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The Power of Dyslexic Thinking

Categories: Learning Disabilities

  Is dyslexia a gift in disguise? And if so, are we obscuring that gift by “fixing” dyslexic kids into a “normal” mode based purely on reading, writing and math skills? Robert Langston thinks so -- and as a third-generation dyslexic person who gets 85 percent of his knowledge from listening, he is also worth listening to. RFB&D was first introduced to Rob in October 2009, while meeting with Bob Levy and Madelyn Ferris from The Professor Garfield Foundation in Indiana. PGF is a not-for-profit  educational collaboration between Paws, Inc., the global headquarters for Garfield the Cat, and Ball State University.
More recently, Rob praised RFB&D’s free audio books for people with print disabilities in his ongoing Power of Dyslexic Thinking blog at Psychology Today. Professor Garfield and RFB&D continue to collaborate on a number of initiatives to raise awareness and acceptance of learning differences. For example, RFB&D and Garfield will be co-exhibiting at the upcoming International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference June 27-30 in Denver, Colorado.In Rob’s second book, The Power of Dyslexic Thinking: How a Learning DisAbility Shaped Six Successful Careers, he illustrates how people with dyslexia can be highly successful, by learning to embrace how they actually think: creatively, in visual, spatial, conceptual, and intuitive ways.These leaders make the most of their relationships with people, as opposed to reams of reports or screens of data. In a sense, dyslexics, unbound by the limitations of text, often do a better job of “reading” people.What’s more, dyslexics can recognize opportunities quickly because they are, by nature, more attuned to the majority of communication that is nonverbal. Their spatial and conceptual thinking side is not bogged down by a series of marks on a page or screen. They tend to work better with people because they are more able to focus on what people do and how they feel rather than just what printed symbols they present. This is in line with two well-known sayings: “Tell me and I may forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I understand” (Chinese proverb) and “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” (Maya Angelou). In addition to chronicling his own career, Rob profiles high achievers like Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s (photo left); Paul Smith, former president of the Kroger Company’s Atlanta division; Phil Jacobs, former president of the Community Technologies group for BellSouth Corporation; Charles Schwab, founder and CEO of the Charles Schwab Corporation; and Mike Peters, one of America’s most prominent cartoonists and the creator of the popular comic strip, Mother Goose & Grimm. Lest anyone think this is simply an anecdotal account of how dyslexics have been successful in business (often as CEOs), Langston also cites his own functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) scans . . . as well as emerging findings from several leading authorities in the field. This lends credence to the idea that reliance on other neural systems, for problem solving as well as reading, may allow for more “big picture” or “out of the box” thinking.  The ‘technology’ of reading and writing is a relatively recent twist: one that not every brain can easily process. The sad truth underscored by Rob’s book is that reading is not always “fundamental.” Our brains were wired to speak and understand speech – and while that served us well for thousands of years, the ‘technology’ of reading and writing is a relatively recent twist: one that not every brain can easily process. Quoting another passage in Rob’s book, Gordon Sherman, Ph.D., Executive Director of The Newgrange School and Education Center, notes that, “If students are having a hard time understanding the technology of reading, then we should use a different technology to get information across to them. Instead of reading the printed page, kids with dyslexia can learn by listening to books, for example.” Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic has long been a pioneer in providing this kind of different technology – and we are more focused than ever on helping to make that technology possible in the future. This echoes Paul Orfalea’s comment in his own book that “managers are in the present, and leaders are in the future.” To make a difference for kids who learn differently, and following entrepreneur Orfalea’s example, we are tapping into strong demand by providing “a means of helping people laboring with an unimaginable variety of desperate needs that the marketplace had yet to even identify.” Coming this week:  An exclusive one-on-one interview with Rob Langston gives a “direct read” on what’s powering his own dyslexic thinking lately.  Andy O'Hearn