Dyslexia: Struggle & Strength


This photo story is about Kelley's daughter. It documents her dyslexia journey and seeks to inspire educators, parents and kids to reduce dyslexia's stigma and focus on building a strength mindset. The current set of images represents the project thus far - looking at her daughter's struggles and strengths both before and after her diagnosis (scroll down for the visual story).


Dyslexia is a learning disability, it is not a lack of intelligence, and it is more common than most people realize. Perhaps as many as 15–20% of the population as a whole have dyslexia. In fact, it is estimated that 40 million adults in the United States are dyslexic, yet just two million have been formally diagnosed. And, to make matters worse, 


“elementary schools across the country are teaching children to be poor readers — and educators may not even know it...


For decades, reading instruction in American schools has been rooted in a flawed theory about how reading works, a theory that was debunked decades ago by cognitive scientists, yet remains deeply embedded in teaching practices and curriculum materials. As a result, the strategies that struggling readers use to get by — memorizing words, using context to guess words, skipping words they don't know — are the strategies that many beginning readers are taught in school. This makes it harder for many kids to learn how to read, and children who don't get off to a good start in reading find it difficult to ever master the process.* 


A shocking number of kids in the United States can't read very well. A third of all fourth-graders can't read at a basic level, and most students are still not proficient readers by the time they finish high school”.**


The struggle of a dyslexic mind is known - challenges in reading, writing, spelling and memorizing facts. The strengths of a dyslexic mind are not so known, explored or celebrated. But, they need to be.


“Though children with dyslexia experience difficulties in processing the written language, they are often bright, creative, and talented individuals. Strengths may include mechanical aptitude, artistic ability, musical gifts, and athletic prowess. The dyslexic student may also show advanced social skills as well as talents in computer/technology, science, and math.”***


In a survey of over 50,000 self-made millionaires, 40% of entrepreneurs were found to show signs of dyslexia. The world famous Richard Branson, a dyslexic himself, publicly stated that dyslexia should be considered a sign of potential, rather than a handicap. Many famous and highly successful business leaders believe that the cognitive diversity afforded by their dyslexia has actually been a central reason for their success.


My daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia at 7 years old, in the summer before staring 2nd grade - a diagnosis I took upon myself to seek. Her school did not screen for dyslexia, although she did receive pull-out reading intervention starting in the middle of 1st grade,.


My story seeks to look back through her childhood and visually identify the early signs of her dyslexic strengths and to further explore and celebrate her currently developing strengths -  writing, creativity, visual arts, and music. Her story also includes her struggles and the accommodations she needs to develop her reading acumen. 


And with COVID and the abrupt switch to a remote learning environment, the struggle of her dyslexia has become even more acute and more front and center in her daily life. She had an online tutor to coach her through virtual schooling last spring because she needed a lot of accommodation, she attended a virtual dyslexia summer camp (originally meant to be in-person), she worked with an online tutor on special projects throughout the summer to keep her skills sharp and to minimize the summer slide, she currently works with a certified language therapist for a rigorous reading intervention program conducted virtually, and she is working with a tutor to guide and coach her through the beginning of her virtual 3rd grade year.


As my daughter struggles with reading and spelling, I want her to know that her dyslexia is a special gift that brings with it strengths and talents to be recognized, developed and celebrated.


And, I want her story to be an inspiration to others. I want parents not to take a “wait and see” approach when they detect reading challenges with their kids. Early diagnosis and appropriate reading intervention is critical to future success. I want to reduce the stigma surrounding dyslexia and help parents and kids understand that a dyslexia diagnosis is not only about the challenges that need to be overcome but also about the extraordinary talents that can be explored.


Recently when a Mom asked me why her son should get formally diagnosed with dyslexia, I asked my daughter what my response should be. She told me to tell the Mom  - “so he is confident in himself and so he doesn’t feel dumb”.

**At a Loss for Words: How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers. https://www.apmreports.org/episode/2019/08/22/whats-wrong-how-schools-teach-reading

***Ron Yoshimota, National Dyslexia Expert