On March 31, Sir Richard Branson — that brilliantly innovative billionaire and brains behind the Virgin empire — announced he was creating a dyslexic-only sperm bank. Considering the timing, this might have been an April Fool’s joke, or it may have been a creative response to the policy of the London Sperm Bank, which bars men with dyslexia from donating.
But this part is no joke: Branson gives his dyslexia credit for his success. And clearly he recognizes the strengths that make it a positive attribute, not a negative one. As he stated in his announcement, “Dyslexia has been a massive help for me personally; it makes me think creatively and laterally, two major factors that helped me create Virgin and build a global brand.” He continued, “Dyslexic people from all walks of life — including scientists, artists, astronauts, athletes, mathematicians, actors, doctors, musicians and entrepreneurs — have been kind enough to donate so far.”
The video accompanying the announcement, The World Is Made by Dyslexia, features dyslexic superstars like Muhammad Ali, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, John Lennon, and Agatha Christie.
Unfortunately, for far too many individuals, their dyslexic strengths that could lead to amazing accomplishments are not realized until after years of unnecessary struggle in school. Branson, who dropped out of high school at the age of 15, put his entrepreneurial skills to work instead, founding a lucrative student newspaper as his first successful business venture.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper (also dyslexic) he noted, “Obviously someone who’s dyslexic you’ve got to try to get them as much help as they can from, you know, the people at the schools and other people who are specializing in dyslexia. But, you know, in the end I think, you know, the chances are that they may well excel in other areas.”
And herein lies the problem: getting dyslexic students appropriate help from those who specialize in dyslexia is far more complex than it seems. Despite the fact that dyslexic students comprise 20 percent of the school population, identifying them, teaching them in the way that they learn, and obtaining access to dyslexia specialists is a time-consuming, extremely frustrating, and, ultimately, often a very expensive process for parents. Those who can afford it may simply give up on the schools and seek out the specialized services of private organizations and individuals.
But what of those who do not have access to the resources to understand, identify and pay for dyslexia services on their own? They don’t have many options at all. Despite plenty of scientific research on the subject about how to teach students with dyslexia how to read, write, and spell, it just hasn’t become common knowledge in our teacher education programs or in the typical classroom — here, there, and everywhere across America.
So when a smart guy like Richard Branson uses his out-of-the-box thinking style and makes an investment in a company to help create more dyslexics in the world, we might want to stop and take notice.
And that’s no joke.
On Tuesday, May 2, the Santa Barbara Central Library will host a public forum featuring a number of accomplished dyslexic adults from our community who will provide their insights and experiences with dyslexia; 6:45-8 p.m.; it’s a great chance to learn for yourself the secrets of dyslexic success.
Also, on Monday, May 10 at 5:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 1 p.m., the Central Library hosts “Dyslexia for a Day” (actually an hour), which gives participants an opportunity to experience a simulation of what it’s like to have dyslexia.
Or, learn how to tutor a struggling dyslexic reader in the specialized Orton-Gillingham approach to reading. This is an outstanding opportunity for parents, teachers, tutors, and community members to learn a very valuable skill, presented by the Dyslexia Training Institute of San Diego, recognized as leaders in the field. The 18-hour training will take place Saturday, May 20-Sunday, May 21, and Saturday, June 2. Contact Bev Schwartzberg at 805-564-5619 or email@example.com
Cheri Rae is the author of DyslexiaLand and director of Dyslexia Santa Barbara. Contact her at DyslexiaSB@gmail.com.