Dyslexia Emerges from the Shadows with "Overcoming Dyslexia," a New Book by Yale Researcher Sally Shaywitz

The goal of “Overcoming Dyslexia,” a new book by Yale School of Medicine researcher Sally Shaywitz, M.D., is to translate groundbreaking research on the disorder, including brain imaging studies, into practical methods and programs that can be used by every teacher and parent.

Shaywitz, professor of pediatrics and at the Yale Child Study Center, will discuss the book at a reception and book signing on Tuesday, May 13 at 4:30 p.m. at the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Historical library at the Yale School of Medicine, 333 Cedar St.

Shaywitz said another goal of her book is to show that extremely smart, well-known people like Charles Schwab, John Grisham, and noted physician scientists like Graeme Hammond and the late Harvey Cushing, founder of modern neurosurgery, who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Sir William Osler, were also dyslexic.

People with dyslexia have excellent thinking and reasoning skills, and a great ability to conceptualize and think creatively, yet they struggle to understand basic reading patterns.

“It’s a paradox,” said Shaywitz. “People wonder how they can be so smart and can’t read well. But we understand that now. It’s not something to be ashamed of, it can be treated and I want that to be the take-away message from the book.”

Since her book was published by Alfred A. Knopf in April, people from all over the country have contacted Shaywitz expressing gratitude. “They say the information in the book has opened their eyes and helped them gain a better understanding of how the disease affects themselves and their children and what the next step is,” said Shaywitz.

Dyslexia is a very common reading disorder, affecting one in five people. It is often not identified until the third grade or later. Shaywitz said people misunderstand dyslexia. “They think it’s an odd problem affecting a small number of people,” she said. “Dyslexia affects many people and it’s not that they can’t read, but that reading requires great effort.”

The book tells what specific clues to look for at pre-school, kindergarten and first, second and later grades, as well as in young adults and adults. If dyslexia is suspected, steps can be taken to improve reading.

“We can now identify dyslexia accurately and early,” said Shaywitz. “The signs are even visible in the pre-school period. We can take those signs, identify affected children and adults and provide highly effective science-based reading programs. We can help just about every child and adult become a better reader.”

Shaywitz said the secret to reading is learning how to link the sounds of our spoken language to the letters used to write the words. The key to helping children and adults with dyslexia is to uncover reading problems early and then to help them connect sounds to letters. Parents who devote 20 minutes a day to helping their children sound out words will see their children become more adept readers.

Some other successful people with dyslexia mentioned in Shaywitz’ book include Scott Adams, creator of the cartoon “Dilbert,” Dar Pilkey, creator of the cartoon “Mr. Underpants,” Jay Leno and Paul J. Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s.

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Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326