When you're a kid who can't read, life can be pretty bleak. You go to school, and all the other kids seem smarter than you. The teacher hands out instructions, and everybody else is finished before you've figured out what to do.
Homework takes forever, and your mom can't understand why you find a hundred reasons not to do it. You have to struggle to do what is easy for everyone else, and the grown-ups just tell you to work harder.
is the medical term for people who have special difficulty reading, in spite of good effort and good teaching. About one child in ten has dyslexia. It's more common in boys. And it runs in families. If one parent has dyslexia, that roughly doubles a child's chance of having it; if both parents have it, the risk goes up even more.
Even though people with dyslexia have trouble reading, the basic problem lies in how the brain deals with sounds. Children with dyslexia have a hard time hearing the different sounds that make up words, and connecting letters to those sounds.
Even as babies, they make simpler sounds when they babble. Later, they learn to read by memorizing whole words. Children who read by memory are easy to spot. You just ask them to read some words they've never seen, like "glimper" or "furk." As grown-ups, they learn the words that they come across every day; when they run across new ones, their reading slows way down.
So what is the good news for kids with dyslexia? It turns out that dyslexia is common among self-made business people. This was front-page news in the New York Times last week. According to a researcher in London, more than one third - 35 percent - of the entrepreneurs she surveyed reported that they had dyslexia. You might expect that fewer people with reading problems would run their own businesses, since kids with dyslexia rarely shine in school. So what's going on?
Several successful people with dyslexia were quoted in the Times story. They said that their reading problems ended up helping them. They learned how to solve problems. They learned how to delegate jobs. They learned how to work to reach their goals. Other studies have shown that dyslexia goes along with increases in the ability to use visual information and to think outside the box.
So dyslexia is not all bad, even though it seems that way when you're a kid. If a child with dyslexia has a name for the problem and skillful help in dealing with it, and especially if parents know that the problem isn't just laziness, then dyslexia doesn't have to be terrible news. Still, it's ironic that the story came out in the New York Times. That article, like nearly every article in the Times, is written at the 12th grade level.