Dyslexia Is My Superpower
Readers often ask me how I deal with dyslexia. I tell them that I’m also deaf in my left ear and so myopic that it took five laser surgeries (done when I was an adult) to correct my vision. For most of my life, I wore thick Coke-bottle glasses. I felt like I was looking through a telescope—which was exhausting and distorted my view of the world.
Dyslexia creates problems for children long before they enter school, but my symptoms weren’t recognized until the early elementary grades. When the teacher gave us instructions, I didn’t understand them and often failed to complete an assignment for that reason alone. In addition to making it hard for me to process auditory information, dyslexia impaired my ability to read and write.
As I advanced through the grades, my problems became worse. As we all know, success in school is measured by testing. The time limits are very difficult for a dyslexic student, who will likely use a great deal of the time allotted to read the test and figure out how to follow the instructions. I tested horribly. A dyslexic student will write many letters backward and not in a straight line, making them hard to read. When the teachers made me write on the blackboard, my classmates laughed at me. All of them were able to write neatly and correctly and understand the assignments. They called me stupid.
Dyslexic students know something is wrong—that they are struggling while things are easy for their peers. This is so scary for a child. I knew I was behind in school from the beginning, getting further behind with each passing day, and I would never catch up.
Sympathetic teachers tell dyslexic students that it’s not their fault. It’s a form of brain confusion, and with proper help, they will be fine. But it’s not that simple. For some, they will remain far behind and maybe even give up. They have probably already written themselves off as stupid. Some, at least in current times, will receive the help they need. Others will spend most of their time compensating by finding other abilities and honing other skills.
I took the latter route. Over time, I realized I had gifts that could help me. My memory was nearly photographic. It took me a long time to read, and I needed a ruler under each line, but I remembered every detail that was important to me. I could remember things my classmates had long forgotten or perhaps never knew.
This gave me a sense of pride when my world was otherwise dark and gloomy. I learned to concentrate very hard, and I read until my eyes couldn’t stay open.
I developed an insatiable appetite for knowledge, knowing it would help me in life. I'd engage any adult who would talk to me, asking so many questions they got tired of answering me. Adults couldn’t believe the things I knew. My classmates thought I was funny and were astounded by what I knew about them, the school, my community, and history. I vowed to know more than everyone else and to someday be as successful as any of them.
I also became highly observant. And I learned to read people very well—a necessary skill because a dyslexic kid uses every angle to get people on his side and to avoid those who are disinterested or even mean.
As an adult, I still have all those skills. My memory, attention to detail, and ability to notice things that others miss are all considered excellent. I lead a team of highly qualified professionals who come from better backgrounds and who don’t have learning disabilities. I bet they flew through school with all As. Good for them! And I made it here too.
It took tremendous work and determination. It took a strong belief that what was right with me far outweighed what was wrong with me.
Dyslexia became my superpower. The skills I was forced to develop and hone because of dyslexia have given me strengths that others value highly. Am I happy to be dyslexic, near deaf, and very nearsighted? No, but the human brain has vast resources, many of which most people never use, and I found gifts hidden inside me. And along with these gifts, I have a determination second to none.
Yes, dyslexia is my superpower, and it can be yours too.
For more information regarding dyslexia, visit these websites:
The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity: https://dyslexia.yale.edu/resources/parents/
The Child Mind Institute: https://childmind.org/guide/parents-guide-to-dyslexia/
The Dyslexia Foundation: https://dyslexiafoundation.org/
Stephen J. Cannell, Emmy-winning TV producer
“The real fear that I have for dyslexic people is not that they have to struggle with jumbled input or that they can’t spell, but that they will quit on themselves before they get out of school. Parents have to create victories whenever they can, whether it’s music, sports or art. You want your dyslexic child to be able to say: ‘Yeah, reading’s hard. But I have these other things that I can do.’ ”
— Stephen J. Cannell, renown TV writer and producer of hits such as The Rockford Files and The A-Team, in an interview in Newsweek, November 22, 1999
Read more about my challenging childhood in my award-winning memoir, The Pale-Faced Lie. Find out how I survived growing up on the Navajo Indian Reservation with a mentally ill mom and violent father, an ex-con from San Quentin who groomed me to be his partner in crime.
“Cinematically gripping.”—Kirkus Reviews