Some of the world’s greatest minds have been dyslexic. Among them are business tycoon Richard Branson, investment giant Charles Schwab, Walt Disney and even, many believe, Albert Einstein.
So is dyslexia a disability?
It can be, if it is unrecognized. But when a child with dyslexia gets the help he or she needs, it can be a gift, said Stephonie Bradham of Monroe.
She would know. Her son Tyler, 11, struggled awfully in school before joining a cohort of dyslexic students at Sky Valley Education Center. Education has made a world of difference for her family, and now Bradham wants the community to know about an opportunity for education that will be free to all.
Next month, there will be a free screening at Galaxy Theater of the documentary “Dislecksia: The Movie,” which offers the perception that dyslexia is not a learning disability, but rather merely a learning difference.
School a struggle
To the untrained eye, dyslexia can look like anything from a character flaw to myopia. And as soon as Tyler Bradham entered the school system, he was suspected of those and more.
“They all started their reading groups, and they move on and move up, and Tyler was the last one,” said Bradham. “Every conference was a nightmare. They’d say, ‘You need to work harder at home. Maybe he’s lazy. Maybe it’s his vision. Maybe it’s ADD.’”
Tyler was always exhausted after school, and although he was trying very hard, nothing was working.
When he was in the second grade, a friend of his mother’s learned that her child had dyslexia.
“We thought maybe Tyler did, too,” said Bradham.
Sure enough, tests revealed that he did.
So his private school tried to make accommodations, but they didn’t have the body of knowledge needed to establish a functional program, Bradham said.
So at the end of the year, when all the other kids who had met a goal for reading got to go to a party, Tyler was excluded. And he was given a book to read.
“They just weren’t aware,” said Bradham. “That broke my heart.”
So when Tyler was in third grade, his parents moved him to the Sky Valley Academy, where there are dyslexia classes, and he finally started getting the help he needed to flourish.
The dyslexic brain
Dyslexia is often thought of as the condition in which people see letters backwards.
That is actually a fairly rare manifestation of dyslexia, which more commonly appears as difficulty with reading, spelling, and other language problems.
Dyslexic people tend to have average to high intelligence, but they may struggle with phonetics, short-term memory, language comprehension and rapid naming.
Researchers think there may be three subtypes of dyslexia, and it tends to present along with other disabilities such as ADHD or visual processing disorders.
Dyslexia is very common, and as many as one in five children may be affected, but it is frequently overlooked.
That can leave children struggling with poor self image, as well as trouble learning, said Bradham.
“Children are naturally curious, but if school is too difficult, they can get learned helplessness,” she said. “It’s like us trying to read Chinese every day. At a certain point you give up, and school isn’t fun anymore and it affects them socially.”
And when parents or teachers draw the conclusion that the child is just lazy, they do their kids a disservice, Bradham added.
“The dyslexic brain works five times harder, but gets less results,” she said. “They get labeled as lazy or not trying hard enough, but they are. They are trying very hard. They need someone to identify their disability and make accommodations.”
The Gift of Dyslexia
At Sky Valley, Tyler said things are a lot better. Now in the sixth grade, he said one of the best things about the school is being able to pick the classes that interest him the most, like woodworking.
All his friends are dyslexic, too, he said.
There are teachers at Sky Valley with personal experience of dyslexia, whether because they have it themselves or have family members who do.
They help kids develop new strategies for learning words, such as rendering the meaning of the word in clay. There are classes in things that work especially well for dyslexic kids, such as computer programming, art, movie making, and a different kinds of reading than most kids take, including some audio books and DVDs.
There is even a class called The Gift of Dyslexia.
It can be hard to see dyslexia as a gift, but through empowering movies, classes, and books such as the “bible” of dyslexia, called “Overcoming Dyslexia” by Sally Shaywitz, the positives become more clear.
“They are very intuitive, very creative; they think outside the box and they are big-picture thinkers,” said Bradham. “They think in 3D and make good engineers. And they are intuitive, and make good scientists and surgeons.”
Now Bradham hopes the community, especially families who have dyslexia in them, will come to watch the movie to learn more about the positives and to see a different way of understanding the condition.
The film includes many famous people with dyslexia, including actor Billy Bob Thornton and others, talking about the difficulties and the assets that came with it.
“It is the first film to offer an alternative perspective of dyslexia as a learning difference, rather than a disability,” the film’s description said.
“Dislecksia: The Movie” will screen at Galaxy Theaters Monday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. The film is brought to Monroe by the Sky Valley PTA and Galaxy Theater, and is free to attend.