I am a two-time Olympian champion and Founder of the AL Sailing Foundation. Although I have been successful in life, I haven't excelled at everything. My reading and writing skills have always been a challenge for me because I have dyslexia. Today, my life's journey is to inspire children, like me, to excel in their learning process and to understand that they can thrive. I also want to encourage educators who work with children with learning disabilities to look beyond the obvious struggle of many students and to help them find their strengths.
Encouragement is key
Throughout my early childhood, I knew I was not a good reader. I had fears of being "swallowed up" by my disorder. I didn't learn like other kids. With the help and understanding of my teachers, I eventually recognized my abilities and passion. I came to embrace my learning differences and found my niche.
At that time, technology was in its infancy. We didn't have it in school, and we relied on our teachers for everything. Thankfully, my teachers built up my confidence. They gave me strategies to cope with my learning struggle. They helped me sharpen my skills. They gave me fortitude to keep moving ahead, like we do in sailing competitions.
What would I wish for students with dyslexia?
Technology, like a quality reading accommodation with audiobooks, can give a child with a reading deficit an opportunity to learn just as fast as someone who can read a printed book well. If a child doesn't read or write well, it doesn't mean they have a low IQ.
I wish more educators were trained to understand the truth about dyslexia and the research on brain-based learning disabilities. Dyslexics don't learn as fast as others, but we do have the ability to succeed.
I would like to see more schools have independent programs to address learning differences, and I admire the work of Dr. Tim Conway at the Morris Center in Alabama. Dr. Conway is a neuropsychologist (with remediated Dyslexia.) He has spent a lifespan studying neuropsychology, neurorehabilitation, neuroimaging (SPECT, fMRI and DTI) and neurodevelopmental issues. His transdisciplinary team work with children, teenagers, and adults with neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. Conway has published a series of academic papers to help to diagnose/identify and improve the learning skills of children with dyslexia, including academic, language, motor, and memory.
Celebrate our differences
Children with difficulty reading or writing should never be defined as a poor learner. We all need to acknowledge this and structure our teaching in different ways. Some children need more time on tasks. Others need accommodations. Others might need a learning space that is quiet. Whatever works for the child. My teachers did that for me, and helped me become who I am today - a confident human being who happens to love sailing and learning.
Andrew Lewis will keynote at Learning Ally's 2021 Spotlight on Dyslexia virtual conference on Friday, June 4, 2021.