Neil-Degrasse-Tyson-Dyslexia“This heartwarming exchange was shared widely on social media–populating hundreds of thousands of Facebook feeds with two minutes and forty-eight seconds of edifying inspiration.

The only problem: Dr. Tyson’s advice to ambitious dyslexics is terrible!” _ Todd Grindal and Laura Schifter, author of How Did You Get Here? Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard

I recently had the pleasure of talking with two recent grads from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Todd Grindal and Laura Schifter. They had written a provocative post in Huffpo titled The Well-Intentioned but Misguided Advice of Neil deGrasse Tyson. Based on deGrasse Tyson’s advice to a young dyslexic girl:

We don’t fault DeGrasse Tyson for not knowing all the accomplished dyslexic scientists at the tip of his tongue, but his ‘advice’ show an dearth of knowledge about dyslexia and the dyslexic journey.

Here are the pearls from Todd and Laura:

“We are both dyslexic. We also each have masters and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. Dr. Tyson is correct that we faced many obstacles on our way. But the key to our success was not to spend more time doing the thing we are, by definition, not very good at doing–reading printed text.

Dyslexia is a common reading disability that affects between five and 17 percent of school-aged children. People with dyslexia experience difficulties connecting sounds to letters and decoding text. As a result, reading printed text is labor intensive, time consuming, and often extremely frustrating for people with dyslexia. Dyslexia does not impact a person’s intelligence or their ability to comprehend complex concepts or information.

For us, like many other dyslexics, the pathway to success lay in learning how to develop our strengths and getting information in other ways.” (italics ours)

We applaud Todd and Laura for speaking out about what works for them. The answer is not simply trying harder- perhaps that the greatest pernicious dyslexia myth of all. If more of us don’t speak out, we shouldn’t be surprised that others don’t know.

After hearing DeGrasse Tyson’s thoughts about Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and ADD, it should surprise us that otherwise well-educated and ‘smart’ people may be quite ignorant about 15-20% of the population.

N.B. From Fernette: Personally, I also would like to add that I don’t like the way DeGrasse Tyson referred other neurodiverse people in his field as having ‘issues’. It was one of those ‘ha ha’ funny moments for the audience, but not for me. I suspect there might have been others there who didn’t find it funny. To me DeGrasse Tyson’s words sounded like someone who didn’t really realize the positives that come from working and learning from people who really think differently. His statements were all the more surprising that he wasn’t more positive considering he was talking to a child who was likely dyslexic. A surprising number of people lauded this clip  across social media.

We have a lot of work to do.

In a future post, I’ll be sharing more about Laura’s wonderful book and my interview with her in addition to sharing some wondering insights from another dyslexic scientific pioneer Dennis Kleid (his discoveries saved thousands of lives and help give rise to the field of biotechnology).