“I just think that people are going all in on fixing what they are bad at instead of going all in on extenuating what they’re great at.” Multi-millionaire business builder, Gary Vaynerchuk
Gary Vaynerchuk wasn’t good at school. He didn’t read well and his teachers told him he’d go nowhere in life. Strangely, this disdain prompted an amazing push-back response, an “I’ll show them!” kind of attitude. But, instead of obsessing over the things he didn’t do well, Gary spent all his time focusing on the things he was great at. He worked at connecting with people. He worked at building successful businesses. He focused on working his butt off maximising his existing strengths rather than trying to compensate his weaknesses and has developed phenomenal success.
I think there’s an important message, we as parents and teachers of dyslexic children or as dyslexics ourselves, can take away from Gary’s story.
Focusing on our strengths is vital for success.
There ARE things your child is innately good at. It’s probably not reading (and I’m not saying you shouldn’t still encourage reading and promote an environment where reading is part of life) but there will be things he or she does really well. Often these things can get dwarfed by the challenges they face in other areas. Often, the time to work at those skills where that child excels can get swallowed up by the labour of remediating his or her weakness.
It’s important to truly highlight those things that make your child exceptional. Allow your child to focus on those aspects. Use those strengths to build their resilience against their weaknesses so they can establish a core confidence that knows their worth from deep within and can push-back when faced with challenges. Help them develop that, “I’ll show them!” mentality.
My Little Chess Master
My son, Josh, is brilliant at chess. In fact, he’s excellent when faced with strategic, logic-based situations; He has strong spatial skills and is able to forward play the pieces, imagining the outcomes of particular moves in his head, etc. There are no words on a chess board, just pieces that move in predictable ways and a single goal; take down their king while protecting your own.
Josh is GREAT at that. He’s better at that then anyone else in our family and we’ve faced him against our best. In fact, we’re having trouble finding computer-based AI’s that can play at his level. We’re looking at finding him others he can play competitively to continue developing that skill and talent.
Because we can clearly see this phenomenal strength, this opportunity to excel, we’ve used it to build him up. When he’s feeling like a failure because he’s struggling to remember the “sh” sound, we take a break and play a game of chess. I don’t have to “let him win” because he slaughters me even when I’m working hard at trying not to let him gain an advantage on the board. And in that game, he can remember that he’s awesome at chess, and facing “sh” again afterwards isn’t quite so frustrating, isn’t quite so daunting, is no longer defeating. Because finding “sh” hard doesn’t make him a failure.
The Hunt For Their Strengths
Dyslexic children can feel down and defeated when they think about how hard reading and writing is. They compare themselves against their peers and know how much better at it ‘everyone’ else is. They can become fixated on that failing. Then, when we as parents and teachers push and push and push we all get frustrated because it’s not fair that it’s so hard; it’s not fair that their not getting it; and surely, surely, if they just worked harder it would click into place. A mindset of failure isn’t far behind.
Instead, I think we really need to hunt for their innate strengths. Drill in on those. They might not be obvious. They might not have manifested because the opportunity to find them hasn’t come up; so if you’re seeing your child and worrying that they’re not good at anything, go hunting! Try everything! Follow their interests and watch what they do and how they do it when they’re doing the things they love doing. The strengths are there.
And strengths can come in many forms. Maybe your child is great with people, he just clicks in crowds or small groups, he’s a natural leader or a compelling voice. Maybe she’s got an innate sense of rhythm and tone, if she could tinker at a piano, drum-kit, or guitar she’d grasp the concepts of music very quickly. Perhaps your child is agile on his or her feet, moves with a grace that’s like watching a leaf touch down on water but hasn’t had the chance to try a dance class or gymnastics or parkour. Maybe they can map the stars in their minds and love looking up at the night sky; or they struggle with numbers on the page but can do complex algebra in their head; or are fascinated by formula one cars and know the difference between the hums of particular engines. SEARCH for it, it’s there. You might not be able to imagine how those strengths manifest, so try everything.
Building Resilience and Confidence for Success
Ultimately, successful dyslexics don’t become successful because they finally get good at the stuff they’re not good at. It’s not that they couldn’t read so they worked really hard to learn how to read so that they could succeed. No, successful dyslexics find the things they ARE good at and they work really hard doing those things. They get people to help them do the things they don’t do well or they find assistive technologies that help them scaffold. They focus on their strengths, power into those strengths, and keep working at and building those strengths. Because within their strengths, they’re already exceptional.
So, next time you’re sitting down feeling frustrated because your child just won’t cooperate for another five minutes of drilling those phonic sounds or refuses to sound out another page of text from the early reader at school, STOP. Ask yourself: How can we take advantages of his or her existing strengths? How can we build opportunities to practice language and literacy skills while incorporating the things he or she already does great? Hey, maybe we just need to take a break and do the stuff he or she loves and is really good at so that we rebuild shaky confidence and remind the child that they aren’t a failure.
It’s okay to focus in on those strengths and find ways to compensate for weaknesses instead of drilling and drilling and drilling all the time. After all, while literacy is important in our increasingly literacy-rich world, a basic foundation can be enough because support is available for the rest. And often, putting less pressure on a child to achieve in areas where they’re failing, and instead bolstering their confidence in areas where they can succeed, improves outcomes in every area of their life.
I’d love to know of the wonderful strengths in our dyslexic community.
What sorts of things are the dyslexics in your life good at?