six-things-dyslexiaAt Dyslexic Advantage our focus is on dyslexic people, not just dyslexia. And our focus is on helping dyslexic people find success in all aspects of life, not just school.

We’d like to discuss two classic research papers that deeply influenced our understanding of how to help dyslexic people succeed. Both were written by a team of four researchers at the Frostig Center in Pasadena, CA (Eleanor Higgins, Marshall Raskind, Roberta Goldberg, and Kenneth Herman).

The papers describe a 20-year follow-up study of 41 graduates of the Frostig School, which specializes in educating students with learning differences. Each contains several points that we think are important and useful for dyslexic individuals, parents, and teachers. We’ll discuss the first paper in this post.

Success Factors 

The first paper (here) described 6 ‘success attributes’ that separated the 21 shutterstock_85903774graduates who appeared successful 20 years after school from the 20 who were not. [Note: They defined ‘success’ as a combination of: life satisfaction, educational attainment, independent living status, family and social relations, psychological and physical health, crime/substance abuse, and employment status.]


These six attributes actually showed a greater relationship to success than either academic skill level or IQ. These six attributes are:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Pro-Activity
  3. Perseverance
  4. Goal Setting
  5. Social Support
  6. Emotional Stability

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1) Self-awareness: The aspect of self-awareness that most distinguished successful from unsuccessful graduates was the ability to ‘compartmentalize’ their understanding of the impact of their learning challenges. Compartmentalizing had two parts.

  • First, it involved recognizing that the challenges involved only a limited part of who they were as people, and that they also had talents and strengths
  • Second, it involved the ability to find appropriate ‘niches’ for employment and relationships that ‘accentuate their strengths’

In this study, 93% or the successful graduates possessed this kind of realistic but strengths-focused self-awareness, but only 11% of the unsuccessful graduates did.

shutterstock_1385483602) Proactivity: Proactive graduates expressed a belief that they had the power to affect their own destiny. They thought ahead to anticipate difficulties and create ways to avoid them. They sought advice and were flexible in knowing when to change course. Unsuccessful graduates tended to be passive and to react to events only as they were forced to. They didn’t think ahead, plan their course, or seek for strategies to avoid problems.

93% of successful graduates were proactive, compared with only 22% of unsuccessful ones.

3) Perseverance: Successful graduates learned that failing does not make you a
failure, but instead it gives you a chance to learn from your mistakes and do better next time. Unsuccessful students gave up in times of adversity.

93% of successful graduates were proactive, compared with only 22% of unsuccessful ones.

4) Goal Setting: Successful gradshutterstock_162342989uates set goals that were concrete, realistic, and attainable, and they developed specific strategies to reach those goals. Unsuccessful graduates set goals, but they showed little concrete planning, their goals were not specific, and did not contain specific steps.

93% of successful graduates showed appropriate goal setting, compared with only 22% of unsuccessful ones.

5) Social Support: While almost all graduates had social support systems, the successful individuals were more active in seeking and accepting support, and they more often had the support of individuals who maintained high standards for them, and served as sounding-boards to test ideas. In addition, as they grew older, successful students appeared to benefit from becoming mentors themselves.

6) Emotional Stability: While most graduates experienced sigshutterstock_177640760nificant stress, the successful ones found effective ways of recognizing triggers and coping with and reducing stress, frustration, and emoti
onal problems. This included partnering, planning, finding optimal environments, and maintaining strong relationships.

64% of successful graduates showed considerable emotional stability, while only 22% of unsuccessful ones did.

Takeaway Points

For takeaways we can’t do better than give you two statements by the authors.

Here’s the first: “Traditionally, the field of LD has focused the majority of its shutterstock_114621532intervention strategies on improving academic skills. However, it is clear from the experiences of our informants that such attributes as [the six just described] are more predictive of success than are academic skills. These findings question the validity of approaches that focus exclusively on remediation of academic abilities. At the least, the field needs to evaluate its current position and emphasize the development of success attributes to the same degree that we do academic skills.”

And the second: “…our informants stressed the importance of special talents and abilities, ‘personal passions,’ which traditionally have received little attention by parents and teachers.”

We totally agree, and over the next several weeks our focus will be on some of these ‘special talents and abilities.’


Note: Parents may also appreciate the Frostig Center’s Life Success Guide (here), which describes these success factors in more detail, and provides practical strategies for helping children develop them.