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Guest Blog: “Dyslexia Should Be About Strengths, Not Shame,” by Ben Foss

Experts in dyslexia have for many years focused on teaching children to read in the conventional way. But there are hidden costs that impact many children who have a hard time in a mainstream classroom: shame and bullying.

I’m dyslexic. When I was a kid, my mom read aloud to me. When I went away to college, I used to fax my term papers home to her in New Hampshire and have her read them to me over the phone so I could find my own spelling mistakes.  I went on to become the Director of Access Technology at Intel Corporation, where I invented a device called the Intel Reader that could take a photograph of any printed material and read it aloud on the spot.

Inventing this device taught me that there are in fact three types of reading: eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading. Blind people read with their fingers, mainstream people read with their eyes. In my case, I use my ears. Here is a demonstration of how to read with your ears by using speech built into a standard iPad. This technology comes from Headstrong Nation,  the national organization for dyslexic people.

Many children who have difficulty learning to read with their eyes may be able to listen keenly.  In my case, I was able to go on and complete a law degree and a business degree at Stanford, and I recently wrote a book called The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning, published by Random House.  People need to understand that I did all this without reading with my eyes—instead I used books on tape or digital books like those available on Bookshare (which carries my book!).

It is very important for all children to get a fair chance at learning to read with their eyes. Think of reading with your eyes like walking up stairs into a building. If you can do it, it makes learning in a standard school convenient. However, if you can’t walk up stairs, a ramp makes all the difference in the world.

There is a hidden cost to focusing on eye reading in perpetuity—rather than spending two to three years working on it, ideally using an Orton-Gillingham-based methodology, and then shifting to other modes of learning such as ear reading. This hidden cost is shame. Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is feeling bad about something you did. Shame comes from not liking something you are.

We treat people who have difficulty learning to read as though they have a disease. Some experts say that they are “diagnosed” with dyslexia or that they “overcame” dyslexia. I’m from New Hampshire. We do not diagnose me as being from New Hampshire. I do not need to overcome the fact that I am from New Hampshire (unless you talk to my friends from our archrival Vermont).

I interviewed over 200 people who are dyslexic to create the Intel Reader.  There was a pronounced pattern of children self-harming: cutting themselves, starting to abuse drugs and alcohol, or developing an eating disorder because they felt unworthy.  Another cost to focusing on eye reading as the only form of reading is bullying. Bullies often taunt a child for not being able to do what a school system considers to be “normal.” But we have to remember, “normal” is only a setting on your dryer!  I encourage you to embrace a new way of thinking and to protect your child from shame and bullying. In the process, you might just ensure that your child will love learning and have a bright future.

Read Ben’s “Native Tongue”

I have found that people have a hard time believing my dyslexia when they see only the final product of my written work. These days, I generally speak to a computer and use Dragon Naturally Speaking to have it transcribed, greatly increasing my speed and accuracy when writing. For this blog, that material went through a few rounds of edits, including structural, content, and proofing. This further polished the material.

Below, you will see the first two paragraphs of this blog written again — as I would write it in raw format.  In this case, I listened to the text and transcribed it without the benefit of spell-check or word correction, which are now standard in most word processors.  I publish it so you can see “behind the curtain.”  Yes, I am dyslexic for life and proud. Consider this my—and all dyslexics’—native tongue.

dysleix ahousl be abl strenths not chame.

Experts in dyslexia have for many tears focus on reaching children to read in the coventional way. But there are hidden cos that impace many chillren in a mainstrem classroom. Shame an Bullying.

I know first habe about difficultly leanring to reach in a conventional way. I am dyslexic. When I wans a kid my mom read aloud to me. When I went to college I use fto fax them home to her in new hampshire and have her read them to me over the phone so I could find my won spelling mistakes. I want on to be come the director  acees technology at Intel, and invent a device called the intel reader. Thank could take phot graph of any printed material and read it aloud on the spot.

 

Ben Foss
Ben Foss

Ben Foss is dyslexic and the founder of Headstrong Nation, a national organization for dyslexic adults and parents of dyslexic kids. He earned a JD/MBA from Stanford and invented the Intel Reader, a mobile device that takes photos of text and recites it aloud on the spot.

Ben is the author of The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning. Bookshare members can download Ben’s book in the library.

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Kathy

    Thanks, Ben and Bookshare for all that you are doing to destigmatize dyslexia, and for providing easy access to books. You are making a difference in the lives of so many!

  2. Lorraine Cohn

    Thank you Ben Foss and Bookshare for making digitized books and software technology accessible for children and adults who have difficulty reading. I am an occupational therapist who works in two public middle schools with children who have been turned off to reading and to school because they have difficulty reading. They were evaluated by another occupational therapist and it took a year for them to get equipment, which is almost outdated, since it only gives them access to what bookshare has to offer and their current textbooks are not yet listed. I hope this book will help me get added funding so that I can have the school order a software program that does more.

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