S1E18: Demystifying Dyslexia Identification - The Advocacy Imperative, with Tim Odegard, PhDDec 14, 2023
Tim Odegard, a professor of psychology at Middle Tennessee State University, is a distinguished authority in dyslexia research and treatment. Serving as the chair holder of the Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies at the Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia, Odegard's contributions to the field are underpinned by his personal experience as a dyslexic individual. His research endeavors focus on debunking the flawed model of dyslexia identification, advocating for neurodiversity, and reshaping the narrative surrounding dyslexia. Odegard's comprehensive understanding of dyslexia, rooted in both academic expertise and personal insight, positions him as a formidable advocate for individuals with dyslexia.
In this episode, you will hear about:
- Unlocking Dyslexia Challenges: Discover effective support strategies for your child's learning journey.
- Exposing the Flaws in Dyslexia Identification: Uncover the surprising truth behind dyslexia assessment and understanding your child's unique learning style.
- Embracing Individual Strengths: Uncover the power of recognizing and nurturing your child's unique learning style and strengths.
- Navigating the Dyslexia-Mental Health Connection: Gain insights into the connection between dyslexia and mental health, and how to provide holistic support for your child.
- Early Intervention for Literacy Development: Explore the impact of early intervention on your child's literacy skills and overall academic success.
Embracing Individual Strengths
Individuals with dyslexia exhibit a range of strengths and learning styles that should be recognized and catered for in education and support systems. Acknowledging this diversity of experience among dyslexic individuals is key to combating the one-size-fits-all approach. Personalized educational approaches offer significant promise, underlining the importance of advocacy for broader, more nuanced understandings of dyslexia.
Welcome to word blindness. Dyslexia exposed. I am Juliet Hahn. I'm here with my co host, Brent Sopel, and we are here to change the narrative. We want to educate, but we also want you guys to understand what it is like to be dyslexic and how things can change.
So join us every week for word blindness. Dyslexia exposed. Welcome to word blindness. As promised, we have said to you guys, we're going to be bringing a guest once a month, and I don't even know how to explain the excitement, but you guys are going to hear when Brent and I dive into this. But welcome Dr.
Tim Odegard and Brent to word blindness. Dr. Odegard, Tim.
We're calling him Tim. But I did have to introduce you. But as the listeners know, when we first met, I had to go over your name, like, 30 Times. So I'm actually very proud how I. Very proud of you, too, honey.
Thanks. I appreciate it. So Tim is a professor of psychology at Middle Tennessee University. He is a chair holder of the Mumfrey Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic studies, Tennessee center for the study of treatment of dyslexia. So not only does Tim study this, he is also dyslexic.
So I'm going to take it back because my mom heard you speak at the benchmark school, which is in Pennsylvania, a couple of weeks ago. And as she was telling me, I literally pulled my phone out. I looked you up, and I emailed you as literally I was, as I was on the phone with her, because she is obviously with myself, my sister, my dad, with our long history of dyslexia, with all her grandkids. She's always been fascinated and always kind of still educates herself. So she goes to the conventions.
She's a retired kindergarten teacher, and she literally said, I want you to hear Tim speak. I was really impressed. She was like, I actually went to his keynote, but then also went to his two other discussions because I really am on the same page. And I feel like what you and Brent are doing with word blindness and Brent with the Brent Sopal foundation, I think you guys are going to be really interested in his story. So then you got back to us.
Literally within an hour, I think it popped up that you were, know, traveling, and I was like, all right, well, let's see. And then within an hour, we were on this amazing.
I. There's so many questions, and I know Brent has so many questions as well, but we really just appreciate you taking the Time. You're the curiosity, you're the. Oh. And this is what he likes to play, that I like to ask the questions, but we know his curiosity.
He's just a different word. He's just a different word in semantics, as I like to say. And then he laughs. Interrogation. Antex.
What is this? Shakedown. Monday morning shakedown. Exactly as we do with all of this. I know when we jumped on to kind of because there were so many avenues, so many ways that we could really talk about all of our dyslexia.
But the thing that really fascinated me is that you went all through school and became a doctor and then continued to study dyslexia. So can you start kind of there a little bit of what gave you that drive to be like, school is hard, but I'm going to kind of break out of this and continue in school.
Okay. So I think, candidly, I would say it was a chip on my shoulder, which I think a lot of people who are told aren't going to amount to anything in life or don't have any potential, which is basically what I was told in school, very bluntly, can be a force of motivation. Until then, the question is, what assets and tool sets do you have? And I have a really good memory, and I'm really good at learning facts, and I'm really good at understanding. Can you memorize limited information?
Yeah, I can memorize. I can really get to the gist of things pretty easily, pretty quickly. I can see the forest for the trees, but I can also delve into the trees as well. So being able to go from a granular up to a macro level is something that I had. So I can say that with all those words now as a fully formed adult.
But I seemed really good at solving problems and puzzles that other people didn't seem to see in me. And I just wanted to prove to these people that I actually could do what they said I couldn't. I've subsequently worked through all the chips on my shoulders, and I'm a much healthier person as a result of that. So I can't say my rage and angst towards life fueled me anymore in the same way that they used to, but it's a great motivator. So I'd say that that's part of what I did, was I just looked to see what I had and what would be available to me because of my background, didn't have access to any kind of athletic.
How old were you when you got diagnosed? It's a great question. So I was identified in first grade as not being a good reader. I was tested in third grade and denied any services through special education because of an IQ discrepancy. So I was thought to be too stupid to have dyslexia, as was just featured in that scientific american piece that came out about a week and a half ago, two weeks ago around this topic.
And so I wasn't actually ever labeled with dyslexia, which is Od, because now everybody wants to claim me as the poster child for the twice exceptional version of it, which. Good looking, too. So you got. Yeah, but I didn't get that label. So I would say they flagged me in first grade as not being a very strong reader.
And then in third grade, they tested me for services through special education, was denied that label. I was what would be called back then, the garden variety struggling reader. Right. And I think that's how I was. And it was like, okay, well, you have some strengths and your weaknesses, but we're not going to really help.
So. Right. This is as best as you can do. And I like you. I had guidance counselors.
You're never going to go to college to stop. And I kind of was like, now I'm just going to go because now you pissed me off. See, you just used a term there that I think is really important just to sit with for a second. This is as good as it gets. This is as best as you could do.
There's no more potential. What people don't have an awareness of when they talk about it conceptually, about the models that we use for identifying learning disabilities, at least in North America, is that it's an exceptional model, which I like to say is, it's your birthright. They think that it's something that's determined. They think that they should find that neurobiological. Cause they think that there should be some exceptionalism that's marked by that.
So when we use an IQ discrepancy or some type of an IQ basis to make that determination, we are, in essence, thinking that we can do what we've never been able to do as a species, which is to have some kind of an aptitude test that tells us someone's ulTimate faith. Think of the movie Gattica with another famous dyslexic, Ethan Hawke. The idea behind that entire movie was genetic predisposition. His brother Jude Law in the movie was supposed to be the one that had the genes that set him up to be the uber class. Because of some potential, we are using a similar model that we use for eugenics that Plato wrote into the Republic that Hitler used to fuel racism and everything for the Holocaust to say that some people are born with a potential that others aren't and that we have a test that can determine that.
So the idea that you said so clearly is that I was told this is as good as it gets for me, that I wasn't worth any more investment. And people don't realize that that model comes with that very real, blunt reality for people. Yeah. And we talked about this yesterday. The brain trying to dissect.
What do we know? Like, five, six, 7% of the brain. And we're trying to create and break things down off of something in single digits, which to me is absurd. We got to continue to study to learn about it. Absolutely.
But every dyslexic is different because the things you guys are talking about, not me, I don't remember. Obviously, I didn't get diagnosed, so I was 32. So I was dumb, stupid, lazy. Going through Canada, I don't remember the IQ. I just remember struggling.
I remember throwing the desk in grade three. So that anger and that rage and that embarrassment, I had all that. So everybody's different. Every little piece of it's different. So trying to take a disposition.
That's a big word. So early on in the development. Our brains don't develop till, what, guys are 24 and women are like, 40? Something like that. No, branch, you got it wrong there.
The neuroscientist. I can correct you. Females brains do develop, especially language, a lot sooner.
Just a fact check really quick to. See if I'm listening right? To see if I'm focused well. But the thing is, that also is I always thought was really interesting because my oldest had a similar thing early on. And what I always laugh at, I'd be like, well, I'm also ADHD, so putting me in front of this test to then have me take this, it doesn't make any sense.
And so then I would always see the holes. And I was the type of person that would question where there's others that don't, right. They just take it and are like, okay. I, lucky enough was also to have a parent. I mean, my mom will say there was a period of Time that.
Right. We just thought, okay, this is it. She's really good at sports. She's really good at other things, but maybe this is the best we can get. She goes, but then obviously not.
I mean, when in college, when I then started getting on the honor roll, but I didn't until college, but it was because I was studying things that I enjoyed and I learned and I understood how I learned, and that's so important. We've been having this argument from, we started this, that I'm Mr. Negative. And her innate confidence. I want to ask you to me again, not finding out till later in life.
Never heard the words last 32. There was no understanding around it at all. Obviously, her mom was a teacher, great lady that put up with her her whole life, but I had the understanding and built her up right. So she talks about the innate confidence. So my question to you is, is that innate confidence, can you be born with it?
Yes, I think you can. But was there more understanding under her roof than my roof, which has allowed her to excel is the right way of saying it, because she understand what dyslexia was and understand what her strengths and weaknesses. And I didn't until I'm still trying to figure that. So, yeah, I think that that's a really good question there, Brent. So, yeah, I think your curiosity is where it's leading you.
To anecdotally, from when I get out in the field and I observe what supports individuals get, especially in these learning disability private schools, a lot of what they do is empowerment. A lot of work on advocacy, a lot of work on understanding their neurodiversity. What I see those students doing in those settings is not setting any limitations on what they view. Their potential is they can be inventors, they can be world class athletes, they could be entrepreneurs, they could go to school to be engineers. They don't think that there's anything that holds them back, that it's just one or two steps away from them figuring out how they communicate their needs, how they use systems, how they get what they need.
I have a lot of parents that reach out to me. Brent, you and I were talking about before we came on about how you and I get a lot of people reaching out to us for different reasons because of how we're known. And I got an uptick recently with the publication of that scientific Americans piece. And I normally get about 20 emails that I have to personally address each month. It's been about 60 since the publication of that scientific american piece.
A large swatch of those are wanting to know how they can empower their children, give their children agency, and how they can build them up so that they can move past that. I think there's a little bit more to this brand I want to pause because there is more, I think, to this piece that gets into kind of mental health as well as psychological science and kind of where we come from. I want to pause before I get off there and just see if there's any reflections either you or Juliet have. You and I speak kind of the same language. You're a doctor, so you use bigger words.
I'm going to break them down. In the kindergarten words, I always refer to dyslexia as no self esteem. That's my number one focus, is that self esteem. And I still struggle with it because I can't do the simple thing, and the cute little blonde's not going to like me. But why can't I do this?
And what's wrong with me? Why am I dumb? Why can't. And that's that mental health piece that you talk about. Know, Juliet, obviously, she had some struggles, but I didn't get diagnosed, so they literally thought, know.
Was that IQ dumb side of it. She had the support, but she had the opposite side and building it up, and I kind of had the opposite. And still I struggle with mental health big Time. And that's kind of why mental health, obviously, sober almost seven years, was almost dead before I was 40. Suicide has been in my headlights many Times.
That mental health side of this is a very key factor for me. And Juliet, she knows this. I never focus on the reading. I always want to bring up that self esteem first, because if it's so low, doesn't matter what we hand them. A carrot, a book.
We need to build them up to be okay with where they are. Yeah. And I think you both bring up really important parts. Again, I think there's something with people's personalities. And again, we talked about this before, like, parental match for kids.
Right. That's an interesting thing to think. And that's why you're getting so many parents reaching out. It's like, how can I be a better parent for this child? Because when we're going through this and Brent knows this, but even when my son was getting diagnosed and I felt like I was an island on my own, even though I had support, I had my mom, I had my family, but I felt like no one understood because I just wanted to save this kid.
I just wanted to make sure that this kid wasn't broken. And I knew that, yes, there was Times I had a teacher call me retarded in front of the whole class. I had constantly kicked, but it was again, where. Then I went out in the sports field, I went home, and I had that positive reinforcement. So it was like, okay.
But again, even in older life, there's Times I was just talking to my sister, who's dyslexic. There's Times where we're all together and everyone's talking about something up here, and I'm like, I'm just going to skirt around over here and kind of duck that. And even though I am confident I will go back to that kid, right? I'll go back to that kid that was the class clown, the one that always joked, even in my family, we were talking about thanksgiving, and it's like, I talk about things now, and you guys are like, oh, wow. And I'm like, why is that a wow?
But it was because I always was the funny one, right? That's what I did. And so I think as parents, reaching out to you, it's like, how can we protect this person that we love so much and don't want to go through? And especially if a parent is not dyslexic or doesn't understand it, it's even bigger. But the thing about the article, and I don't know if we shared this with you on the call, but you sent me the article right before you sent me the email, Brent sends me an article and he's.
I just. This just came up, not knowing that you were the person in the article. And then someone from yoga sent it to me, and then my dad sent it to me. And everyone's like, oh, you should look at this. And I was like, okay, I hear you.
God, we are talking to Tim, right? It was so freaking cool. And then I had started to read it. It's a really long article. Let's be frank.
It's very interesting, but it's very long. And I started to read it and know, got distracted and surprised. Surprise. And then didn't. And then someone else sent it to me.
And then someone else sent to me. And I said to Brent, okay, I am going my. I'm going to go on my computer, not my phone, and I'm going to focus on this article because not only has it been sent to me so many Times, but there's obviously stuff in it. And you do talk about a little bit about also your story in there. And we talk about all the Time how stories connect us.
And it's a really beautiful thing when you can hear someone else say, yes, this is what I went through, and this is where I am now because it gives people a little hope. And that's why Brent's story, as much as it always pierces me, because it's always like, oh, I wish there was people there to protect him. And, you know, so many people that are on that side that are not being protected and are just being kicked and kicked and kicked. But that story, when he tells it, people are like, okay, wow. And then seeing where he's been, what he's gone through, and where he is now, and that's, again, why we started word blindness, because it is about the stories.
It's about giving people hope that, yeah, you're going to go through hard Times and most likely there's going to be some really downTimes. But if you can acknowledge and be like, okay, this is what I'm going through, and talk about it. And that's the mental health piece. So I really appreciate you both really being open and candid, because it's not easy. Yeah, I mean, it's pretty clear that mental health is an issue.
We're actually considering the definition of dyslexia right now through annals of dyslexia, my research journal, there'll be a special issue out next October where I've asked different consensus groups to come together to write on it. One of the pieces that's emerging is a conversation now about having the mental health challenges be a secondary consequence that's named. So why might that be beneficial? So in the United States, at least, the International Dyslexia Association's what we call the consensus definition, has been adopted into state law. I believe that it's helped to guide some of the work that's happened up in Canada as well, especially in Ontario in particular.
That's not Canada. So if you start to name things that get. What's that? That's not Canada. Yeah, okay.
Sorry, I made that mistake before, but continue. Fair enough. But to your point, and that's why that mental health side of it for me is the most important thing. And when we started wordblindness, I was always taking that approach. It took her a little while to understand, obviously, my mental health has suffered, obviously being a professional athlete and what I've had to deal with and divorce and typical athlete, getting divorced, taking all my money, all this whole story.
But it's that mental health for me is why I always focus on that. And I know when I was down and out, didn't matter what, I couldn't do anything. So I put myself in that chair. I put myself there, and that's why I focus on trying to get in that up before we talk about reading or writing or doing anything. Yeah, I think that's important.
And I think one of the things that the parents out there or the individuals out there that are kind of living this right now, there's two things that I think I've seen clinically, that obviously, from a research standpoint, we know that there's a high incidence and a much greater incidence of internalizing depression and anxiety, in particular in individuals with dyslexia. That's why we're considering as a secondary consequence. Second thing is, there's been a big push here in the states with some federally funded projects to see if adding some type of a mental health incorporated into reading intervention might benefit. Very limited evidence that incorporating it that way. What I've seen clinically over the years from having practiced and given intervention and helped to support interventions for an individual for dyslexia for about two decades, has been when you provide them in a scaffolded supported network of support that allows them to thrive, you'll see them, many of them come alive.
You see them engage, you see their self esteem come up. One of the tricky bits about all this stuff is, like, Juliet, you've shared candidly that you have adhd and dyslexia. The reason for that, neurobiologically is probably shared neurogenerators in the dorsalateral, prefrontal cortex. So that's probably the underlying factor. We can come with shared genetic vulnerabilities, if you will.
And so some people are probably going to be born with a genetic vulnerability based on their family history, to have mental health challenges. Right? And so, case in point, right here in my center, I've got two little girls. They're very bright. They both are in the same intervention group.
They're both responding very well to the intervention they've been receiving for over a year now. One still writes I'm stupid on her paper. More than likely, she was born with a diathesis, what we call a predisposition to struggle with mental health. She can, just like those of us who were born with a diathesis, to struggle with learning how to read and spell. She can get that support.
She may also need a mental health provider to support her with therapeutic access. And I wouldn't say that should be a teacher, necessarily. I can't in good faith say that we should add more to a teacher's plate. Nor should I say in good faith that somebody who's had maybe a two hour workshop on mindfulness stuff and growth mindset should be dealing with somebody who seems to have a serious mental health challenge like that. Seems darn near, anyway.
It just doesn't seem like a good idea to me. I mean, clinical psychologists in particular do lots of hours of clinical Time to get to where they can psychiatrists as well. So there is the need for that. But I always say when I talk on here is if you're going to go to a therapist or a counselor, whatever you want, the terminology is they need to have your top two or three traumas. You have to pick somebody again, that's me and my doctor, my DPHH degree.
Because now there's relatability. You see how many people, they didn't understand me. It sucked. I call that gaslighting because they're counseling out of a book, not out of empathy, not out of being there. I guess obviously the question back to you, does that make sense?
That's what I found. That's why I share hearing with anybody. Does that make sense to you? That just goes back to your point of not having a teacher deal with that point. So, yes, some of the most important research as far as mental health and outcomes when it comes to therapy is fit with the therapist in addition to modality, where something like a cognitive behavioral therapy approach has been shown to have a lot of efficacy to be pretty effective that fit with your therapist.
So it may be because they can relate to you because of a shared trauma in their past. It might be they're just really a lot more empathic and they have room in their head to meet you where you're at. But that fit with a therapist is a very solid predictor of how well people respond to mental health. And I would say that what you're saying there is, you find a better fit when you can relate to somebody because of a shared experience, which is part of your fit especially. Yeah, go ahead, Brent.
No, I was going to say for us, because it's inside, it's not a broken arm or something. So it's. Oh, you get me instead of. Right. But you brought up something really interesting, Tim, that I don't think I've ever thought about it that way.
Because of the mental health piece where there's definitely just like dyslexia, right? There's different levels. And now people with, if you're struggling with that, I mean, with ADHD, there's a lot of research, and correct me if I'm wrong, but there is like that depression mental health piece. And I have to say when I was diagnosed with it, and I am very fortunate, yes, I've suffered from stuff, but I really don't suffer from deep depression. I have bits, yes, I have anxiety, but it's not debilitating.
Where I know people, that's debilitating. And even with my dad and my oldest, but then I have family members that are also dyslexic that would have more of the depressive probably gene, as you're saying. And so it's really an interesting thought if you really stop and think about that, because it is important, and it's really what Brent has been saying about the self esteem. And I love how this is why I love talking to people about this, and this is why I think it really is. You guys are saying the same thing in a different way, but it's about that mental health piece.
Because if you can bring that kid who is struggling, right, who thinks they're stupid, who goes into school every day and is like, oh, my God. And give them the tools to be like, okay. And have people there to support them, what is that going to look like for that kid? And what is that going to look like for those kids that go under the radar because they're not Brent, yourself, myself, even though we had different support, what is that going to look like in that person's life later? Because from what I've always read and what I've always understood, that you could just have one person that gets you and that is your cheerleader, and it could change your whole life.
Yeah, most definitely. So I think probably each of us has somebody at some point who took an interest, and Brent's, like, shaking his head like, nobody. We've had this conversation and nobody has. And I'm not going coming down on any of my teachers. I didn't know what the word was, dyslexia until I was diagnosed, right?
So grew up, obviously, in Canada, I was a hockey guy. Just dumb hockey. So I got passed off. So even if somebody came to me and was that I wasn't in the space, I wouldn't understand it. I wouldn't have taken it that.
So not coming down in any disrespect in any way, you could have came with me with a silver platter or a unicorn, and it wouldn't have made a difference. But I'm even just talking about an adult life. If you have that one person every once in a while, that's like, okay, I see you, I hear you. And it's that understanding and relatability, right? It's like, okay, there's a community.
There's people. And that's what I think is important, is to have that community. But again, I love that you're saying with that mental health piece that you guys are doing in that. I'm going to shift this for a second. Is everyone okay with that?
Of course you are. Well, I'm just curious as Tim as you were going through school, because now I'm fascinated. Like, you're going through all that, know, I have a son here that wants to play soccer. And he's like, if this doesn't work out on that, like, I'm not going to school. I hate, like, why would I put myself through that?
I remember my freshman year calling my mom. I can't even tell you how many Times. What am I doing? I hate this. This sucks.
It's just Time and Time again, sitting, writing, looking back at my notes, being like, I'm failing another test because I don't know what I wrote. I can't read what I wrote. I can't see the spelling. And then when things clicked, it was really cool. But I did be like, okay, I'm going to pick myself up, then I'm going to do it again and again.
That's a personality thing, right? That's a personality thing. It's like, okay, I'm just going to continue and kind of forge through. Now, I think a lot of dyslexics, a lot of people that struggle, and I don't even know what the percentage would be really cool to think about, kind of get themselves up and dust themselves off where someone that doesn't struggle when they have that big thing happen, it's like their life is over. Where we're just like, oh, all right.
As you were going through school, can you take us through some of the Times after it was like, okay, you got through elementary school, high school. When was the Time that you were like, I'm going to keep going and I'm going to continue and I want to be a doctor? Did you always kind of know that? Or was it just like, it was like a building block? If you can take us through that a little bit, I'm very fast.
That's a great question. So I always knew I was going to go to college or I wanted to go to college. So that was always there. Did I know that I wanted to keep going until there's no more school left to do majorly until I graduated from the 20th grade? I don't know.
I think when I got into undergrad, I got interested in two different things. So I've got multiple degrees. I've got one in religious studies, especially eastern traditions, and then psychology. I really liked kind of those pursuits and lenses to look at kind of the human condition. And there wasn't going to be anything that I could do with either of those degrees except go to graduate school.
So I think what I decided to be interested in and what kind of got me curious pushed me that way. And for whatever reason, I made a decision not to go what we call the hard science route, even though technically I grew up to be a neuroscientist and do neuroscience, which is considered a hard science. But it was just necessity. I had to keep going in order to have a job. And why I wanted to do school was I was intellectually curious.
I enjoyed learning things. I enjoyed knowing about things. I was curious about why things worked the way they did. And I wanted to have. At one point, I thought I was really curious about having some kind of an encyclopedic knowledge about everything that was known in the world, which Brenda's like, no, not at all.
But I didn't have any other aptitudes that I could fall back on. I'm not a gifted singer. I'm not a gifted athlete, so I'm not a good actor. I tried that bit. I am a halfway decent musician, and I had a music scholarship, so that was part of how I paid the bills to get through undergraduate.
But I knew that I wasn't going to be a performer on what I was doing, and I didn't want to be a band director. So your interest kind of will pick your path. But for me, I always wanted to know more, and I was really curious. And it was psychology and religion were my two things. And I have to say.
So Brent, even though he laughs and shakes his head, and the reason why he's laughing is because this is like stuff that we talk about all the Time, right? And it's a curiosity thing. He talks about psychology like he is very curious about it. But school just killed him because of his path, right? I mean, it killed him where that kind of stuff always fascinated me, too.
I always wanted to know how things worked. I'll have friends that are like, I think you have your doctorate. I'm like, I know, but it's the intuition. And we talk about this onward blindness. We talk about it with others.
So I would also love to kind of hear your thoughts on this. Anyone that we've kind of had on the podcast, anyone that I really know that is in my circle that's dyslexic. We do have this intuitive kind of Persona where it's like we kind of see things. Brent calls it mind reading when he's talking to someone. I have another girlfriend that she's like, I just kind of know what's going to happen.
And I've had so many people reach out to me after a podcast and was like, you know what? I'm dyslexic. I never thought about that. Intuition. And so then I get curious and I'm like, okay, well, I have a feeling in the brain that there's something where the dyslexia, where you're deficient, something's going to be stronger, right?
It's like when, if you're blind, your other senses are. And so is that something that is kind of linked? I mean, I'm asking you as a neuroscientist, have you ever heard that? Or is that. It's a great question.
We do not have anything that's anywhere close as far as research support for that, because the tricky bit here is that there's layers of research, and I would say that we're at really basic science on that. A colleague of mine, Famiko Haif, has been doing research for a while, and she has shown that part of that shared vulnerability with ADHD and the frontal lobes also comes with a lot of emotional reactivity, which can also feed empathy in the sense of if you're reacting to things around you, then there would be that tendency to do that. The tricky bit that I always get into is that there's a gene brain environment interaction, and so it's difficult to disentangle what is kind of genetically predisposed versus what you've adapted to. So for me, I had to be hyper vigilant. I had to be aware of where people were.
So that resulted in me having to be really outward focused to kind of protect and to know what's happening around the situation, who's friend, who's foe, who's going to shame, who's not going to shame, who can I open up to? Not hardly anybody, really, kind of thing. So it's difficult to say if it's just because of how our lives evolved, if we had to develop compensation strategies to deal with things. But the basic science is starting to emerge that suggests that there's a lot more emotional reactivity in those of us with dyslexia, those with ADHD. In the sciences, we used to have a distinction between hot cognition, the emotionally valenced cognition, and cold cognition, kind of like calculations.
There's a lot more awareness right now that it's kind of all the same thing, and we've just had tasks that have limited our understanding of what those are. But I would say that we're a lot more in tuned with the ability to have the raw ingredients it would take to be very empathic yeah. And I mean, it's that EQ and we talk about, and as you said, and this is what we talked with Brent, with Stephen key about, because this is Stephen, who's an inventor. And really interesting. He didn't know that he was dyslexic until later.
But kind of like you, he was like, I needed to support my family. He was thrown in. And this is what we talk about with Brent, is that he wasn't thrown into the real world until he was 40. So he was living. And I don't want to say because Brent like this fantasy world, and it's not really a fantasy world, but it's a world, it's not real life.
And so it was like all of a sudden, then he has to go into the real world with dyslexia and dysgraphia and ADHD and all these things, and it's like bam. So how can we protect that individual that we know they're going to go into the real world and they've come from this fantasy world to then have to kind of get these skills that we've learned now since our early twenty s. And again, we've talked about this, and I'm not a feminist by any ways, but, like, being a female, right? What do we always say? The man's the provider.
Again, any women that are listening to this, I'm not saying pause your bodies. I'm not saying that that's what it is for myself. It wasn't like I had to be the one that was the provider, right. So I could kind of explore and do things because I knew, okay, as I met my husband, okay, he's the one I can stay home if I want. So there's different things.
So that stuff really fascinates me because it's like, we get those skills, but similar to you in school, that's why I became so good at doing when I was a storytelling consultant and doing communications, because I could read people so well, because I knew what I needed to get from the teacher. I knew what friends and people in class that write. I could read their body language, I could read the intonation of their tone and all of those things. And that's where Brent was on know. It was just so different.
His world was so different to then get thrown into it and be like, okay, now you have to figure this out with no support. And there's really not a question in there. No, it's just a reality. It's been fun getting kicked in the ass every day. But again, you take a look, I was told where to be, when to be for 40 years.
Now what? This goes back into the military and navy. I got buddies that are dyslexic there. They talk personally, they think 30 to 40, maybe 50% of them are dyslexic. So when they come back from war or wherever, we're in the same spot.
Actually, I'm better because I don't have the PTsD of what they've had to go through. I've got my own.
But we're hardened. Hardened from getting kicked, and hardened for that was the only way we could survive day in, day out. But it's also interesting because that was also what gave you the confidence, right. Early on. And I know you're like, I didn't have any confidence.
But you had confidence on the ice. You had confidence in your abilities on the. You know, it's funny you say that. My highs were so high and my lows were so low when I was playing, well, one of the best players in the NHL at Times. And then when I was down, I was almost out of the league.
I played pro hockey for 18 years, and there wasn't one day where I thought I made it. Yeah, I mean, that's all real. It's challenging, I think, when we talk about neurodivergence, to honor the normativeness of it all. And, Brent, you did a really good job there. I do think that those people who have had a career in the military have had a different life with a different set of stressors and a different kind of structure.
And so it is that transition to civilian life can be a real challenge for anybody as they come out of the military. And then you add on a complication of neurodivergence. So I think that there's a need for us to have honest conversations where we honor how this is a normatively difficult process for so many people, and then people are going to come back who are now struggling with trauma, which was one of the first reasons why we had to think about the fact that there could be some diastasis or some predisposition, because the question has always been, why did some servicemen and women go off, experience the same combat? And some people come back unphazed, seemingly unfazed. Nobody's untouched.
Right. But not dealing with the same level of trauma and PTSD as in somebody else. And so in psychiatry, there was then a delve into. And there does seem to be some genetic wiring that goes in for some people to have some diathesis or predisposition towards certain things, which we know from a learning standpoint is true of all three of us. We seem to have been born a little bit differently wired.
Well, it's interesting you say that, because I was always friends with first responders. I'm not friends with one hockey player. Wherever city I played in, I was friends with the cops, the firemen. So you talk about predisposition. I don't know.
Is it predisposition that I was friends with them because I'm fucked up?
So it's funny that you say that, because that's literally who I hang out with, who I met, who I did everything with at all Times. Because this goes back to pro hockey and first year in pro hockey, my first was a sergeant and had the SWAT team, and we're out firing. But everywhere I went, that's who I made friends with. I think it goes back to Brent. You were saying earlier about your selection of a therapist, finding a therapist who can relate.
It probably is the case that people who have had to deal with adversity, deal with certain types of life situations can see you and honor you probably better. I mean, I think all of us are drawn towards friends and folks because they can relate. And it's difficult for many people to develop empathy when they don't have a point of reference. And so maybe we're drawn towards people who we can understand one another from. I really enjoyed hanging out with people that would have been considered kind of more on the fringes than I did with the more mainstream kids all the way through junior high and high school and even in college.
And my selection of college was probably motivated by that, too. Just always kind of feeling like I was more of an outsider opposed to somebody who belonged with any kind of main was my. That's where I'm going to go now.
I didn't have very many friends. Again, like I said, I just left pro hockey. Don't have one friend out of know. Julietnne, we talk about this all the Time. She never had problems doing know.
She had her friends. And I always say we're so different that kids look at us like, what are you talking about, weirdo? I didn't have any relatability. I was always on my own. I was always the weird guy, the outsider.
Obviously still am. But it's interesting that you said that, because I say this all the Time, and obviously Juliet didn't have that. She had the bubbly personality and drew people to her. That wasn't my case. Yeah.
Again, it's like that whole female male. I mean, again, I was the female where it was like, you're the dumb athlete. Right? And I grew up in a town that was affluent. Everyone was really good at what they were doing.
And I was up here in the athletics, but down here, and it was just like, I just became the jokester. And again, it was kind of just a natural thing. I do think I'm funny. I don't have to work. Not at all.
It was kind of like that because we have talked about that because again, a lot of the guests that have come on have know similar. One of the person actually, Fettech, that I'm working for, the co founder, she and I have a very similar personality. But she was talking about that in her class because she was younger, she didn't feel like she fit in, even though she morphed herself to fit in. And again, I think it's, again, your grade where you grow up, all these different factors that nature versus nurture, which is really fascinating. I want to bring it to.
Because you have a son that is also dyslexic. I think you said he was twelve. He's 13. He's 13, the teens, right?
Yeah, that would be him. 13 going on 23. Yes, that would be him. Right. Again, when we've talked about this with everyone that we've had on, everyone except one, and we're still not completely sure about his kids, but again, it's one in five, it's hereditary, so if you are dyslexic, there's a chance.
And I was aware of it, so I kind of knew someone of the kids is going to struggle, right? But it wasn't like I didn't have anxiety around. It was just like, okay, let's just watch out. I actually then even was like, okay, we're just going to have to work a little harder. We're going to have to do this.
Until then, school really started. And then I was like, oh, wait, okay, I don't like this. I don't like this feeling for him. And then we jumped over that kind of hurdle. But when was it that you became aware and was it something that you were like, I'm going to be aware as this child is born.
Was that like something that was right in your brain? It was, yeah.
From day one, I was doing very specific things with him to help his auditory processing and development. So that was just part of our reality. And then I was his first teacher when he was four and was developing up his pre literacy and emergent literacy skills, as well as his vocabulary background knowledge. So he had a live in interventionist or therapist from day one, it wasn't the sole motivator. I wanted to become a reading interventionist and do all of the clinical training that I did so I could do research informed by practice and as well being able to have the eyes tuned to where I could walk into a classroom.
I did it just a couple of weeks ago. Watch a class for 15 minutes, walk up to the teacher and say, here's your five kids. These are the three that I'm most concerned about. And then she'll say, yes, those are the ones. But it's just because I've got this two decades worth of experience of being in classrooms, of having done it, having supervised the identification models, the testing, the differentiation, the instruction, and various levels.
But I will say that I was my son's teacher up until I wasn't. And as soon as he went to kindergarten, he came back on day one and realized that there were teachers and I wasn't. So he stopped doing the little activities with me, and he started to slowly go down. He needed that higher intensity because he does have a first degree relative, which is the biggest risk factor you can have for developing struggles with reading and spelling. If we adopt a risk model in a constellation of risk factors, having a first degree relative still takes the biggest bulk of what we would consider to be putting you at risk for something in the future.
Interesting. Now, are you stronger in the sciences and math, or did you struggle all around in school? So I like to say that I had a relative strength. I wouldn't say it was a great strength in math, but my math did not suffer. So I never struggled with math, and I was always able to persevere and kind of work through it.
Now, would I say, was I exceptional? Is it. There was never any indication I was exceptional. Like, I had some gift in it, but it's something I was good in. And so I invested heavily into those math and the scientific reasoning, and so I developed that.
Just like Brent leaned into his athleticism and spent a lot of Time on the ice to become a world class hockey player, I'd spent a lot of Time developing up my inquiry, my scientific reasoning, my logic, my analytic reasoning, and that's why I got into grad school, was because my analytic reasoning on the GRE was just so bloody high. I was in the 95th percentile, but I was in the 45th percentile when it came to verbal. So I didn't show in third grade a discrepancy, but I showed a discrepancy by the Time I was an adult. And our models of potential are broken because I shouldn't have done what I did coming out of undergrad on the GRE, on a brute cognitive force measure, I was remember joking. It's like, I'm going to go to graduate school and go into psychology, I'm going to go to biblical studies at Harvard, or I'm going to go to law school, because clearly I can do the LSAT if I just came back with a 95th percentile on the GrE's analytics.
Yeah, that's great. So I'm just calcula as well, and that's my oldest as well, and my dad, and I don't think my sister is. Three of them are mean. My handwriting is not great, but I'm not as dysgraphic as they are. But so that, again, fascinates me, and I know that fascinates Brent because it's like you think of these things, okay?
You have them in your family and you're looking out for them or you're not looking out for them. Brent obviously wasn't looking out for them because it just wasn't top of mind. A couple other guests were like, yeah, we really didn't think about it. We knew we struggled, but we didn't know completely why we struggled. And then we had one of the guests that was like, I just prayed that no one was going to be dumb like me, right?
Like, that's the second he had kids. He was like, oh, my gosh, please. I hope no one's going to be dumb like me. We talk about it now as adults. My dad will kind of chuckle and be like, all the things that I gave you guys, but again, it's like, yes, you did, but you gave us some really good stuff.
My dad is like, more of the personality and kind of persevered. His brother went to Harvard and Yale. He wasn't allowed to even go to religion because they're like, you're dumb. You can't read. But his mom put him on this pedestal because he was cute and funny and it was like, okay, you're the entertainer.
And so he got a lot of confidence because he was that one. It was like his brother kind of was just a smart one, but no one really cared about it because he didn't have a personality. So again, it's so interesting to think and feel how they persevere. So your son is now, he's five. He's 13, but he's in kindergarten and you're seeing him go down.
Was there ever panic? Was it ever like, I need to fight for this kid. Did you ever have those going back to how you felt, or did you kind of put your doctor hat on and was like, okay, this is kind of what I have to do? I think with knowledge comes security and comfort. So I knew that I can teach any kid how to read in spells.
The way I look at it, from what we've observed from a research standpoint, which is why I don't like a potential based model, because it says that some kids don't have the potential to read. I don't think that that's what we've learned from three decades of federally funded research into reading and reading acquisition. So I think, one, every child has potential to develop literacy, and that's just a silly way of thinking about it. Just like every child is going to kind of run and walk. For the most part, it's the true exception and vast minority, less than 1%, that's going to fall where they can't do it.
And we don't think about reading and literacy in that way. And our testing doesn't really lend us do it that way either, because we put everybody in the normal distribution. But I knew what to do, and so it wasn't any kind of a real challenge. As soon as he started to fall and we got into the winter semester and I saw his benchmark screening, it's like, okay. And so I took back over and it's like, okay.
And I simply just pulled up on a sketch pad. For some reason, he had forgotten the letters that I had taught him when he was four. So it's like, let's teach these to him again. So I did a silly thing with a penguin that I drawed and drew and had the letters around, and I had one nightly. We would do this game that he would go through and work on that, and so we just kind of went from there.
Then when he showed flags and signals and he wasn't getting picked up in school in the spring of first grade, it's like, well, I know how this works, too. So I got him testing outside. I got him slated for therapy outside. He got two years of therapy. He still got struggles, but he got high dosage, two years of therapy, which we don't give to kids in most public schools, if at any of them.
And it's a real detriment and we're not resource allocating properly. So what he was able to get and what children need to get is four days a week of, let's say, an hour and 20 minutes of really good structure literacy intervention which doesn't allow itself in our models that we have, at least in the United States, because they're supposed to be in the gen ed. Once they fall too far below, they're not benefiting from being in the gen ed anymore. So we don't have a system that will allow them to get what we can pay $50,000 a year to get at an aim institute at a Shelton school where your children went, Juliet, with Ben Powers as their head of school, for example. Yeah, Southport.
So just throw a few things out there or go to the, where, you know, d's at. So there's just, there's things that we do in these settings that allow these children all to have their choice of what they want to do when they grow up and they're all literate that we don't do in a public setting. And I just hear adults give excuses because they say they're doing their job, what they're told to do, and what the law allows them to do. And that's why parents and advocates get fed up. And they say, well, we'll change the laws.
But then they're not the most informed people to do the work, but they've got the agency and the power to do it. And we don't have conversations around how we could modify, let's say, in the United States idea and its reauthorization in 2004 to reconsider how broken that system is and how it's not meeting the needs of the vast majority of children who are struggling to read spell in our schools today. That's why I speak Canadian, eh? Yeah, exactly. I mean, Americans confuse everything.
Oh, my God. Right? The english language. But, Brent, I know you had something else to say there, because again, it's what you've been saying. It's the kids that are getting left behind because they don't have the know.
Montgomery was brought back into public school, and it literally, I mean, I had three years. We moved, so we moved from Southport, but it was like three years that I could breathe. I could actually breathe. And then we go back to the public school and it's, know, he's a senior now. He's gotten through, but has he, you know, some of the stuff, he advocates for himself, he gets what he needs to do, but he's like, I can tell when a teacher cannot teach me and there's no sense of fighting.
I'll figure it out. And he's learned that, how to figure it, know. It's, we all want to find out cancer at stage one, not stage four. Kids are no different. Yeah, I think that's a good metaphor there, Brent.
Unfortunately, is that we do want to get it early and alleviate as many symptoms as we can in the severity of it and alleviate it completely to where it's not really an obstacle or an impediment to begin with. That's another rabbit hole you and I can go down later because that'll be a ten hour one. I got my thoughts on that one, too. It's just how when all those questions and why. Yeah.
And the kids that their families, as you said, they don't have the advocate. Their families don't have the advocate, the advocacy, because they are told this is what their kids is. And we talked about this. Just because your kid's a summer birthday, this makes me crazy. Oh, it's a summer boy birthday.
He's going to catch up. We know now you can tell when someone is struggling. And this is that.
We've gotten into so many conversations about this because he likes to make fun right now, but it's so true, it makes me crazy because it's like, okay, it's not a summer birthday. You can tell when someone's struggling. And this is what a parent, I've just, on the lacrosse field, I had a mom say her kid is in 9th grade and she's know. They just said this is kind of the best that he can. I said, you know, mary, can you just pause for a second?
And I said, did he have a brain injury? And she said, no. And I said, ok. I said, what do you and your husband do? She's like, oh, we own our own it company.
And I said, and you're successful? And she said, yes. I said, that's not the best he can do. He's failing. I'm sorry.
You guys are intelligent people. Unless they're right. And you, Tim could talk to this even more. But no, he's struggling because there's a reason why he's struggling. He's not being taught the way he learns and there's something there.
So you need to have not just the school be like, well, we tested him and this seems like the best that he can do. No, that's not fair. That's basically just writing that kid off. And because she didn't know to fight for it, she wasn't fighting for it. And it was like when he's fifth grade.
So this kid from fifth to 9th grade just basically was like floundering around and what is that going to do? That's when the drugs and alcohol and all those things come in. What about the kid that is poor and their parents can't afford the things that we've been able to afford? Where's that kid, and where are they going? That's basically just writing them off, because it's like, okay, and my mom has been where the teachers.
And I shouldn't say teachers, but where the system has said, we don't have the funds, or we don't want to put the funds towards this, and. And who gets to say that? That makes me crazy. The school does in the United States, at least. And they use federal law to justify their wrongheadedness when it comes to that.
So I was the kid that didn't have the resources. My parents were very working class, and I had a lot of challenges when it came to that. My outcome was not my sister's outcome. My sister's outcome was vastly different than mine. She didn't have that intellectual curiosity.
She didn't have the upside. She, like you, Juliet, had ADHd as well. So if I do have ADHD, it's in such a subclinical level that it is something that I manage quite easily and channel. So it's never been a barrier to me. So we don't get that.
And the schools are the ones who are deciding who's chosen or not. So, in the United States, we come from this puritanical background, and the way that it used to work is that when you're born, you were chosen to go to heaven or not. So I often say that those of us with dyslexia, we all share something in common. Original sin. We were born.
And because we were born, it determines a lot of what our futures will be in the current way that the systems work and they run. And then if you're born in a certain point of privilege, then that'll open up certain ways for you to overcome the original sin of being born. But I view dyslexia as original sin. Yeah. The only thing we're guilty of is having been born.
My line is, if you're rich, dyslexia is a gift. If you're poor, it's a curse. Yeah. My budy Juliet Hahn said that a few years ago on stage at.
Really? And it's a shame. And things need to know again, bringing the stories, talking about it, the action, which I know we can talk about until we're blue in the face, because there's so much that needs to be changed, but it needs to. I mean, it needs to. It can't just keep going like this.
Kids can't just keep being the sacrifice and you hear stories after stories. You guys, again, being reached out to all the know. I'll have people in my. I know, know you, Montgomery is dyslexic. You're dyslexic.
I have some questions for you.
It needs to be changed. So, Tim, I really appreciate you joining word blindness and sharing your story. And I'm so glad that we connected. I'm so glad that my mom didn't go to the lacrosse tournament, that she went to listen to you speak, because we wouldn't have been connected. And the work that you're doing is important, and we really appreciate your Time.
Well, thanks, guys. I mean, the work that you guys are doing is phenomenal. Just to raise awareness and have a place to share stories. Again, I was sharing with Brent. It seems like a lot of the folks that reach out to me just want to be witnessed, just want to have somebody hear their story and acknowledge their realities.
Because for me, there are about half of them who are adults, tend to be successful. Lawyers, medical doctors have reached out to me since the scientific, obviously, given the outlet, it's going to determine kind of who's reading Scientific American. So they just want to be witnessed, to have someone acknowledge the challenges they went through. Man, that's just like, yeah, can we just pause and acknowledge that it wasn't right, fair, or just what happened to me, I didn't use it as an excuse. I were wound up here.
But the common denominator is that none of us think that anybody else should have to have that gift of struggling that damn much. And it's a mystique of dyslexia to make it sound like it's some kind of prestige label to have, and it's a gift and it isn't. And when I tell parents who want to come in with that perspective, it's like, go talk to your children. Find out where they're at and really listen and find a space and have conversations. That's the number one thing that I gave my son after the therapy was he said that he's really glad that he has me as a dad because I can help him to navigate life, because he can always come to me with questions.
And I understand. And I get him to Brent's point earlier. It helps if you've been through something before, because then you can say, I know what you're going through. Here's things that I tried. They may work for you.
Give them a try. Try out some different things and tell me how it goes for you. I mean, I'm always open to add new things to my toolbox, but I really appreciate you guys for having a platform to elevate conversations around these topics. So thank you guys for what you're doing. Yeah.
Thanks again. Thank you for joining. And Brant, as always, my sidekick. Thank you, guys for joining. Word blindness.
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