The following is an excerpt from the introduction of the book The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning, by Ben Foss.
Some people think being successful when you are dyslexic means “overcoming” dyslexia. Nothing could be further from the truth. By many measures, I have achieved success: I have worked in the White House; I’ve got a combined JD/MBA from Stanford University; I directed a research group at Intel; I started Headstrong Nation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to serving the dyslexic community; and now, in the ultimate irony for a dyslexic person, I’ve written a book.
I know that I’ve been able to accomplish my goals because I have integrated dyslexia into my life, not because I overcame it. It is part of who I am, just as I am a man and I am from New Hampshire. Indeed, I have found that my greatest strengths are directly tied to my most severe weaknesses. It is the process of recognizing my weaknesses and strengths—and connecting them in my life—that has made me successful and, more important, happy.
What I’ve learned can provide a path to independence for anyone who is dyslexic. It took me almost twenty-five years to fully embrace my dyslexia, and throughout the book you’ll follow my journey. My goal is to give you the tools to empower your child so that you can let go of your own fears, opening the door to a successful future for both of you. If I had had these tools when I was growing up, I would have started the integration process much earlier and skipped years of debilitating shame.
This book is not like anything else you have read about dyslexia or specific learning disabilities, the legal category under which services for us dyslexics are provided. Whereas most other books or “experts” will promise a cure for your child, I’m here to say that the real truth is that there is no disease. In the mainstream dyslexics are the minority, but that doesn’t make us less valuable. We just do things a little differently. To use a commercial metaphor, it’s like we’re Macs, whereas the majority of people are PCs. This book—and your mission as a parent—it’s about moving the model for your child from dyslexia as disease to dyslexia as identity, an identity we can all be proud of.
Welcome to Dyslexia
Whether your child is on the cusp on being identified or you’ve known about his dyslexia for quite some time, I say welcome to the club! It’s safe here, and you can let go of your fear and anxiety about this identification. Believe me, I know how you feel. I was there and so were my parents, and I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that it will get better. Indeed, you’re going to have fun. That may seem overly optimistic, but I am confident that if you work through the steps in this book, your child will reclaim her joy of learning and you will both thrive.
There are countless accomplished people who are already in this club today. They are successful academics, win Nobel Prizes, make major contributions to the arts, and are at the top of the medical, legal, and business worlds. They are cops and firefighters and pilots. They are teachers and authors, entrepreneurs and filmmakers. In short, they are able to do whatever they want once they master a few simple rules of success. Whether you are dyslexic yourself, the parent of a dyslexic child, or both, know that you are not alone. This book will show you the path to figuring all of these rules out for yourself, your child, and your family.
Regardless of cultural or economic differences, I feel a great sense of community with everyone who is dyslexic. It’s like we grew up in the same place, the same country—the Nation of Dyslexia. We have a shared experience, a connectedness, and it’s palpable when we are together. Many of us have the same strengths (exceptional auditory or verbal skills, or the ability to think strategically) and the same weaknesses (such as reading poorly). Dyslexia is part of more than 30 million Americans—one in ten of us. Every time your child gets on the school bus and there are fifty people on that bus, there are likely five other kids who are dyslexic.
In the Nation of Dyslexia, nobody spells well. There’s no good handwriting. But we’re great listeners and often good public speakers. I like to think we are fun at parties. We work harder than many of our mainstream peers. Yet my emigration into mainstream culture does not mean I have to divorce myself from my dyslexic attributes. If you’re from another country and immigrate to the United States, you will likely want to adopt some American customs. But you won’t completely leave your homeland culture—the food, the dance, the work ethic, the holidays—behind. Everyone in Dyslexia carries a passport that allows easy entry into a number of bordering countries, including the nations of Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, and ADHD, to name some of the major ones. In my view, we are all “in the club”—my catchphrase for the broad family of people who experience the non-obvious disabilities generally housed under the umbrella term of “specific learning disabilities.” Your child may hold dual citizenship with one of these. For example, 40 percent of people from ADHD are also from Dyslexia, though the opposite is not the case, as there are more dyslexic people than ADHD folks. All of us share a common bond, a common his-tory. When I hang out with ADHD people I get them, I understand their profile, and I may even have some of their characteristics. I have used the term dyslexia throughout this book, but the lessons are for people from all these nations and I consider them all kindred spirits based on our overlapping experiences.
Excerpted from The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben Foss Copyright © 2013 by Ben Foss. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Ben Foss is a prominent entrepreneur and activist and the founder of Headstrong Nation, a not-for-profit organization serving the dyslexic community. Foss graduated from Wesleyan University and earned a JD/MBA from Stanford Law and Business Schools. He invented the Intel Reader, a mobile device that takes photos of text and recites it aloud on the spot. Ben is a co-founder of Integration Ventures, a venture capital firm that is looking to invest in dyslexic entrepreneurs. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business News, ABC, CNN, HBO, and the BBC. Represented by the Random House Speakers Bureau, he regularly speaks to Fortune 500 companies, public policy organizations, and colleges and universities across the country.