Understanding and overcoming dyslexia

By Scott Halasz

February 11, 2014

YELLOW SPRINGS — Dyslexia is not a disabler. Rather, it’s an enabler. A noted attorney, a successful business magnate, a lieutenant governor and a groundbreaking financial adviser are living proof of that.

The neurological disorder affecting one in five kids nationally was the topic Wednesday night during a screening of the HBO Original documentary “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia” at Antioch University Midwest.

The 52-minute movie, directed by James Redford, spotlights three kids and a college graduate student who have the oft-misunderstood disorder and how they cope and move forward. All four have overcome the obstacle through tutoring and/or special schools and were proud to tell their stories.

Often thought of as a disease that simply causes people to read words in a wrong order, that myth was quickly shot down early in the movie by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and creativity. Dyslexia can include difficulty with spelling, phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds), and/or rapid visual-verbal responding. It can lead to poor test scores and poor performance in school despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence and sociocultural opportunity.

Dyslexia can also cause the usage of a wrong word at the wrong time. In the movie, a 12-year-old girl was walking down the street and noticed some people jaywalking. She told her father, “Those Presbyterians should be more careful.” She meant pedestrians but her brain was not processing correctly.

Those with dyslexia often have to come up with innovative and unique ways to learn, such as flash cards, constant re-writing or using a keyboard. In the movie, David Boies, who has repeatedly been chosen to try many of the nation’s landmark high-profile cases, said that’s how he continues to thrive.

Unable to read until the third grade and a slow reader to this day, he compensated by developing a keen memory and sense of concentration. He isn’t alone as Sir Richard Branson was able to start Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America airlines, among other businesses, despite dropping out of school at age 16. Gavin Newsom, second in command in California and Charles Schwab, founder of the first discount brokerage firm in America, also battle Dyslexia and shared their secrets in the movie.

Following the screening, a panel of Dayton area residents, who either have dyslexia or have children with dyslexia, addressed the crowd of about 100, took questions and offered suggestions. Charlie Wallace, a fifth-grader at Centerville’s Normandy Elementary School, was playing football with his father, Adam, three years ago when he suddenly fell to the ground and became emotional, expressing a desire to stop going to school. After testing, it was determined he had Dyslexia.

Charlie Wallace now reads at an eighth-grade level, thanks in part to his tutor at the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Dayton.

“We didn’t care as much about the (reading) levels,” Adam Wallace said. “We wanted him to be able to keep up.”

Now he, and others with Dyslexia are keeping up and moving ahead.