Even though dyslexia was first identified in the late 1800s, we are just starting to learn how it has impacted our society in a positive manner. Much to some people’s surprise, our history is filled with individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the world who were dyslexic: Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Woodrow Wilson and Walt Disney just to name a few. Since my own disclosure of my struggle with dyslexia and the publications of my two books on this topic, I have met hundreds of individuals who are dyslexic. In this article I wish to introduce you to just two of the many Minnesotans with dyslexia who are making a difference.
Lyle would be the perfect example of the statement “think outside the box;” Lyle has never been “in the box.” Lyle describes his high school experience as “hitting his head against a wall” to obtain barely passing grades. In 1970, shortly after graduation and holding three jobs, Lyle was diagnosed as being dyslexic. Not to let the simple diagnosis stand in his way, Lyle left his three jobs for one: selling cookware. When this job failed to “pan out,” Lyle decided to pursue his lifelong dream of being a pilot.
Instead of enrolling in a college to study flying as a conventional student would, Lyle designed his own approach. With a smile and a wink, Lyle states that he became a pilot by “just hanging around the airport.” This statement is in humor but far from the truth. Lyle became a pilot through his own hard work and tenacity. Armed with the knowledge that dyslexics are fully capable of learning (they just learn differently), Lyle moved forward with his plan. He attended flight school with a hands-on approach; he learned directly from the other pilots while in the cockpit and attended every flight school he could develop a relationship with. Lyle eventually obtained his pilot’s license and became a corporate pilot. He then launched his own charter business and has flown such well-known individuals as Paul Wellstone and Norm Coleman.
Approximately three years ago Lyle lost his left leg due to a serious infection. No longer able to fly but still able to spread his wings, Lyle has now launched embarked upon a new career: day trading. His personal philosophy is, “You have to work hard to get it, but you have to work harder to keep it.” Among his survival skills are an incredible sense of humor, high energy, motivation and a wife who is supportive.
Jane is a registered nurse (RN) living and working in northern Minnesota. She was identified as having dyslexia later in life, which in retrospect allowed her to make sense of many of the struggles that she had in the past. Jane states that she cannot remember anything she learned in high school, with the exception of typing and a few art classes.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Jane joined the convent with the dream of becoming a nurse. She was confused when her convent classmates were allowed to attend college while she was delegated to manual labor. When she confronted her superiors, she was told that testing showed she had an IQ of 60 and was not “college material.” With Jane’s persistence, she was allowed to enter school to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Even though Jane did very well in her LPN training, she was told by the individuals in authority that she “could not expect to advance beyond this point” because of her low IQ scores.
Jane worked for a number of years as an LPN. However, having the tenacity and motivation present in many dyslexics, she was eventually allowed to attend college once again. This time she became an RN, graduating in the higher percentile of her class. She went on to work as an RN in Utah and Minnesota, and even held a management position. Today she works as an RN in a day surgical hospital.
In 1992 Jane was diagnosed as being dyslexic. Does a diagnosis of dyslexia set someone like Jane back? No, on the contrary. It shines light on the past and, because of this new knowledge, it allows a person to advocate for their own needs. When asked what her personal survival skills are, Jane immediately answers “a sense of humor.” She also identifies the ability to be “intuitive.” This ability often leaves her co-workers asking, “How did you know that was going to happen?”
Beyond Lyle and Jane’s Stories
While Lyle and Jane certainly are unique individuals, they are not unusual when it comes to the dyslexics being successful. The theme of having a goal and working diligently towards it is common among dyslexics. The ability to anticipate what is going to happen next (intuition), along with a well-tuned sense of humor, also appear essential for success.
What should you do if you think you are dyslexic? Get evaluated and find out. When I present people with this option, all too often their response is, “What if they find out that I am really stupid.” My immediate response is, “If you were really stupid, we would not be having this conversation?”
James J. Bauer M.A. OTR/L is a person with dyslexia.