By Cheri Rae
We’re smack in the middle of Dyslexia Awareness Month—which inspired me to hop in the car on Sunday morning and drive down to L.A. to take in a screening of a newly released independent film, “Dislecksia: The Movie.”
It was well-worth the 200-mile trip to view this accessible approach to a serious subject. Filmmaker Harvey Hubbell V (who has dyslexia) has created a personal documentary that informs, enlightens and entertains viewers about a subject that affects 1 in 5 individuals. But as he reveals with person-on-the-street interviews, far too many know far too little about such a common condition.
He tells the story—his own story—about the smart kids who enter school with excitement and enthusiasm—who end up crushed and confused by third grade because they struggle so much with the printed word.
As they get older, they are the kids who find every reason not to read out loud—and when they do make the whole classroom uncomfortable. The ones who have trouble taking notes in class; who look out the window while the teacher delivers an endless lecture. The ones who excel at storytelling in vivid detail, yet who have great difficulty writing it down: misspellings, poor penmanship and confusing one homonym with another may characterize their written work.
They are the ones who frustrate themselves, their parents and their teachers in their long journey from one joyless grade to another—the ones who just don’t seem to live up to their potential. Nothing seems to help, and no one seems to know what to do.
Too often these kids are considered unmotivated, hopeless cases who just don’t care about doing well in school. Too often they are blamed for their failure to get with the program in school—yet they may have great success outside of the classroom. Hubbell provides interviews with the Emmy-award-winning Billy Bob Thornton; the brilliant lawyer David Boies (who represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore) and shares his own personal story that is both heartbreaking and heartfelt in its simplicity—a story that feels all-too-familiar, certainly to this mother of a son with dyslexia. I was moved to laughter and tears during the 84-minute film.
The movie presents dyslexia researchers in countries from Finland to China to the U.S. who are studying the unique wiring and neurological differences in the brains of those with dyslexia—as well as some innovative and creative approaches to teaching that benefit everyone.
Without appropriate intervention and specific, research-based teaching methods—typically found only in pricey private schools scattered across the country—students with dyslexia may never reach their potential for success, and they may work far too hard along the way. Yet, they may end up as the best and the brightest, the most innovative thinkers; the most creative artists; the best athletes among us.
Anecdotal stories about successful individuals with dyslexia who struggled in school abound: Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson; paleontologist and consultant for “Jurassic Park,” Jack Horner; real estate mogul and one of television’s “Shark Tank” sharks Barbara Corcoran; and of course, one of the smartest guys who ever lived, Albert Einstein—the list of accomplished entrepreneurs and millionaires is nearly endless.
However, for many decades, struggle has just been seen as the inevitable consequence of having dyslexia. And dyslexia has been considered a learning disability instead of a learning difference.
But the times are changing—just not fast enough. There is no reason at all for 20 percent of our schoolchildren to suffer and struggle in school when research proves they simply need to be taught differently. But the collision of politics, educational policies and ignorance—with untrained educators, unaware parents and a persistent disability model—combine to keep dyslexia regarded with denial, confusion and shrugs.
As the movie clearly shows, it’s up to parents to educate themselves so they can advocate for their children to get them the education they deserve. If not, we can point to far too many examples of how we pay dearly—as individuals and as a society—for our failure to simply teach children to read. When kids can’t read they turn into teens in trouble, and adults who give up hope.
Hubbell is taking the show on the road, and will be making West Coast appearances, likely in January. We’re in talks to bring “Dislecksia: The Movie” to Santa Barbara—so watch for further information about this very common learning difference that is too often treated as a disability. Please let me know of your interest by writing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheri Rae is the Director of The Dyslexia Project in Santa Barbara, CA. She recently worked with the Santa Barbara Unified School District to create the Parent Resource Center to help inform and inspire parents of different learners.