Dylan Redford expressed on film the difficulty of the added burden reading creates. “There’s so much performance anxiety during tests that I couldn’t understand anything,” said the filmmaker’s son.

In turn, a parent from the audience later voiced frustration as to why consideration is lacking from those who should know best. “Why don’t these top educators understand that extra time does not create an advantage for my son,” she said.

Dr. Sally Shaywitz of the Center for Dyslexia and Creativity at Yale and author of Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level, acknowledged the pervading problem. Of course, recognition goes hand in hand with raising awareness. “We all have to get headmasters to understand that dyslexics are diamonds in the rough,” said Shaywitz to the audience.

Even so, given that chance, Dylan still ran into problems when trying to get into colleges. “They were concerned that the services received in high school—no matter the good grades—meant I would not be able to survive on my own,” lamented the young Redford in the film.

In Good Company

Dylan eventually did get into the college of his choice. But Boies discounted the traditional machinations students go through to arrive at the place where colleges consider them a success. "Tests let educators know how good you are at memorizing, but employers want to know how well you can think and problem solve,” said the acclaimed attorney.

Cracking one’s code implies that inherently, and all the extra work dyslexics put in to keep pace becomes second nature. Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, and David Boies go quite a ways to prove that. But someday they might all be in Skye’s review mirror. 

So, she’s not timid in admitting the part her condition played in the success she's turned her young life into. "Dyslexia made me who I am, and I would not be as brave as I am without it,” she concluded.

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Dyslexia Is a Learning Disorder Not a Thinking Disorder
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