Dealing with dyslexia: Let’s redefine the term “smart”
We love and revere intelligence as one of the greatest of virtues. Its importance is ingrained in us even before we can talk. Think of parents boasting about their children figure out that cubes fit into square shaped holes and spheres into circles. This mentality is carried with us as we move through elementary school (“You read so well, you’re so smart!”), middle school (“You solved that algebra equation, you’re so smart!”), high school (“You’re in advanced placement classes, you’re so smart!”), all through the rest of our lives. “Smart” is among the highest of praise; we admire, respect, and love the smart.
But what happens when a child takes a little longer to figure out the cube won’t fit into the circle hole or can’t remember small facts that his or her peers know? If we call ‘Child A’ intelligent for doing XYZ, and ‘Child B’ takes longer to do those same tasks, does that mean Child B is not smart? Or worse, are they stupid? Most people would say “Of course Child B is not stupid, it just takes them longer, they will grow out of it.” What happens when Child B doesn’t grow out of it and never catches up?
Too often, the “she’ll catch up” and “he’ll outgrow it” become frustrated dismissals that they are simply and irrevocably unintelligent. These children internalize this message: “I’m dumb. I’m stupid.” With the world’s glorification of intelligence, how can we expect these children to develop self-worth? How can they find happiness, succeed or excel with this repeated message they lack one of our greatest virtues?
I was Child B, and truth be told, I am Adult B. I fail intelligence tests almost every day of my life. My reading and learning disorders put a wall between me and traditional intelligence. How can I be intelligent if: I read between a 6th and 9th grade level, processing language in real time can be excruciating, I have a hard time remembering general facts, I don’t read books for pleasure, and I learned to nod in agreement and change the subject to ‘appear intelligent’ in conversation?