Dyslexia is a complex learning disorder that can be difficult for children suffering from it to understand. This video from Meghan Brubaker breaks down and explains dyslexia in simple language and easy-to-understand examples. Equally informative and encouraging, the video includes practical steps for overcoming dyslexia and concludes with a number of famous people from history who struggled with dyslexia. Although the video is addressed to children, the information it presents will be helpful to anyone seeking to understand and explain dyslexia more clearly.
Edward is a normal boy in fifth grade. He likes being with his friends, playing soccer, and building elaborate Lego structures. But there’s one way that Edward doesn’t feel normal. Edward struggles with reading. Ever since his class learned to read in grade one, Edward has been the slowest reader in the class. He doesn’t quite understand how everyone else does it so easily. Why is it so much harder for him? Edward decides he must be stupid. Why else would something that’s so easy for everyone else be so difficult for him?
Feeling Like Edward
Have you ever felt like Edward does? Maybe you’ve always found reading difficult, no matter how hard you try. Maybe you struggle to understand what you read because you’re working so hard to sound out the word. Maybe you hate to read in front of other people because it’s hard for you. Maybe you started to think that you’re stupid. Do you know what? You’re not alone! Reading struggles are actually very common. One in five people have a reading difficulty known as Dyslexia. That means that, if your school has 100 people, there are 20 people who struggle with reading.
The severity of Dyslexia varies from person to person. This means that one person with Dyslexia might struggle more than another person. It’s kind of like how lots of people have glasses, but not everyone’s glasses are the same strength. Different people need stronger or weaker glasses, depending on how bad their vision is.
You might be wondering, what does this Dyslexia thing even mean. Am I sick with some disease? What did I do to get it? Let’s take a look at what’s going on in the brains of people who have Dyslexia, and you’ll get answers to those questions. First, let’s think about everything that has to happen. In order for us to read, there’s actually a lot going on in our brain. We need to understand the way speech sounds make up words, focus our attention on the page, connect sounds to letters, blend letter sounds together, understand what we read, and store the new information in our memory. Wow! What a workout. Kids who have Dyslexia struggle with the beginning steps, so it makes all the rest of the steps even harder. It’s no surprise then that trying to read and dealing with Dyslexia makes the kids’ brain tired really fast. Dyslexia means that this person’s brain has trouble processing letters and sounds. It’s not that you have a seeing problem or a hearing problem. The sights and sounds of the letters come into your brain through your ears and eyes perfectly fine. The problem is what your brain does with them. This isn’t because you did anything wrong or because you’re dumb. Not at all.
Dyslexia is what we call genetic, which means that it’s just the way your brain is made. Just like some people have Brown eyes and some people have blue eyes, or some people grow taller and some people stay short, it’s not because of anything they’ve done. It’s just the way their bodies are made because of their DNA. You might have learned about that in science. So of course, since we all have different DNA, everyone’s brain is different.
Looking at the Brain
Researchers can watch people’s brains in a fancy machine called an fMRI. This helps them to figure out how our complex brains work. They have looked at lots of people’s brains while they’re reading, and they can see certain parts of the brain light up with activity. As they compared the brains of people who could read easily and people who struggled with reading, they noticed an interesting pattern. This is an image of the brain of someone who reads easily. Notice that three main areas of the brain are activated. Now, look at this picture of a brain with Dyslexia. Notice how they’re using completely different areas of their brains. Because of the way their brains are wired, they naturally use different areas of the brain when they read. Unfortunately, their brains aren’t choosing the easiest way, and that makes it really hard for them to read.
The Power of Practice
So does that mean that they’re just stuck with being that way? Well, people used to think that, but they were absolutely wrong. Think about it this way: different people are born with different athletic abilities. Some people can hit a baseball really easily and hit home runs all the time. Other people struggle to learn how to hit the ball, and they may strike out a lot. But the person who struggles with baseball can practice. If they spend hours practicing, they’ll get better and better at hitting a baseball. They might even get to the point where they can hit a home run sometimes. It will take more hard work for them than it does for the person who can naturally hit a baseball really well, but if they practice, they can get better. It’s the same way with reading. Someone who struggles with reading can practice, and they’ll get better at it. It will take time, and it’ll take hard work. But it is possible for their brain to learn how to use the right areas to read.
Here’s something really cool. You may have heard of programs like All About Reading or Barton. These programs help people with Dyslexia to retrain their brains how to read. Here’s the picture I showed you before of a brain with Dyslexia. Remember how it’s using the wrong areas to try to read? Well, after a year of working in a program like Barton, here’s a picture of the same brain. Wow! Look how much it has changed. And here’s what’s really exciting. Here is a picture of a brain without Dyslexia. Notice that hard work and using the Barton system has helped the brain with Dyslexia to start to use the proper areas for reading. This will make reading easier and easier. Just like the person who wants to get better at baseball, you will need to be willing to work hard. It might take a long time before you start to see changes. Our brains are amazing, but they also need time to learn new things well.
The important thing is for you to keep working hard on your reading program with your tutor. It’s also important that you read in your spare time, even if it still feels like hard work sometimes. And the most important thing is that you never give up.
Benefits of Dyslexia
There’s one more, really awesome thing that I wanted to tell you about. People with Dyslexia have a really cool brain. Because of the way brains with Dyslexia are wired, they tend to be more creative, better at problem solving, and more intuitive than most people’s brains are. They also might be extra strong in art, sports, or music, and be really good at building stuff. Researchers have found that people with Dyslexia tend to be able to solve problems or puzzles that most people think are impossible.
Lots of entrepreneurs, people who start their own businesses, have Dyslexia, and they do really well because they’re so creative and good at solving problems. Remember how we said that people with Dyslexia might think they’re stupid because reading is hard for them? I hope you’ve seen that that’s not true at all. Actually, a lot of really smart and talented people have Dyslexia, and it’s because of the strengths that come with Dyslexia that they’re able to do such amazing things.
Here are some people you may have heard of who have Dyslexia.
- Tim Tebow, a pro baseball and football player.
- Pablo Picasso, a very famous artist whose most expensive painting sold for over a hundred million dollars.
- George Washington, the first President of the United States.
- Henry Ford, inventor of the Model T car, and one of the most successful businessmen of his time.
- Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb and one of the most famous inventors ever.
- Leonardo DaVinci, an incredibly famous artist and a brilliant engineering scientist.
- Albert Einstein. When he was a boy in school, his teacher said that nothing would become of him because he struggled with several school subjects, especially writing. But of course, we know that he didn’t let that hold him back. He’s one of the most intelligent men who has ever lived. And you’ve probably heard many people call him a genius because of the amazing discoveries he made in math and physics.
Here’s the deal. Each of us is created differently. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses, but our brains have the ability to grow and change. So when we struggle with something, we can practice and get better at it. Dyslexia is definitely that way. You can train your brain to get better at reading. And more than that, your brain has awesome strengths that people without Dyslexia are usually weaker in. Just remember to keep working and never give up.
Books for Students
If you want to learn more, try reading these books.
Moore-Mallinos, J. (2007). It’s Called Dyslexia. B.E.S Publishing. goodreads.com/book/show/2125588.It_s_Called_Dyslexia
Polacco, P. (2001). Thank You Mr. Falker. Philomel Books. goodreads.com/book/show/216048.Thank_You_Mr_Falker
Robb, D. B. (2004). The Alphabet War: A Story about Dyslexia. Albert Whitman & Company. goodreads.com/book/show/1717761.The_Alphabet_War
“Dyslexia (for Kids) – Nemours Kidshealth.” Edited by Cynthia M. Zettler-Greeley, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Sept. 2018, kidshealth.org/en/kids/dyslexia.html.
Davis, Ronald. “List of Dyslexic Achievers.” Dyslexia the Gift, Davis Dyslexia Association International, 2020, dyslexia.com/about-dyslexia/dyslexic-achievers/all-achievers/.
Lyon, et al. “A Definition of Dyslexia.” Annals of Dyslexia, vol. 53, no. 1, 2003, pp. 1-14, jstor.org/stable/23764731
“Pablo Picasso’s Five Most Expensive Paintings Ever Sold.” The Economic Times, Panache, 17 May 2021, economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/100-million-club-pablo-picassos-five-most-expensive-paintings-ever-sold/articleshow/82706723.cms
Schneps, Matthew H. “The Advantages of Dyslexia.” Scientific American Mind, vol. 26, no. 1, 2015, pp. 24-25, jstor.org/stable/24946399
Shaywitz, Sally. Overcoming Dyslexia. New York, First Vintage Books, 2005, goodreads.com/book/show/801940.Overcoming_Dyslexia
CONTRIBUTOR: Meghan Brubaker