lori abrahams

Strengths of Dyslexia: Entrepreneurship and Neurodiversity

The advantages of thinking differently

I went to the “Strengths of Dyslexia: Entrepreneurship and Neurodiversity” workshop last Thursday. It was an all day conference hosted by Charles Schwab (yes, THAT Charles Schwab) at the Charles Schwab Learning Center on the Stanford Campus. It was both exciting and frustrating at the same time.


All of the speakers were phenomenal. Their expertise ranged from the elementary classroom to the college classroom to the boardroom. The focus was on moving students forward. That was the exciting part. The frustrating part was that the level of our knowledge is not being met in the world of education, as a whole. Sure, there is an occasional oasis (our school is an example) but overall, kids with dyslexia are still the outliers.


I listened to Dr. Lawrence Fung talk about “Positive Psychology,” turning challenges into strengths. Consider our students with ADHD as great creative, multi-taskers rather than fidgety.  Dyslexics equal entrepreneurially spirited as they are problem solvers, creative, and very observant.


I listened to a Professor from Trinity College in Dublin talk about embedding digital inclusion technology in curriculum for all students. There are exactly zero students that wouldn’t benefit from being exposed to multiple ways of learning. Make “our” curriculum available to all. As you can well imagine, that concept will be an uphill battle.


I listened to Maryanne Wolf state the obvious. THERE IS  NO ONE ANSWER FOR ALL. With a solid grounding in structured literacy all students can then proceed at their pace, be it whole language reading and writing or continued structured lessons. Her talk was met with applause and a standing ovation. I felt sorry for the next speaker. Which, as it turns out, was the aforementioned Professor from Trinity College.


She knew immediately what a prickly situation she was in. She walked on stage very hesitantly. She started with acknowledging how hard Dr. Wolf was to follow. Then she, perfectly segued with, “I’m going to have to follow the advice that I always give my student: Try not to compare and despair, but rather aspire to inspire.” I have to tell you, she had me from that point forward. Plus her slideshow included a picture of people kissing the Blarney Stone (which I have done) and then she asked who knew why people kissed the stone. Well, gentle reader, I knew the answer to that one too. People kiss the Blarney Stone to receive the gift of gab.


There was a panel discussion by adults working in the arts, discussing their dyslexia and how it shaped their lives. They offered me a crystal ball into what our kids may face. The good news is that they are thriving on all levels of their lives. They had to work harder than any of their contemporaries and they have no regrets. When asked the one thing that they would change it was keeping an open dialogue between students and educators. And between student to student. Give them the opportunity to share, with their colleagues, what worked and what didn’t and why. A very simple tool that we can offer immediately.


There were a couple of books recommended: Seeing What Others Cannot See: The Hidden Advantages of Visual Thinkers and Differently Wired Brains by Thomas West and Student Mental Health by Laura Roberts, editor. This last one is geared for professionals in higher education, but I wrote it down as several of the speakers had contributed to its production. One, Dr. Lawrence Fung, spoke about positive psychology that I mentioned earlier. He may have a chapter in this book, I’m not sure.


It was well worth the time I had to take away from Stellar. I loved being in a room, a huge room, full of people that “get it.” Our final commitment to one another was to keep the conversation going and to not just limit it to the halls of education where we are talking to the already convinced. And this post, gentle reader, is my first contribution to that conversation.


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