When it comes to big picture wisdom, one of our favorite people to listen to is Dr. Michael Ryan, who has a life counseling practice in Michigan. He came to our first Dyslexia and Talent Conference, now many years ago and for years we’ve enjoyed his various letters and blog post.

From his “On Being Dyslexic”:

Now that I’ve worked with hundreds of dyslexics and raised two daughters who are dyslexics, I know that most dyslexics are exceptional. In short, if I could find that magic pill, no way I would take it! I enjoy being dyslexic. I love the way my mind works. The crazy way I combine ideas and understand the world. I love that I can see humor in almost any situation, even if it gets me into trouble. You have to pay a price, I work harder than most of my colleagues and I know I’m hard to live with. But, I love my creativity and the fact my desk looks like New Orleans after Katrina.

Every dyslexic has a unique set of strengths. One of my daughters is gifted in mathematics and my other daughter is an exceptional artist. Most of us are visual thinkers, creative, persistent and have great empathy for others. There are now many videos on dyslexia. However few capture the joy of being dyslexic. The one exception is a video made by a group of English teenagers, “Dyslexia, the Unwrapped Gift” 

– Dr. Michael Ryan

It’s good to talk about gifts and joy before heading into the school year. Because once it’s underway, there can be many more distractions and details that take over planning.

Dyslexia, the Unwrapped Gift with Dyslexic Advantage Board member Tom West
(n.b. the film suggest 1 in 25 are dyslexic, but peer-reviewed research today suggests 15-20%)

Family Panel at the Dyslexic Advantage Conference on Dyslexia and Talent

student in school dyslexia1. ASK FOR HELP. “My freshman year in college I insisted in hiding my dyslexia. I tried functioning like everyone else. It was not a complete train wreck, but it was pretty darn close. I worked much harder than my friends and only got C’s. Furthermore, my freshman literature teacher wrote at the end of my first in-class essay, “How did you get out of first grade?”

At the beginning of my sophomore year, I decided I was no longer going to bang my head against this invisible wall. Instead I found some ways around these barriers. I started asking for help.

I began by going to the professors who I liked and trusted and explain my situation. They seem genuinely interested and asked what they could do. I sheepishly asked if I could take the midterm orally. I felt like a real cheat.

I couldn’t believe they agreed. (One professor later explained to me that almost all professors have had to take an oral exam for their PhD. They know how difficult it is to take an oral exam, because the tester can ask for more explanation. You really have to know the material.)

The difference was remarkable. I enjoyed my exams and instead of barely eking out C’s, I got A’s. Furthermore, my professors seemed to think I had good ideas.

Learning to ask for help is difficult. You have to learn to forgive your weaknesses and find other ways to show your strengths. Furthermore, you have to learn to trust others; and the more often you take this risk, the more your trust grows.

2. ADVOCATE EARLY. “Meet with your instructors at the beginning of the semester and let them know that you have a learning disability and what accommodations you will need.

If you wait till you’re struggling in the class, your teacher might see this as an excuse or a manipulation. This demands that you understand your learning style and what accommodations you will need.

If your instructor is uncooperative consider talking to your counselor or switching classes. ”

3. USE TECHNOLOGY. “Technology, technology, technology. Technology levels the playing field for dyslexics. However, not all technology works for everyone. You have to use trial and error to decide which accommodations are most effective in your learning. ”

4. LIGHTEN YOUR CLASS LOAD. “Dyslexics almost always need to take a lighter course load. In high school this may mean an extra study hall and in college 12 hours per semester is a full load. This gives us more opportunities to study material in depth and integrate our knowledge.

Study groups and discussing ideas with professors are particularly helpful in this integration. Also, hands-on project based activities are critical.

I also believe that in college dyslexic students should take no more than two classes that are hard for them.”

5. WORK HARD. “As school gets more demanding, dyslexics have to work two or three times harder than their friends.

I know that this is not fair…The payoff is that if we learn to work hard now it will help us be successful in later life. I believe this is one of the reasons dyslexics make such great entrepreneurs. It is hard work starting your own business and dyslexics already know how to work hard.”

To read all of his post, click HERE


6. SCHEDULE BREAKS AND RESTS. This might seem self-explanatory, but surprisingly all too often, it is forgotten. Dyslexic students work so hard, and the workloads seem so impossible, that there can be little time to really take a break, sleep, and catch up – but that’s exactly what they need. Just as research studies show that later start times for high school students result in higher grades, we wouldn’t be surprised if later starts and shorter school days would help more dyslexic students too.

Chronic sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, anxiety, and depression all take their toll on working memory and everything that follows. Some students may be able to opt out of certain classes like math if they can substitute an online program such as ALEKS. Such a class typically would take less time than a standard 45 min period, so it could add to aim of more frequent breaks.

7. MAKE TIME FOR PASSIONS OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL. Spending time away from school – especially as it develops students’ strengths increases school success rather than the contrary. Look for opportunities to develop interests and passions by finding time for electives, after school extracurriculars, volunteering, or internships. Recently, we spoke to Jay Plasman, an educational researcher at UC Santa Barbara. He found that students with learning disabilities who took challenging applied STEM classes in high school were MORE likely to stay in school, get good grades, have positive comments about school, and pursue higher education.


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