“Dyslexic people are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. They have to be, because they do not see or solve problems the way other people do. It is not a bad thing to be different. Sometimes it’s the mark of being very, very talented.” – Rick Riordan
“Dr. Dickson has an uncanny ability to understand people and situations, to “sense” them within a few seconds of encountering the person or witnessing a situation. Simply put, her mind works on a different level than the rest of us and having her on my side, helping me through my issues, is invaluable to me.” – Prior client
Anyone who knows me would tell you that I am a creative, out-of-the-box thinker with excellent analytical and intuitive skills. My memory is superb, I think in pictures and can quickly identify connections between unrelated concepts. As a result, I’ve been called “gifted,” “brilliant,” and “intelligent” but this was not always the case. In fact, people believed I had low intelligence as a child.
When I started kindergarten, I was placed in special education even though at age 5 I had won an award for the most creative drawing in elementary school. But needless to say, I was taken out of the classroom for 2 hours every day receiving one-on-one instruction and placed in the lowest learning level.
In 3rd grade when I received all 1’s on my report card, I thought I was #1 not that I failed. The school told my parents I needed to be held back because at age 9 I still could not read. My father believed the public school was incompetent so he enrolled me in private school for 4th grade.
Special education services in the 1980s did very little to correctly diagnose or remediate my learning difference, which was dyslexia. People with dyslexia have difficulty reading or interpreting words, letters, and other symbols.
My grandparents were very upset that I could not read. My grandmother had a brother with Down syndrome. She oversaw his care when he was an adult and spent every weekend visiting him in a facility and taking him on outings. I joined my grandparents almost every weekend to visit him. My grandparents feared that I had similar learning challenges as my uncle.
Since the private school did not offer special education services, my grandparents took over my education and tutoring. Every day after school for two to three hours my grandparents redid my school lessons. When I started to read a great relief came over them. I worked with them from 4th – 8th grade. They were rigorous yet compassionate and helped me develop a disciplined mind and craft my memorization skills. They taught me to read by memorizing words from a pocket dictionary. At the end of 4th grade I was able to read at grade level, but every summer until I was 17 my grandparents bribed me to participate in a reading program.
My grandparents were interesting teachers. They were both blue-collar workers who only finished 8th grade. Since they had no idea what they were doing, they approached educating me in a different way than a traditional teacher. Looking back, they were the best teachers I could have had!
When I returned to public school in 5th grade I tested at the 5th-grade level so I was able to remain in the classroom. At this point, all special education services ended but my grandparents continued to tutor me.
I never received school accommodations or an individualized education plan (IEP) in public school or college. Luckily computers were available when I turned 18 so I had access to spelling and grammar software. This was critical as I continued to struggle with writing and spelling.
When I entered college, I failed the English proficiency test and was placed in remedial English. However, when I took the math proficiency test I was placed in advanced calculus.
As I continued in college, I became highly skilled at using the grammar and spelling software on my computer which allowed me to produce grammatically correct, error-free papers. As a result, I took an advanced expository writing class. It was in this class that I would be rewarded for the first time for dyslexic thinking.
Creative, out-of-the-box, abstract thinking was highly valued by the English department at my University. The ability to critically analyze the text and develop creative, compelling arguments was something I did with ease. My English professor used my papers to teach the class and asked me to facilitate the small group sessions. I went from being uncertain about my academic abilities to being a star English student who was hired by the University as an expository writing tutor and paid 4x the minimum wage at the time.
I was encouraged by my English professors to pursue a Ph.D. in English literature but I was passionate about becoming a psychologist. I wanted to help people and companies analyze their problems and find creative solutions to break out of unhealthy cycles.
Dyslexic thinking is still my greatest gift and is behind my success as a psychologist.
Looking back at my educational experience, I’ve realized it was not me who was disabled, it was the school system. Just because I could not fit into their one size fits all style of learning did not mean there was anything wrong with me. If the school system offered project-based learning, many learning disabilities would be eradicated.
If we truly value diversity and wish to be inclusive of all students we must change the educational system. A one size fits all style of education does not value diversity and is not inclusive. It disadvantages over 20% of the students who learn differently from the norm. The traditional education system forces children to follow a strict protocol of standardized learning methods. Today we call this learning method the “common core.” If this learning model worked, 85.7% of children polled would not report hating school. Reading, writing, memorization, and regurgitation of facts are critical for success in this system.
Children with dyslexia have significant challenges with reading and writing. It takes us longer to process the written word and we quickly zone out when lectured to in large groups. As a result, many children with dyslexia are also diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and given stimulants. Drugging our children to fit into the system is not a solution. Changing the educational system and creating alternative models of learning is the solution. However, this would require more resources for schools.
Until the educational system changes, children who learn differently will be made to feel they are the problem. These children will be given “accommodations” and IEP’s so they can function within a non-inclusive system that values uniformity over diversity. As a result, many of their precious gifts will be ignored or lost, and they will never meet their true potential.
If your child struggles with a “learning difference” and needs help building his or her self-confidence as well as identifying his or her unique gifts and talents, please reach out to me for an appointment. I am here to help.
Below are some of my favorite resources for children diagnosed with dyslexia.