shutterstock_193135967This is our first post on our Dyslexic Advantage Mission Statement. For nonprofit organizations, the mission statement is an overview of the steps they’re taking to create the world they envision.

The Dyslexic Advantage Mission

At Dyslexic Advantage, our mission is, “To promote positive identity, community, and achievement among dyslexic people by focusing on their strengths.”

We’ve already explained DA’s strengths-centered focus, so in the next several posts we’ll discuss what we mean by:

  1. positive identity
  2. positive community
  3. positive achievement

Today we’ll start with positive identity.

Why Dyslexic Advantage Puts Positive Identity First

Manshutterstock_205336900y of the challenges dyslexic people face are worsened because dyslexic identity has usually been centered on deficits rather than strengths. ‘Being dyslexic’ has typically meant ‘someone with dyslexic reading and spelling challenges’. And that’s not much to build an identity around.

Of course, it’s important for people with dyslexic challenges to be identified so they can receive the right kinds of help. But if our understanding of what it means to be dyslexic goes no farther than these challenges, then ‘deficit’ or ‘disorder’ will remain the core of dyslexic identity.

And that’s a big problem.

The Problem With Building An Identity Based On Deficits

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There’s a great deal of research showing that a person’s self-image or self-esteem plays a critical role in their achievement, goal-setting,
relationships, personal well-being, and life-success broadly. Self-image depends not only on personal success or failure, but also on the status or reputation of the groups to which one belongs. So if we tell children who are struggling academically that their challenges are due to a problem with the way their brain works, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see their self-esteem and confidence in their academic abilities drop.

Our own work with thousands of dyslexic individuals and families entirely confirms the negative consequences of centering dyslexic identity on deficits. Dyslexic students who attribute their struggles to a disorder of their brains often experience a loss of confidence, low-self esteem, a feeling of helplessness and loss of control, declining motivation, and underachievement. A resulting sense of shame also often leads to social isolation and loss of friendships as students fail to keep pace academically with their peers. Not surprisingly, students who experience this downward cycle often do all they can to avoid rather than embrace a dyslexic identity.

Being separated from a positive self-identity, community, and personal success in this way is truly tragic. But as long as we continue to teach dyslexic individuals that dyslexia is a sign of a disordered brain, we’ll perpetuate this vicious cycle.

Strengths: A Solid Foundation For Dyslexic Identity

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Fortunately, it’s entirely preventable. A true understanding of what it means to be dyslexic is crucial for helping students to understand and
deal with their academic challenges. Knowing that dyslexic minds work differently because they’re built to work in different and positive ways allows students to understand how they can both be smart, yet struggle more with certain skills than their classmates. Understanding the strengths that dyslexic minds typically enjoy also allows students to embrace and approve their dyslexic identity, and to develop confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.

This sense of positive identity also encourages community among dyslexic individuals by allowing them to join with other dyslexic people around a context of shared strengths, not just shared problems. Embracing a dyslexic identity that’s build around strengths also promotes personal achievement by building confidence and pointing the way toward identifying and using those shared strengths.

DA’s Strengths Focus Creates A Virtuous Cycle

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That’s why promoting a positive dyslexic identity is so central to our mission at Dyslexic Advantage. Dyslexic minds are amazing, and as we shift our focus to understanding and celebrating their strengths, we’ll create a virtuous cycle where all the changes needed to help dyslexic people to flourish and enjoy their many gifts will begin to fall into place.

If you’ve experienced the benefits that can come from adopting a positive dyslexic identity, please share your story with the community. Together we can change the world!