Yes, you do.

Feb 9, 2022 | BrightHouse Essentials

There are children in every classroom who are labeled, “lazy, unfocused, not trying hard enough, distracted, not applying his/herself, or a failure,” on their report cards, cum folders, and at conferences. Do you know any of them? Yes, you do; even if you aren’t aware of it. For every five children that you see, one has dyslexia. In a class of 30 students, at least 6 students (Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity) will try to hide the fact that they significantly struggle in reading, writing, math, and other things. They will do nearly anything to distract, disrupt, and deflect to keep their friends from finding out that they cannot read or write or learn the same as others. Dyslexia is a learning disability that involves much more neurology than flipping numbers or letters like p/q’s and b/d’s. A child with dyslexia can also have high IQ, shorter working memory, slower cognitive processing speed, a great sense of humor, difficulty comprehending, poor executive function, excellent problem-solving skills, and delayed social-emotional development. Thirty percent (Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity) of those with dyslexia also have ADHD or other overlapping learning differences.
Research in neuroscience shows that dyslexia is a genetically inherited, neuro-wiring difference that is characterized by having long axons that are far apart from each other in the outer cerebral cortex. This means that people with dyslexia also have unique, special abilities with seeing the big picture, connecting ideas that others cannot see, seeing patterns, being great leaders, experiencing strong emotions, taking risks, learning from mistakes, solving problems, being creative, super stamina, and more.
Considering all of these strengths, why aren’t these students performing well in school? Typical educational settings and curriculums are highly reliant on texts: reading and writing in every subject. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, young children worked on farms and/or went out into the world to be trained as an apprentice to learn their crafts. The Industrial Revolution made it so that children could leave working on the family farm or apprenticeships to get a formal education at school. The printing press published textbooks that brought the knowledge of the world into the classroom. The only prerequisite was phonetic decoding; the ability to read and write. It is still the case today that to succeed in school, a child must read and write which systematically dooms 20% of the student population (Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity) to be academically unsuccessful.
Most students with dyslexia go through life in a “shroud of shame” (Kaufman). They have low self-esteem, feel separated and lonely, believe that they are unintelligent, fear exposure and humiliation, experience deep levels of frustration and anger, experience trauma and depression, and finally shut down. They wonder why they cannot do what others seem to do so easily. “Adults who have not learned how to read and write will feel acute shame over their deficiency. When faced with situations likely to expose their illiteracy, they will hide it because hiding is a natural response to shame. Exposure is the essence of shame. And the shame experienced over illiteracy often matches, in intensity, the shame experienced over incest” (Kaufman). The earlier a child receives appropriate support and instruction, the better.
Thankfully, there are numerous examples of people who struggled but later found a way to succeed. They have a tenacity that helps them not give in to the negative spiral and they had someone who gave them encouragement. We can learn from famous successful people with dyslexia who are proof that there are other possible outcomes. Here are only a few examples showing a wide range of hidden special abilities (Arkell):
  • Richard Branson struggled in school and dropped out at age 16 – a decision that ultimately led to the creation of Virgin Records. His entrepreneurial projects started in the music industry and expanded into other sectors. He is now estimated to be worth over £3 billion. Branson is also known for his adventurous spirit and sporting achievements, including crossing oceans in a hot air balloon.
  • Tom Cruise: Blockbuster action film actor Cruise was diagnosed with Dyslexia at age 7 but that didn’t stop him. “I’d try to concentrate on what I was reading, then I’d get to the end of the page and have very little memory of anything I’d read”. He eventually adopted unique techniques in order to learn his lines and went on to be a multi award winning Hollywood star!
  • Leonardo da Vinci: Primarily a painter accomplishing the famous Mona Lisa, however Da Vinci was skilled in many other areas including mathematics, sculpting and as an inventor.
  • Walt Disney: An American icon who built the Disney Empire with his brother and is responsible for the growth of animation production. The popular DisneyLand Parks have since been developed globally.
  • Albert Einstein: One of the most influential physicists in history who developed the laws of relativity and shaped the ways we think of the world today.
  • John F Kennedy, George Washington & George W Bush, All of these Presidents of the United States of America were believed to be dyslexic.
  • John Lennon: Lead singer of the Beatles in the 1960’s and singer-songwriter. Lennon produced a critically acclaimed album for his solo career despite his worldwide fame with ‘The Beatles’ and seemingly endless lists of smash hits.
  • Jamie Oliver: Professional Chef, bookseller and TV personality. He initially left school at age 16 without any qualifications, however working his way up the kitchen ladder he rose quickly to head chef.
  • Steven Spielberg: One of the most influential film personalities in the history of film, Steven Spielberg is perhaps Hollywood’s best-known director and one of the wealthiest filmmakers in the world. Winner of 3 academy awards, 3 Golden Globes, 4 Emmy Awards, and the list goes on!
Research shows that dyslexic students do not need more schooling by being held back or having more classes for remediation (Bragonier). They need teachers who are highly trained and experienced with differentiation; custom fitting pace, challenge level, and learning style with each student. They need a place where they can regroup, explore their strengths, and find unique ways to do what is hard for them. At Brighthouse, we emphasize student strengths while shoring up areas of weakness. We integrate skills for short-term working memory, executive function, social-emotional development, cognitive processing speed as well as reading and writing, seamlessly throughout the day. For example, imagine students are learning a new game and hearing rules before playing. This activity is excellent for engaging the imagination, short-term working memory, executive function, social-emotional development, and cognitive processing speed while being enjoyable.
One of our favorite games is “Werewolf” where everyone has a character role to play, clues to examine, and a team for solving a “whodunit.” We know our dyslexic students learn better if we break up directions or lessons into short, simple steps and then immediately do the steps. We walk them through a brief explanation on the game rules and immediately play while cueing them through the game. They are coached as they do something new and challenging which builds them up. We play game music while characters perform their parts. The students take in all the clues to solve the case! They respond well to learning kinesthetically (by doing) with multi-sensory experiences and auditory cues. They see the overall picture, connect the dots, solve a problem and have a lot of fun. We could extend this in any direction like doing a mock trial after studying about the branches of government, doing a play after reading a literature book, or immersing ourselves into a culture with a simulation. We utilize this same skills-integration while teaching all of their academic subjects through games, real world problem-solving, special interest projects, field trips, classroom guests, simulations, and activities.

At Brighthouse, we teach 5th-12th grades for an important reason. Our academic program starts at 5th grade so that we can reach dyslexic students before the “cement of personality” (Bragonier) has been set. Previously, we started with 7th grade because that was the academic year when school became insurmountable because of massive increases to homework load, testing speed and length requirements, academic and social emotional expectations, and switching classrooms and teachers every hour. But we soon realized that by then, the damage was already done. We find that when a student has remained in a prior negative academic environment, the shame cycle has already deteriorated the student’s resiliency. It takes us weeks or months to reverse the damage, build the student up enough to engage in learning, and to start thriving. A lot can happen in a year and we want to begin earlier.

When a student begins to believe, hope, risk, and invest in his/her learning, all the other areas of development are elevated as well. Thus, we see increased performance in short-term working memory, executive function, social-emotional development, cognitive processing speed as well as reading and writing. Further, we note a marked increase in the student’s unique special abilities with seeing the big picture, connecting dots, seeing patterns, being great leaders, experiencing strong emotions, taking risks, learning from mistakes, solving problems, being creative, and more. It is incredible to witness such a transformation that in turn, ripples out to their family, friends, and beyond to our community and world. Do you know any of these amazing children? At Brighthouse, yes you do!

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