Focusing on strengths
The tests that you use to assess a child informally may well show average or above average strengths as well as revealing weaknesses.
It is vital to discover the child’s strengths. It is your role as educator to discover, insist on, celebrate and develop any of your pupils’ particular abilities.
This is the first step on the path to regaining self-confidence, to triggering motivation, and for people with dyslexia to discover how to cope with their individual learning weaknesses.
In section 1 we described some average or above average abilities that the child with dyslexia can often show. Can you list some of them?
- a marked spatial ability shown, for example, by skills in building models without reading the instructions
- the ability to think deeply about things and ask pertinent and sensible questions, using advanced vocabulary
- well-developed social awareness and being aware of the needs of others
- the ability to solve problems rapidly
- high performance in geometry, and at chess, cards and computer games
What kinds of career do you think these abilities are suited to?
Here is a statement from Robin who battled with his dyslexia but went on to achieve a diploma with distinction in modern languages and linguistics. Please read what he has to say carefully and discuss the points we have highlighted.
‘Parents and teachers of dyslexic children may find themselves bewildered and confused when their child, who appears to be so intelligent, under-performs at school and never achieves his/her goals when it comes to reading and writing. This is frustrating all round – for the child, the parents and the teacher. Yet these children are not alone. Throughout history, many famous people, according to popular belief, have been regarded as being both gifted and dyslexic, they include: Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Leonardo de Vinci, Richard Branson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cher, and Jackie Stewart. By looking at these outstanding dyslexics, we can see that dyslexia is no barrier to success.
These are not unusual examples. On a daily basis, dyslexics succeed in a whole range of areas, from scientists and engineers to artists and architects. Dyslexia shows itself as a difficulty related to the acquisition and processing of language. As a consequence, many teachers and parents may see the dyslexic as lacking motivation and label him as being ‘thick’. Such labels are not only inappropriate, but wrong, and even harmful when any giftedness is not only ignored but actively suppressed.
Take Boas, a brilliant young man who can speak fluently and idiomatically in various languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, English, French and German, besides having a command of Dutch, Italian and Spanish. Although also highly competent at mathematics, Boas never succeeded in passing his secondary school exams because of his severe dyslexia, which meant he could neither read nor write. Yet Boas can most certainly be described as highly intelligent.
Intelligence implies that a person has exceptional overall cognitive skills. Unfortunately for the dyslexic, these cannot be accessed by means of normal education. This is the case with Boas, who frequently complains that he can indeed learn but he does so differently. This is something parents and educators should think about. These children can flourish, but they need to be taught in a different way; using, for example, multi-sensory methods and teaching techniques that suit their particular learning style.
As parents and educators, we should be looking out for the characteristics dyslexic children can show. We should also be aware that the reason why some dyslexics are never ‘discovered’ by teachers and educators may just be that their gift is masking their dyslexia, or indeed vice versa. Like Boas, there are many dyslexics who should be regarded as individuals with highly developed intellectual capabilities, combined with a neurologically based difficulty – students who will require a different approach to stimulate their creativity and the full use of their intellectual powers. Again, this may be frustrating for some teachers and parents. It is hard for them to understand the huge gap between the intellectual and creative capabilities of the child, and his or her actual performance. Consequently, most educators and parents will believe that the student is lazy, whilst in fact the opposite is true. The main characteristic of dyslexics whose giftedness comes to the fore may well be their endurance.
My first year was very hard – a real challenge. I had to re-sit the year, but refused to give in, even when, in the second year, I was finally diagnosed as dyslexic. In the end, despite my learning difficulties, I graduated with honours.
How can educators and parents help? One of the most important issues that teachers and parents have to realize is that giftedness comes in different forms. The most known and, therefore, recognized types are: logical, mathematical and linguistic intelligence. Setting aside performance in reading and writing, these are also the talents required to succeed in mainstream education. Yet, there are four other types of intelligence that enrich lives, but often go unappreciated: spatial, musical, physical (bodily-kinesthetic), and social (intra and inter-personal). It is often in these areas that dyslexics shine and it is key that these qualities are recognized and stimulated. Another quality that needs to be acknowledged is that most dyslexics are simultaneous, rather than sequential, thinkers. Simultaneous thinkers immediately see the entire picture or a range of possibilities; whereas, sequential thinkers need to puzzle out the meaning step-by-step before they see the answer.
In order to help them grow to their full potential, schools and parents need to actively seek out and allow the individual talents of the dyslexic child to flourish, even if this requires the teacher to adopt a quite different, even revolutionary, approach. If a multi- sensory method is used in an encouraging and supportive classroom atmosphere, the dyslexic student’s self-esteem has a chance to grow and give life to their extra-ordinary strengths, so that they can grow into successful adults.’
Note: some experts say that Churchill and Einstein were not dyslexic.
Not all people with dyslexia are extraordinary achievers. Some experienced teachers lay less emphasis on ‘giftedness’ or outstanding strengths.
On the other hand, most people have one ability or interest the classroom teacher can encourage them to develop. This can stimulate learning in other areas besides raising self-esteem.