What is the connection between dyslexia and music? If you ask some families, dyslexia and musical talent go hand-in-hand. There can also be challenges in music, in particular with reading music; however, the strengths can be seen in areas such as musicality, performance, musical interpretation, improvisation, and composing. Sometimes we hear that music helped unlock some of the difficulties students were having in school; here’s an example from a musical teen, Katie:
“Music is like a different part of my brain, where I don’t have to think about the words I’m singing,” she said. “I put that word to that note. It was more of teaching us by voice versus reading a book, and that’s when it started clicking.” In elementary school, Katie learned music through the solfege method, where notes are learned as Do-Re-Mi like in Sound of Music instead of A, B, or C. As different notes are learned, there are also hand motions, so very multisensory! Katie a “little songs” to help her remember things in her schoolwork — particularly in history, which is full of many unfamiliar proper names.”
Could there be a reason why many dyslexics have a particular talent in music? One reason is that some of the same brain areas associated with the enjoyment of music and emotional aspect of music are areas that are particularly active in dyslexic people (parts of the default mode network).
As mentioned, there are also challenges associated with dyslexia that can make reading music and in particular, sight reading difficult, but many people compensate (for instance first learning to play be ear) and find their own ways of learning and creating music.
Carly Simon is a multiple Grammy award winner and the first artist to win a Grammy, Academy Award, and Golden Globe Award for a song composed and written, as well as performed, entirely by one artist Carly is also a powerful positive dyslexia advocate and has talked about her own experience with dyslexia. She also has multi-talented children, including the multi-talented Sally Taylor who spoke at one of our conferences on Dyslexia and Talent. Sally’s husband is Dean Bragonier, Founder and “Executive Dyslexic” of Noticeability.
Many of us grew up singing the songs of Carly Simon. Timothy Crouse of Rolling Stone magazine said that Carly’s songs reminded him of John Updike or JD Salinger short stories written to music.
The stories Carly’s songs are remarkable for how much they can convey in little vignettes with the meaning, music, and feelings all rolled into one.
Like many people with dyslexia, Carly stuttered as a child.
Stuttering occurs in about 1% of the general population, but one recent study of dyslexic adults found 30% had a history of stuttering.
As a child, when Carly tried to speak she stutter, but also had facial tics causing her a great deal of anxiety and eventually desire to quit going to school…but her mother had a great advice:
“When my nervous system was bad, my mom would just say “Sing it.” I started living an opera beginning when I was 7. I would sing as much as I could or start tapping my hand on my thighs. As long as there was a rhythm, I could get through it.”
Music was a godsend.
Carly’s family was very musical and she grew up in a New York apartment building where many family members lived. She had two uncles who lived in the basement and loved jazz. One taught her her first song on the ukelele. In high school, she started singing with her sister and her sister also taught her to play the guitar.
Another prolific singer songwriter who’s been outspoken about his dyslexia is Marc Jordan. As a songwriter for performers and bands like Diana Ross, Manhattan Transfer, Chicago, Olivia Newton John, and Natalie Cole, he’s sold over 35 million records.
As it turns out, the advantages that come with being dyslexic are not little skills that don’t amount to something. In fact, just the opposite. The advantages and abilities that come with dyslexic thinking are “big hairy audacious” skills if you’ve heard about that phrase from the business world.
Confidence, aiming high, and self-knowledge about strengths and weaknesses are important tools to have in order to reach your goals. Studies of successful dyslexic entrepreneurs showed that they were very aware of their strong and weak areas and more willing to delegate in the their areas of weakness than non-dyslexic peers.
If you are having to re-make yourself during this pandemic, ask for help, and work to acquire new skills if you need to. If you’re not certain about your strengths, then find a friend of family member who may be able to help you.
If you believe you might not have particular strengths, you are probably wrong! The most common strengths that people overlook are people strengths and those are abilities that can be helpful in all sorts of work.
Don’t know where to start? Try the Interest Finderfrom My Next Move (from the Department of Labor). Another free online test is the Holland Career Test HERE.
“I was in second grade when I overheard my teacher telling my parents that he would be surprised if I finished high school. In the second grade!
Hearing this, you’d guess that I wasn’t the most well-behaved student in my class. Throughout my formative years,
I stuck to that persona at times and it wasn’t until high school, when I got my first job, that I really learned to appreciate the value of hard work…”
– Bo Parfet
How familiar does this start in life sound for our readers?
I recently came across Bo’s story Business Matter Magazine and there’s a lot to learn from as well as inspire from his choices, reflections, and experiences:
“…before I knew that I had a learning disability, I was cast as a troublemaker and a failure. It wasn’t until I got my first job working in a vintage car shop that I really found my sense of self-worth. I was able to see the value of hard work and I was given opportunities to do things that others thought I might not be capable of doing. I enjoyed seeing what I could accomplish from working hard—physically, mentally, and financially.
I put myself through college, graduating with an Economics degree from Colorado State University. I went on to receive a master’s degree in Applied Economics from the University of Michigan and eventually got my MBA from the Kellogg School of Management….”
“When I think back on all of the times it would have been easier for me to say no or to quit than to keep moving and pushing myself forward, I cannot imagine the person I would be today had I not learned the lessons of perseverance that came from my experiences overcoming dyslexia. Nothing happens out of luck. It is through sheer perseverance, and the desire to become more than that grade-school boy that had “no chance” of making it through high school, that I have built a legacy of which myself and my family can be proud. I suggest to many people that I meet that they think of one thing that scares the hell out of them, and then just take a leap and keep climbing towards and over it…”
After getting out of school, Bo seemed to have landed a great job at the global financial firm JP Morgan, but as Bo tells it in his book Die Trying, he was stuck inside an office cubicle from 9am until 2am and he’d seen his weight balloon up to 230 pounds after too many hot dog lunches and takeouts for dinner. Surfing on the Internet, he became enamored by the idea of trying to summit one of the world’s greatest mountains. At that point, he admits he was “completely out of shape”, doing Stairmaster once a week, but thought if he could go on an easier, shorter expedition, than the biggest, he could manage it. He chose Kilimanjaro.
You’ll have to read Bo’s book to really get an understanding of the extent of the mental and physical challenges he had to overcome to reach his goals (he ultimately summited the 7 highest mountains in the world), but what I especially wanted to share with this community is that his early life dyslexia challenges were there somewhere at the bottom of it. From his book:
“Having already dealt with the elements, Indonesian terrorists, local militia, lurking cannibals, and near starvation to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion, I stared at that intimidating length of granite and, in its rugged gray complexion and skyward trajectory, saw yet another manifestation of the proverbial barrier that I’d faced all my life. As a dyslexic kid with a speech impediment, I had grappled with overwhelming odds to disprove the claims of my teachers and fellow pupils that I’d never graduate from high school.
As a adult, I had worked hard to succeed in a mostly literate world and achieve what I’d been assured was impossible. Now, swinging beneath a ridge on Carstensz Pyramid, technically my most difficult climb to date, I thought, “You won’t defeat me…”
Another admirable thing about Bo is that he has made a lifelong commitment to giving back. With this first trip, he raised enough money to help two African students attend medical school. He went on to found Denali Venture Philanthropy, a hybrid entrepreneurial and social venture company that strives to make “positive, creative, sustainable improvements in people’s lives.”
Are you going to be homeschooling or perhaps willing to give traditional school a try under the new rules? Teacher mom blogger Heather Ann said this: “You are NOT homeschooling. You are CRISIS schooling. There is a huge difference. You may choose to homeschool after this, but this is not what homeschooling looks like, not […]
“Because I knew that I was different, it powered me to go and follow my own path and not try and do what everyone else does…”
– Ian Forrester
Ian Forrester has what many would think is a dream job. He’s a producer for the BBC or British Broadcasting Corporation and a senior “fire starter” in the Research and Development section. He is always on the lookout for what the future of storytelling should look like for BBC.
To listen to my full interview with Ian, click here:
As a brief summary of the interview, Ian told me that he was about 7 years of age when he was noticed to have difficulties reading and writing. He doesn’t remember being told anything specific about himself, instead like so many others, he was pulled out of class and given extra exercises. He would only hear “dyslexia” when he was working on his dissertation for a BA degree in Interaction Design and he was told to get himself “checked out.”
Ian’s parents were first generation immigrants who moved to the United Kingdom from Jamaica. They believed in the importance of hard work and education and felt education was a way of becoming free.
As a child, Ian remembered being good with drawing (he was able to sell his pictures of Garfield), curious about the world, and good at a circus skill known as the diabolo. An eggcup-like object is spun and tossed using a string. The diabolo takes a lot more hand and eye coordination than yoyos.
From an early age, Ian also remembers being interested in how things worked and technology in general. He begged his parents for a computer. It wasn’t easy at the time because his parents didn’t have a lot of money, but in retrospect, the purchase paid off because he always wanted to go deep in his understanding of how things worked.
Ian remembered that he had some friends who liked computers and computer games, but he always wanted to understand in a deeper way…so programming games instead of just playing them. Fortunately, Ian had a friend of the family, a godfather, who he enjoyed visiting and spend time with. They are still friends today. Ian recalled spending nights at his house, learning all kinds of things associated with technology or sound.
From an early age, Ian had an approach to life and discovery that is especially characteristic of innovators. He had deep curiosity, liked discovering new things, and liked experimenting. That kind of approach to life led him to work with a lot of early technologies, like electronic bulletin boards and FTP before the Internet became popular, or early versions of mp3 player when the world was focused on CDs. He gained access to powerful computers in the 24 hour computer lab because staff assumed that he and friends were students.
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect education to prepare him for a job in research and development in broadcasting.
Ian also has some great advice for young people (a few excerpts below):
“Tip 1: sometimes the things we struggle with can be the most rewarding.
I struggled with writing for many many years and now I write almost every single day and publicly. Many of non-dyslexics fear writing publicly but I do it for myself. Its hard when you get people picking holes in your own words but keep going it is very rewarding. Its the grit of getting knocked and coming back stronger, which will make you stronger in the future….
Tip 2: never be afraid to think visually.
Tip 3: Try not to get annoyed and throw a book/custard pie/tantrum at anyone who corrects your reading.
Tip 4: don’t be afraid to surround yourself by what you love.”
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If you are finding that you or your students are remote learning, not out of choice, but because of the school changes or the pandemic in general, it’s still possible to resist having your upcoming school year turn into zombie learning.
When our son took an online course through UC Berkeley Extension in Marine Biology as a high school homeschooler, we joked that the professor could have died and no student could have been able to tell the difference. All the lectures were text-based with a book chapter assignment, and although discussions were assigned and graded each week, there was no interaction between teacher and student…ever. For all we knew, the questions and the grading could have been conducted with a computer algorithm. He had been expecting to learn from a professor who loved marine biology, but if not for the college credit, he could have learned by reading the book on his own.
Some dyslexic students really thrive on in-person learning; as a result, depending on how information is translated into distance learning, school can become more of a curse than a blessing in the new pandemic school year. What can be done?
FOSTER INTERACTION AND ENGAGEMENT
Some schools are switching to part-in school and part-online experiences and will help some students as long as students and teachers will be able to be safe. Even if all school may shift online, promoting interactions, including regular check-ins, polls, online discussion areas, and posting can prevent the zombie experience
Some online courses share screens and include PowerPoint or Google Docs and oral presentations. Zoom debates can also take place with group members getting together in chat and collaborating on shared documents through Google Docs.
If you’re a student in a “dead” class, contact your teacher by email, ask if you can speak by phone or web chat if that’s a better way for you to communicate, and be proactive to get the level of education that you need and deserve.
If you are a homeschooling parent who will be using remote learning for a majority of your student’s formal education, select schools and platforms that have the interaction that your student needs. You can ask whether is there any group work and/or online discussion sessions.
If your student is having trouble understanding material, how can they get their questions answered?
SELF-ADVOCACY TO ENSURE EDUCATION PROCEEDS
There will be a lot of pressure and upheaval with schools and school personnel, but one thing almost all educational professionals agree on is that students with extra learning challenges will be among the most likely to be disadvantaged with pandemic–related changes that include reduced budgets and personnel loss.
Some school districts may expand their homeschooling resources for parents given the shift to employ more distance learning. It’s possible that some of these changes can be helpful to homeschoolers; in return for being able to continue declaring a student as being in “public school” (with federal support that follows), they may be able to share resources and funds for homeschoolers registered with their school. This money in turn can be used to support paid online tutors or enrichment classes that have more engagement and social and leadership opportunities for your student.
Finally, if you’re a lemons out of lemonade sort of person, see less in-person time as an opportunity to spend more time on individual creative pursuits. Having more time to oneself can be a blessing and also a stimulus for more engagement with others later.
Is this a time for your student to be learning how to play a musical instrument, compose music, draw, dictate or write stories? Many creative pursuits are quite social but require alone time for real development. Think out of the box about possible mentors and people your student can learn from. Developing real relationships with people who care is surely an antidote to a zombie education.
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