Photo courtesy of VCU School of Education
For those with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, what at first appear as obstacles might actually serve as good training on the road to success, a new book co-authored by Virginia Commonwealth University professor Paul Gerber suggests.
Leaders, Visionaries and Dreamers: Extraordinary People with Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities (Nova Publishers, $42.75 on Amazon) highlights as examples the achievements and contributions of 12 remarkable people spanning fields including business, politics, sports and the arts.
"We're not going as far as saying it's a gift," says Gerber, VCU's Ruth Harris Professor of Dyslexia Studies, of the book he co-wrote with educational consultant and researcher Marshall Raskind. But "prior research that we've done has said that, in order to navigate the trials and tribulations of learning disabilities or dyslexia, you really need to be somewhat of a creative thinker."
One of the most striking illustrations that Gerber provides involves foremost economist Diane Swonk. "She was in the Twin Towers that fateful day in 2001," he says, "in a meeting of about 12 people. When that happened, she said to the people in the room, ‘Follow me.' And she took control and she got them all out, [as well as] 10 or 12 others." Gerber says Swonk put her successful actions that day down to the problem-solving she has to do as a dyslexic: "I have to think on my feet every day; I can't be thrown by anything."
Other prominent personalities featured in the book — which, by studying adults, also aims to advance the conversation beyond its typical childhood focus — include paleontologist, MacArthur "genius" grant winner and Jurassic Park technical advisor Jack Horner; internationally acclaimed artist Chuck Close; NFL Hall of Famer Neil Smith; and Happy Days actor Henry Winkler.
For the book, Gerber and Raskind had funding from the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. Learning-disabled himself — "he likes to say it's a learning difference," says Gerber — Charles Schwab requested that the book be as reader-friendly as possible, to make it accessible to those with such difficulties, as well as to their caregivers and other interested parties. Scientific terminology has been dispensed with and instead, "there's lots of very juicy quotes in there, and a very good narrative."
Gerber says that by demonstrating the varied routes to success taken by his 12 subjects, he hopes to provide inspiration and encouragement to those with dyslexia or other learning disabilities: "With passion and capitalization on strengths, one can have a reasonable chance for achieving success."