A big part of being successful when you’re dyslexic is being able to engage people who don’t know much about dyslexia in a conversation. I like starting with some stats: “Dyslexics are 10 percent of people, 35 percent of entrepreneurs and 41 percent of prisoners.” People nod when they hear 10 percent; their eyes widen when they hear 35 percent; they cock their heads to the side in genuine surprise and interest when they hear 41 percent. These three numbers tell a story about our community, and they will provoke a conversation—which is really your ultimate goal. A good gag line following this is to say, “Of course, entrepreneurs and prisoners are not mutually exclusive!” Try this out on someone you’re just meeting and I’ll bet you get a big smile.
Don’t be afraid to use hard science to spark interest. Explaining that dyslexia happens in the “language processing center of the brain”—and then pointing with your finger to a spot right above your ear—is one of the most effective openers I use. Remarking that “this region is called the temporal parietal lobe” makes people think, “Oh, he must know what he’s talking about.”
Another savvy way to introduce the topic of dyslexia, or other specific learning disabilities, is to name the emotional realities at play. Unfortunately people often make (wrongheaded) assumptions that a person who is dyslexic is lazy or stupid. When Intel launched its reader for dyslexic people, a device I invented, one of the biggest websites around went with the headline “Intel launches a reader for the lazy and the infirm.” When I saw this I (eventually) thought “thank you." They had said out loud what many people are too polite to mention. Four years later, the headline is still up!
You can use a little conversational judo in situations like this by saying, “I’m nervous to tell you about my child’s profile. He is so talented, but some people assume that if you’re dyslexic you’re lazy or stupid.” Immediately, the person hearing this has to check their assumptions and, hopefully, start seeing your child’s talents.
This last part is key: Be sure to talk about your child’s strengths. In my years as Director of Access Technology at Intel, I did over 200 interviews with dyslexic folks and found that we frequently have strengths in one of the following eight areas: verbal, social, narrative, spatial, kinesthetic, visual, mathematical/scientific or musical. Famous dyslexics Whoopi Goldberg and Anderson Cooper are exceptional in verbal skill, whereas dyslexics Steven Spielberg and John Irving are talented in narrative skills. Spend time identifying your child’s greatest strengths. To make this easier, I’ve included a simple-to-use measure I call the Strength Star in my new book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint to Renew Your Child's Confidence and Love of Learning.
Above all, you want to practice telling these stories until you’re confident and easy with them. Your body language sets the tone for how the conversation will go. When it comes to dyslexia, you can be proud of your community!
See 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 four rounds of edits, including structural, copy and proofing, further polishing the material.
Below is the first paragraph of this blog written 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 now standard in most word processors. I publish it to let you see “behind the curtain.” Yes, I am dyslexic for life and proud. Consider this my, and all dyslexics’, native tongue.
a big part of being successful when you are dslexic is being able to engage people whenwho don;t knwo much about dyslexi in a conversation. I liks starting with some stats. Dyslexics are 10 percent of epople , 35% of entreprenuers and 41& of prisoners. People nod their heads when you say tn persent, they cock the head ot the sdie when they hear 35% and they ier eye widen in genuine suprise when they hear 41%. The three number tell a story about our communiti and they will provide a conversation about our community, which is really your goal. A good gag line follwoing this is to say "Of cousr, pentreprenuers and prisoner s are not mutually exclusive!" Thy this out on someone you are just meeting and I will be you get a big smile.