Is It Time to Change the Message about Dyslexia Superpowers?

Apr 24, 2024
Dyslexia Superpowers

[No time to read? Here's a short video on the topic: Is "Superpowers" really what we mean?]

Last week I did a poll on Insta asking if the Superpowers of dyslexia is empowering or puts undue pressure on dyslexic kids.  100% of those who voted felt it is empowering.  But I’ve definitely seen some mixed feelings about it out there on the internet. As I mulled this over, I think it’s just all about how it’s presented. 

Superpowers for all children? 

Let’s take Dyslexia out of the picture for a moment.  

Let’s say for all children starting around age 7 we begin to tell them they have superpowers, and that it’s just a matter of figuring out what they are.  I’m sure we can all agree this is a lovely message to be sending. Many of us have heard some version of this from our parents or loved ones.  We’ve been told that each person has special attributes that they bring to this world.  If you are a spiritual family, you might talk about how God or the Universe has a special plan for you. 

The potential for pressure or stress enters the equation depending on people’s interpretation of the word “superpower”.  According to the dictionary, a superpower is “a power or ability (such as the ability to become invisible or to fly) of the kind possessed by superheroes : a superhuman power”.  Now of course most of us parents don’t think that our kids will be able to fly or become invisible, but the term implies something quite exceptional.  Should “exceptional” be the standard we hold our childrento?  There are many parents out there who whole-heartedly think so (think Tiger Moms, Psycho Little League Dads, etc), but I think the majority of parents fall into a middle-of-the road “I just want them to be happy” level of expectations.  

So when we tell our kids to find their superpower, we generally mean - FInd that thing you’re good at and that makes you happy.

 

Superpowers and dyslexia 

OK, now let’s switch back to this question in the context of raising our dyslexic children.   Many prominent researchers and books about dyslexia state that by the nature of the way the dyslexic brain is organized (aka the networks and pathways of neurons), reading may not come easily but other skills should come more easily (aka Dyslexic Superpowers). 

Some commonly listed dyslexic strengths:

  • Excellent problem solving skills
  • Creativity
  • Can see patterns in the “big picture”
  • Strong verbal skills
  • High levels of empathy/compassion
  • Strong narrative skills 
  •  Strong visual-spatial skills

So what’s the issue?

One issue is that, while these strengths might ring true for some dyslexic brains, they may not for everyone.  Or more likely, they might think, "I'm sort of good at some of these things, but I wouldn't call it a superpower!"

Another potential problem, is that it can be interpreted as patronizing and perhaps downplaying the struggle of a dyslexic child. Being a gifted actor or a skilled baseball player won't make the experience of 5th grade any less painful if you are struggling with reading and writing.

The biggest problem with this message is the delivery.  The articles and books that often talk about these “superpowers” then move on to give the one-in-a-million dyslexic high-achievers as their examples.

  • Narrative: Steven Spielberg (the renowned film director) 
  • Verbal skills: George Clooney (Academy award-winning actor)
  • Problem solving: Albert Einstein (inventor)

So the shortened, hyped messaging on the internet ends up being oversimplified to this:

Have dyslexia?  → find your superpower → you’ll be rich/famous/powerful!

And if you want to read about my pet peeve of this type of celebrity name-droping, check out The Good and the Bad of a Dyslexia Internet Search.

 

 

Let’s reframe it.

Let's simply talk about how all brains are wired differently, and everyone is wired to do different things well.

Let's talk about how it’s unfortunate that because reading is so central to the current educational system, dyslexic kids are forced to focus their time and energy on something their brain isn’t wired to do easily rather than on things they do well.

Let's take it on ourselves as parents, to shift the focus so that your child is spending as much time as possible on activities they enjoy and do well. The value in knowing about the “dyslexic strengths” is that it might help you look at skills or activities you haven’t yet explored.

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