Unlocking Dyslexia Philosophy


by Megan McDonald , B.A., J. D., Dyslexia Tutor, Executive Function Coach

     In an effort to obtain a norm to standardize the success of the masses, we have allowed an artificial paradigm to supplant the innate genius of a significant body of students.  Those students are our students, or language challenged, dyslexic students.  Right now, those students are failing not only in the educational system, but also the emotional system which measures intangibles such as self esteem, internal strength, feeling of self worth, drive, and true sense of self.  Neither outcome, whether marked in academic or emotion, is justified, appropriate, or tolerable.  

     Dyslexics are brilliant, and it is the responsibility of each of us to unlock the truth of every single child with dyslexia.  We can achieve this by flipping the paradigm by which our population of students is wholly defined.   

     Reading, literacy, is ONE of the plethora of modalities to learn and it has undeniably become, instead, the determinant of success.  Considering schools are a more modern concept in the history of our civilization, this is impossible to defend. In the current, text based paradigm, our kids will never be permitted to know their specific cognitive gift, the truly academic skill set that is inherent in their biology. We determine their very worth, their intelligence, by something else. We live in a system, a paradigm, in which “success’ is manifested by a hierarchy of percent. This percent, in turn, is determined based upon essentially phonemic mastery-- relationship of letters and or numbers to sounds strung together with words that have meaning, to be able to sound out words, memorize some words, and break down vocabulary words into parts. But this gift set is not natural to dyslexic children. 

     David Boies is a highly successful attorney who graduated second in his class from Yale Law. And he has dyslexia. One of the nation’s most highly acclaimed and sought-after attorneys, in Bush v. Gore, Boies represented Vice President Al Gore in litigation surrounding the presidential election of 2000; he also represented the U.S. Department of Justice in its successful antitrust suit against Microsoft.  Boies puts reading abilities in their proper context, "Reading has nothing to do with intelligence.  It’s just one way of getting information.  The important thing is how a person processes that information, the kind of person we are, the contributions we make, and the kind of utility we have for society." Boies, David, Success Stories, Retrieved from  http://dyslexia.yale.edu/success-stories

     Currently in the United States, the paradigm in which our dyslexic child has found itself is a false one. A long standing, education allegory explains that you cannot judge something by a skill it does not possess: everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. Yet, we are doing this right now to our dyslexic students, to our kids.  The falsity of this paradigm manifests in devastation of not only intelligence, of creativity, of mastery, of problem solving, but most importantly, of emotional wellness, of the capacity to lead a full and happy life.  No one wants this. We cannot miss the forest for the trees any longer--today is the day and here is the place this must end.  I care much less about literacy rates than suicide rates.  

     My husband and I have been blessed with ten children, eight of which have dyslexia. I have no “known” family history of dyslexia, and I don’t believe I had even heard the word "dyslexia" verbalized prior to my children's struggles. While my carefully planned out life has taken some radical turns, I would not trade a single minute of this journey.  

I was a full time lawyer who, upon having her first child, left the profession for one year to stay at home with my child. That was over twenty years ago.  Nine additional children later,  I have been home full time ever since. 

     In 2001 I had three children and fell into home education on accident. Our journey with dyslexia began in the fall of 2011, continued with diagnoses in the spring of 2013, and is ongoing to date within our homeschool.  

     I want you to know, first and foremost, that the conclusions I have reached and that I will share with you came about in a process--far from quickly, and often in spite of me.  I have had the privilege of educating, one on one, eight students with dyslexia through their entire educational journey.  That includes pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis. I have had the privilege of riding their highs, and definitely sharing in the lows. As a parent, I know first hand how hard this is for everyone.  There are times as the parent when you are broken, exhausted; when the financial implications of the situation are overwhelming, when I remember screaming, “Hey, I don’t want to be here!  I liked my life before I knew all this!” Many of you may be thinking that right now. Know I have had my own temper tantrums and pity parties. Plenty of them.  And I will admit that every one of those reactions was about me, about my inconvenience, about my lack of understanding of dyslexia, both intellectually and emotionally, about my need for control of this journey called life. Only through learning the truth of dyslexia, the truth of the dyslexic, and over time, did I grow to center my thoughts on my student, my child. And that is when their greatness exploded right before me.   

     Each of you are reading this because you have a connection to dyslexia. For some of you that is professional, and some of you it is family related.  But for each of us it is personal, deeply, deeply personal. And it is my most sincere hope that after reading this site each of us will face those big hearted, earnest, and sometimes broken, sweet faces, with an entirely new lens.  My goal is for you to see the truth of dyslexia, and the truth of your child, with a great and intense and renewed appreciation for what I know to be the true paradigm of success. 

     I want you to know that I know your student, I love your student, and so sincerely want to help your student. Please know that I am most grateful to be on this journey with you. It is my most sincere honor to represent the dyslexic population and I pray sincerely that I am worthy of it. 

     Scientists such as Nobel Laureate Carol Greider, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Cathy Drennan, and MacArthur Award winning scientist Mimi Koehl all have dyslexia; all seven made man wonders have been designed by dyslexic architects, one in three successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic, and dyslexia is often referred to as, “The MIT Disease.” Peters, Daniel (October, 2016), The Dyslexic Advantage: Our Hidden Revolution, Retrieved from http://huffingtonpost.com/daniel-b-peters-phd. Dyslexia represents 40% of all self- made millionaires,  Tulip Financial Group (2003) Study commissioned for a BBC Two series ‘The Mind of the Millionaire’. British Broadcasting Corporation, London; Sunday Times (2003) The Mind of the Millionaire. 5th October 2003. 

     This is what CAN BE.  You know that phrase, “Be nice to that nerd in your class . . . he will be your boss one day.”  These are our guys properly actuated. In his November, 2015 Tedx Talk, Dean Bragonier, founder of Noticeability said, “Once you’ve got a captive dyslexic they are ravenous, they are thirsty, they have built this moxy, this grit, and then all of a sudden you are introducing them to something that they are better at than their peers?  This is a brand new concept.” I have seen this personally. I lived this and am living this. Given just a little, these guys take off and soar and you are sincerely left in their dust. I love every minute of it; I can tell you that there are few instances in life equally as gratifying. 

      My daughter, Maggie, has dyslexia and is currently a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. In her junior year of high school she was enrolled in our local community college in an art class for the highest altruistic reason.  Maggie’s brother was taking calculus at that specific time and I was too cheap to pay for two trips to the community college. In other words, we needed a class offered at the same time as her brother’s calculus. Maggie had never (ever) held an artist’s pencil or painter's brush in her hand. She was “crafty” but really I was just blindly seeking a class that she would both enjoy and that might lessen her self esteem challenges. She walked into that class cold. Recently she summarized, “Through the drawing and painting classes I took my last two years of high school, I discovered that I was actually good at something. I found a subject in which I did not need accommodations, tutoring, or proof readers. For the first time in my life I had the opportunity to learn like a normal student.  For the first time in my life I did not have to fight my dyslexia.” Kirkwood Professor Arbe Bareis, M.A., M.F.A.,  was instrumental in this process and we are truly forever grateful to him. 

     Cognitive gifts are inherent in the condition of dyslexia, properly unlocked. It is only by truly embracing dyslexia that those gifts can properly be the truth of your child. We cannot unlock the truth of our child by hiding behind dyslexia in shame. Only by truly bathing in all that dyslexia is, by wearing it, by owning it, can we not only unlock the truth of our child, but also watch this exhilarating process called life unfold before us. Knowing my children both pre- and post-diagnosis/remediation, seeing their confidence, their skill set, their person, emerge, has been the most exciting, riveting emergence, awakening I could ever be honored enough to observe.  There are few words to describe this. 

This is available to all children. Our population is not excluded from this if we shift the paradigm in which they are evaluated.  

     Before we begin this journey together I would ask you to please do a short activity. First,  stand up! Yes, stand up. Next, I would like you to shout out the name of the individual whose presence in your life brought you to this juncture.  If you have more than one person, just pick one at this time.  On the count of three, I want you to both picture the dyslexic person in your life and then shout out the name of that person.  OK?  Ready, 1,2, 3:  Go!!  My guess is maybe you are still sitting . . . please stand up!! In your loudest voice, please shout out the name of your dyslexic.  Ready? One, two, three: Go! Still standing, I want you to verbalize the following three words, “Is My Hero!”  Ready, 1,2,3: “ Is My hero!”  Awesome.  Now, I want you to combine those pieces--please say the name of your student and then state in your most enthusiastic voice, “Is My Hero!”  OK?  Go!  “Liam is My Hero.”  Let’s do it one more time! “ Eavan is my Hero!!”  Excellent!  Know that your student is my hero too. You may be seated, and let the story commence!