The Gift, Challenge, and Classic Symptoms of Dyslexia

Jill Stowell Dyslexia, General Information, Learning Disability

Q: This week HBO aired a special on dyslexia that noted that more than one third of entrepreneurs in the U.S. may be dyslexic. What is it about dyslexia that would cause this to be true?

A: This statistic doesn’t surprise me a bit. Having worked with dyslexic children and adults for the past 27 years, I know that people with a dyslexic thinking style are generally very bright and creative and often very talented.

The entrepreneurs on featured on the HBO special are successful and even grateful for their dyslexia, but it wasn’t always that way for them. Each of them also shared a story a story of deep pain.

Q: What is a dyslexic thinking style?

A: Every person with dyslexia is different, but we do see some very common characteristics among dyslexic learners. Typically, they are bright and creative – often talented in art, mechanics, acting, or sports.

They have difficulty with the auditory processing skill that allows them to make sense out of phonics for reading and spelling, and they experience confusion associated with certain letters, sounds, and small common sight words. (the, of, if)

They may be extremely good communicators, or may have difficulty getting the words out in the order and way they want to say them.

They tend to have good comprehension abilities and a strong ability to see things from different angles or points of view.

Q: It seems like people are being more open now about their dyslexia. How has the view of dyslexia changed?

A: The public is getting slightly more educated about dyslexia – we’ve pretty much gotten away from thinking that dyslexia is that same as mental retardation – but here’s what it still looks like everyday for kids and families who are dealing with it:

Kids are sitting in class in feeling stupid and embarrassed because they are smart enough to know that everyone can do the work and they can’t. They feel like they’re always wrong, even when they’ve tried hard, and nobody really gets it.

They’re told that they’re lazy or unmotivated. They work five time harder than their peers, but they get poor grades or have to miss recess anyway to finish class work when all they want to do is bolt out of the room to get away from print.

Parents are dying with guilt and worry frustration. They feel like their child is smart, but homework takes hours, often with tears and battles.

Q: How is the education system dealing with dyslexia?

A: The common belief in education and otherwise is that if you have dyslexia, or any other learning disability, you have to learn to cope with it, so kids struggling through school with accommodations.

Accommodating a learning problem is like trying to ride a bike with a flat tire. You can do it, but it takes so much effort and so much more time.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Brain studies have shown that dyslexic readers are using less efficient nueropathways, or thinking processes in the brain than typical readers. Brain research in the last 20 years has shown that the brain can be retrained to make more efficient pathways for reading and spelling.

Children and adults with dyslexia do not have to continue to suffer the pain and frustration of not being able to read or read well.

Q: Many successful dyslexic entrepreneurs, artists, and athletes say that having to learn to get around their dyslexia has helped them to be successful – that they wouldn’t change being dyslexic because it gave them an edge by teaching them how to handle hardship and failure? Can the brain be repatterned for reading without losing the giftedness of dyslexia?

A: There are two really important ideas here. First, it wasn’t the reading disability and failure that gave these successful individuals their edge. It was their innate, out-of-the-box thinking style that allowed then to see things differently; to problem solve and come up with new ideas. This is not exclusive to dyslexic thinkers.

Retraining the brain to process information for reading and spelling is not going to take away that marvelous thinking style. It’s simply going to remove the barrier to reading easily.

The other really critical thing is to realize that the famous dyslexic inventors, artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs are the exception. And they all have painful memories of frustration and failure in school.

Just because dyslexic individuals have successfully worked around their challenges, doesn’t mean that all will.

The famous basketball player, Mugsy Bogues, was only 5’3” but what are the odds that players who are 5’3’ will make it to the NBA?

Statistics tell us that the prison population has 50% more individuals with dyslexia than the general population.

And the worst thing is that children and families are suffering everyday because of reading struggles in school. The research and the techniques are available now to change this.

Q: You’re indicating that dyslexia can really be corrected. How is that done?

A: If you think about learning as a continuum, reading and other academic skills are up at the top. They are supported by many underlying learning or thinking skills that need to be in place to learn efficiently.

We have to identify what underlying skills are inefficient or not supporting the learner well enough and strengthen or retrain those thinking processes. Then the brain is ready to learn to read.

I recently ran into the mom of a former client of ours who had been severely dyslexic as a 9 year old. He was a completely shutdown learner, unable to recognize letters or words at all. By retraining the reading pathways in the brain and then teaching him to read, he was able to move out of special education by middle school and into honors classes in high school. His mom shared that he was now going back to school for his second masters degree because he can’t get enough of reading and education.

Reading Like a Dyslexic Reader

Jill Stowell Dyslexia, General Information, Learning Disability

I recently took a trip to Paris. I don’t speak French and I don’t read French, but when French is all there is to read and you want to know where you are, what’s on the menu, and what you’re looking at, you have to try to read French.

I am completely mystified by the spelling of many French sounds, but what I found was that while I could never have read anything out loud in French, if I knew the context, I could recognize enough words or word parts that looked like something I knew (English or Spanish) that I could kind of figure it out.

I realized that I was reading like a dyslexic reader.

Often students with dyslexia have very good comprehension, so while they can’t read accurately or fluently while reading aloud, they may be able to read silently by looking for words and word parts they understand and connect-the-dots through their own knowledge of the context and their strong deductive reasoning.

Several things about this experience made me empathize with our dyslexic students.

First, it is so tempting just to ignore print because it’s too hard to make sense of.

Second, it takes much more energy and attention to try to make sense of the written word than it does when reading comes naturally for you.

And third, if I could read silently and had enough time, I could often get the gist of what I was reading.

Dyslexic students are often misunderstood by parents and teachers and even themselves because they can get just enough to look like they read better than they really do. This makes their performance very inconsistent and their avoidance of reading related tasks look like laziness or lack of motivation.

We’ll explore the real issues underlying dyslexia in another post, but here’s the important thing to understand about dyslexia: It doesn’t have to be permanent. By addressing the underlying auditory and visual processing challenges that cause reading to be confusing, the roadblocks to learning to read and spell can be dramatically changed or completely eliminated.

The Dyslexia Challenge:

If you are interested in really understanding what it feels like to have a reading or spelling challenge, join us for our upcoming simulation.

Dyslexia Simulation – April 20, 2013 – Chino, CA

Go to for info and RSVP

3 Reasons Why Your Child’s Attention Problem Might NOT Be ADHD (Part 2)

Jill Stowell ADHD, General Information, Learning Disability

What’s really going on when smart kids struggle to pay attention in school? What could be causing your child’s attention problem?

Last week we introduced 3 students who struggle to pay attention in school.

Jeremy’s constant wiggling not only keeps him from getting his work done, but is a real distraction to his classmates.

Manny is driving his teacher crazy (and subsequently his mom, too) because he’s clearly smart, but “chooses” to entertain the class rather than do his own work.

Sara’s teacher reports that she daydreams and simply doesn’t listen, and as a result, never knows what to do.

3 Students – 3 Different Learning Challenges Affecting Attention

Jeremy can’t sit still in his chair because of a retained primitive reflex called the Spinal Galant. 

Primitive reflexes are involuntary movements that are present in infants to help with the birthing process and adaptation as a newborn. If these reflexes don’t “disappear” within about the first year of life, they will continue to fire and cause neurological interference that can get in the way of efficient development and easy learning. This is called neurodevelopmental delay.

Jeremy’s retained Spinal Gallant reflex causes him to wiggle in his chair when he doesn’t mean to. When he tries hard to sit still, it takes all of his attention, so he can’t really think about what the teacher is saying or what he’s supposed to be doing on his assignments.

Manny is dyslexic. He’s very smart and very clever. He has memorized some words, but he can’t sound out new words and sometimes when he looks at the page, it seems like the words and letters are moving around. At nine-years-old, he’s already figured out that getting in trouble for “entertaining” his neighbors is better than anyone knowing he can’t read.

Sara has an auditory processing problem. She tries so hard to listen, but what she’s hearing is spotty and inconsistent, like a bad cell phone connection. She tries to fill-in the gaps, but pretty soon, it just doesn’t make sense and she can’t keep her attention on it anymore. 

Can These Challenges Be Fixed?

Weak or inefficient underlying learning/processing skills such as Jeremy’s neurodevelopmental delays, Manny’s challenges with visual and auditory processing skills related to reading, and Sara’s auditory processing problem, will stress the attention system. In class and during homework, this easily looks like an attention problem – even ADD or ADHD. But the attention problem is really just a symptom of weak underlying skills.

Here’s the great news: These underlying skills can be developed. Addressing the root cause of the poor attention symptom can eliminate the problem.

Is There Such a Thing As ADHD?

Yes, I believe that there are children and adults who truly have ADD or ADHD – an actual biochemical attention deficit. We just want to be careful not to assume that every student who struggles to pay attention in class has this diagnosis. The behaviors in class often look the same and as a result, far too many children end up on medication.

Because there does appear to be a biochemical component to a true attention deficit, we find that the best kind of treatment is a combination of attention focus training and addressing the biochemistry. Many of our clients are very successfully able to do this through diet and natural supplements.

Take a Walk in Their Shoes

Empathy is a first great step in understanding and helping students with learning and attention challenges. Here’s your chance. JOIN US for our upcoming simulations.

▪ Attention Challenges Simulation – April 13, 2013 – Irvine, CA
▪ Dyslexia Simulation – April 20, 2013 – Chino, CA

Go to for info and RSVP