The Windward School in White Plains hosted a dyslexia panel before an audience of parents, teachers and students and screened the HBO documentary, “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia”. Among the subjects featured were some very high-profile dyslexics such as Richard Branson and Charles Schwab, but the film more importantly demonstrated that while the condition can obviously be overcome, an ordinary constraint always remains — no matter the resulting level of success or celebrity.
“Dyslexia robs you of Time,” said David Boies, the attorney who argued to overturn California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage and represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore in 2001, among many other notable cases.
In turn, what many don’t understand is that dyslexia is a learning disability not a thinking disability and each student has to ultimately figure out what method enables him to learn. The film called it “cracking the code,” which drew a knowing applause from the audience.
Skye Lucas, age 14, appearing in the film and on the panel, verified the sentiment. Coming to Windward in 7th grade, her dyslexia had her in a near state of illiteracy. The crucial elixir that Windward provided helped her go from failing grades to straight A’s, according to Dr. Jay Russell, head of Windward.
Unfortunately, the educational system in general lags behind in recognizing the condition and addressing it through proven interventions. “In Skye’s case,” said Ms. Lucas, “her previous school gave up on my daughter.”
One of the crucial hurdles is getting schools to understand the paradoxical nature of dyslexia. “The condition contains both strengths and weaknesses and that can be difficult to convey,” said Dr. Russell.
On the downside, dyslexics tend to jumble and misinterpret letters and symbols, but the bigger picture puts them in prime position to succeed. According to the film, which was directed by James Redford — the son of Robert Redford, an elevated level of creativity and imagination means they just don’t think in the same box as everyone else.
It then becomes a matter of giving the student the chance to express it. Cracking the code aside, schools need but don’t always take into account the added time factor alluded to by David Boies above — especially in terms of taking tests. Dylan Redford, grandson of Robert Redford expressed on film the difficulty that reading creates. “There’s so much performance anxiety during tests that I couldn’t understand anything,” he said.
In turn, a parent from the audience voiced frustration as to why consideration is lacking from those who should know best. “Why don’t these top educators understand that extra time does not create an advantage for my son,” she said, but rather enables him to succeed.
Dr. Sally Shaywitz of the Center for Dyslexia and Creativity at Yale and author of “Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level”, acknowledged the pervading problem and the importance of raising awareness. “We all have to get headmasters to understand that dyslexics are diamonds in the rough,” she said to the audience.
Even so, given that chance, Dylan still ran into problems when trying to get into colleges. “They were concerned that the services received in high school — no matter the good grades — meant he would not be able to survive on his own,” he lamented in the film.
He eventually did get into the college of his choice, but David Boies discounted the traditional machinations students go through to arrive at the place where colleges consider them a success. “Tests let educators know how good you are at memorizing, but employers want to know how well you can think and problem solve,” said the acclaimed attorney.
Cracking one’s code implies that inherently and all the extra work dyslexics put in to keep pace becomes second nature. Richard Branson, Charles Schwab and David Boies prove that. Skye is not timid in admitting the part her condition played in the success she’s turned her young life into. “Dyslexia made me who I am and I would not be as brave as I am without it,” she concluded.