Dyslexia’s Silver Lining

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October 2015

Success stories like Tiffany Sunday’s help parents see how diagnoses of dyslexia and dysgraphia do not limit a child’s potential. Tiffany is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who is also raising an entrepreneurial son who has dyslexia.

By Tiffany Sunday

When I was in third grade, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia. Few teachers were aware of dyslexia, and even fewer had training on how to help dyslexic students. I did not receive accommodations until my sophomore year of college.

My parents did not fully understand dyslexia. My mother was a teacher and did her best to help. School was not easy. I was always bouncing back from failure, defeats, and mistakes.

With each failure, I would think of a new way to learn. I developed strategies and work-around solutions to overcome the many obstacles I faced reading, writing, and spelling. With each challenge I encountered, another layer of resiliency was added. I refused to give up even when others doubted my abilities.  As a result, I became very tenacious.

For example, I cannot process the sounds of languages. For me sounding out a word or reading a new word I have not heard is impossible.

I memorized or created unique stories or sayings to remember every spelling and vocabulary word. Memorizing the information helped developed my visual learning skills that were used to recall class discussions and notes written on the whiteboard. I still rely heavily on my visual skills today.

As a teen I had defined dreams and goals, which gave me the determination to move past the obstacles. These goals helped soften the embarrassment of misspelling words on the whiteboard for the whole class to see. To this day, as I write this article, spelling is difficult.  I did not allow this weakness to prevent me from achieving my goal of becoming a published author.

School became easier in high school as I perfected my problem-solving and learning adaption strategies. My confidence increased as I had more opportunities to use my talents and strengths. One of my talents is public speaking—no spelling required! I volunteered to present our group projects instead of writing the report.

I met with the high school counselor and she told me to not to get my hopes up for the future. My SAT and ACT scores were low, and I knew my college entrance strategy would be different from my non-dyslexic friends. The summer semester following high school graduation, I took an English class at a community college so I could transfer the credit hours instead of the grade.

In the fall, I attended a small university and focused my efforts on attending Texas A&M University the following year. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year I attended summer school again and met with the A&M admissions director. He was impressed with my grades as compared to my low SAT and ACT scores. I was accepted and graduated with a B average.

After three years of corporate employment, I applied to Southern Methodist University (SMU) to obtain a master’s degree in business. I have a liberal arts undergraduate degree. Even with accommodations my GMAT score was rock bottom. SMU was a harder sell and after two rejection letters I convinced the admissions director to let me attend two semesters. If I maintained a 3.0 I would be accepted into the program. I met the requirement and obtained an MBA.

I knew I could obtain a degree if the school would just let me in!

With all the pain, frustration, and tears I would never trade my dyslexic brain. The ability to solve my own problems and learn to overcome failure has been invaluable to me as a business owner and entrepreneur.

Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea, stated in an article some of the prized traits of every entrepreneur most dyslexics acquire during school—“dealing with adversity, bouncing back from failure, seeing existing structures from a completely different perspective, and being persistent at finding solutions.”

Multiple academic studies continue to demonstrate the link between dyslexia and entrepreneurship with over 35% of the business owners being dyslexic. (Click here for a review of the research.)

As a teen, no one told me that my experiences as a dyslexic student would benefit me later in my career or even give me an competitive edge. Today, it is important to share this information with dyslexic teens—to let them know these traits and skills have value regardless if they become a business owner or not.

To help your teen learn more about dyslexic entrepreneurs and business ownership, search for articles online. Often a dyslexic business owner will discuss in an article how dyslexia helped him or her succeed in business and in life. The Dyslexic Advantage YouTube Channel is another good resource for interviews.

The most important thing to remember is each dyslexic person thinks and learns differently. We each have different strengths and talents. Brainstorm with your teen on how they can combine their innate talents, strengths, and dyslexic brain into a powerful asset.

I know from personal experience that when you are inside the thunderstorm it can be hard to see the silver lining and sunlight below the storm. When it feels like the rain will never end, remember it will. Each day, I tell my teen son, who is dyslexic, to have faith in his abilities, never settle, and, most importantly, never give up.

Tiffany Sunday is a TEDx Speaker, entrepreneur, and author of Dyslexia’s Competitive Edge and You Posted What!?

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