A 66-year-old man talks about dyslexia, his struggle to learn to read and the shame and frustration that plagued him in school.
"In my case I was unable to read for at least two years. I was two years behind the rest of my class," he relates. "I was embarrassed to stand up in front of the class and read."
And because he was slow to read, he became the target for bullies, making school an agony. So how did he cope? Well, since the man in question is, that answer is obvious—he started to make movies. As a youngster, Spielberg discovered that while he might have a hard time reading a story, with a camera he could tell one. However, even with all his success, Spielberg didn’t learn that he was dyslexic until he reached 60. The diagnosis came as a huge relief.
"[It] explained a lot of things. It was like the last puzzle part in a tremendous mystery that I kept to myself all of these years," he says.
October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month, and Spielberg’s revelation is helping to draw focus to a condition that affects approximately 10 percent of the population. Simply stated, dyslexia is a learning disability that affects the way a person perceives printed text and sometimes numbers. A classic dyslexic struggles with written and spoken language, which then impacts things like the ability to spell accurately. And because most dyslexics test out at the high end of the intelligence spectrum, if the condition goes undiagnosed, it can lead to great frustration and behavioral problems. There is no “cure” for dyslexia, however, along with greater awareness of the condition, education specialists have developed successful strategies for diagnosing and coping with the condition.
Jemicy Upper School, in Maryland, is one of the nation’s top schools for kids dealing with language-based learning challenges like dyslexia. What’s the Jemicy formula for success?
"They are more hands-on,” says one student. “If you have a question, since it's a very small class, they will go over it with you as much as you need to."
"The teachers help you, and we use smart boards, and it's hands-on. They really care,” states another. “They care that you do well."
According to the school’s head, Ben Shifrin, the Jemicy mission is to give bright, talented students the tools to deal with their disability.
"These are students who really get the big picture. Comprehension is not an issue,” he says. “In fact, they tend to be gifted in comprehension and understanding the world. They just struggle with the mechanics of language.”
And the students at Jemicy have some pretty powerful role models. There is a formidable list of famous, accomplished dyslexics, including, , , , , , and Albert Einstein. As for Mr. Spielberg, he says his own experience of being a kind of goofy outcast in school helped inform him when he wrote the script for the film “The Goonies.”