Episode 23. Dyslexia: A special kind of smart

This week’s podcast episode focuses on dyslexia, a life-long condition that makes reading fluently nearly impossible. Dyslexia is a subject about which I have strong feelings and beliefs. I have worked with countless students who have dyslexia. My mom has dyslexia. My niece has dyslexia.


Reading is a process of looking at symbols and getting meaning from those symbols. It is connecting letters with sounds, stringing those sounds into words, sentences, and paragraphs, and then decoding and comprehending the written word. To comprehend what one has read, one must read fluently.


About one in five people struggle with fluency and comprehension. That struggle is known as a specific learning disability in reading, commonly referred to as dyslexia.


Our guests have first-hand experience with dyslexia. Tricia Cook embraces her gift of dyslexia. She has learned strategies to help her brain compensate for its learning differences.

Our second guest is Tracy Peterson, a veteran teacher who along with her former student, Sloane LeFrance, wrote Cartwheels Finding Your Special Kind of Smart, a lively look at a real student who would rather do cartwheels than read because reading frustrates her.


Tricia Cook knows the feeling of failure and shame that often envelope a student when she realizes her reading growth is not keeping pace with her classmates. Tricia managed to get into college before she began to understand the circuitry in her brain differs from that of about 80 percent of the population. She became a reading specialist and trained in the Montessori method of teaching as well as in the pioneering, multisensory approach to teaching reading known as Orton-Gillingham. In addition, she offers independent tutoring, coaching, and consultation.



Online Educational Camp – My ELBERT: Everyone Learns Better Embracing Revolutionary Teaching








Tracy Peterson calls herself a jack of all trade — she’s taught in California, Kansas, Nebraska, and Arkansas, and in special education, preschool, high school, college, fifth grade, second grade, and first grade. She was named “Teacher of the Year” for the Little Rock School District in 2005. Cartwheels is her first book, but she has been telling kid’s stories for years. She is an enthusiastic motivator who finds the good in all, with her class rules being “be kind” and “do your best.” Tracy hopes Cartwheels will be a springboard for positive conversations about dyslexia and for everyone finding and recognizing their own special kind of smart in themselves and in others. She is working on more books in her “From Their Eyes” series, which will feature challenges children face in their own words







Tracy’s quote:


There was an article written in the early 60s by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop. She was addressing diversity in children’s literature. When I heard of her article, it rang so true to me. She said children’s books need to provide a mirror, a window, and a sliding glass door for children who have differences. A mirror to see themselves, a window where others can look in and understand, and a door so they can step into someone else’s world. Rarely do children with dyslexia see themselves in literature.




Tracey —

Please begin our conversation with a summary of Cartwheels:

Lively Sloane loves to make up dances, put on shows, and do art. But as she heads into first grade, nothing frustrates her more than reading. In math, the numbers go together right in her brain, but no matter how hard she looks at letters, and no matter how many times her teacher and parents say “focus,” she would much rather do cartwheels. She feels sad her reading is not keeping pace with her class and isn’t reading the “right way.” Then, she finds out that she has dyslexia. Join Sloane on her journey to learn to read, gain confidence, and find her own special kind of smart.



The subtitle is Finding Your Own Kind of Smart. Will you help us understand why you chose those words?


·       Famous people with their “own special kind of smart” include Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, Tim Tebow, Henry Winkler, Jennifer Aniston, Tom Cruise, Richard Branson, Jay Leno, and the late John Lennon, Steve Jobs, and Muhammed Ali.

·       Historical figures who had dyslexia include Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, George Washington, and Leonardo da Vinci.


Tell us about Sloane. What did you notice that made you suspect she might have dyslexia?


While there is no cure for dyslexia, there is good news.

Early identification, intervention using authentically researched-based explicit, and individualized instruction most often leads to reading success.


Tell us about the reading intervention Sloane received.


Where is Sloane today on her reading journey?


People who have dyslexia often are creative, out-of-the-box creative thinkers who have strong reasoning abilities and may have above-average intelligence.


People with dyslexia can become highly successful students and adults.


What should a parent or grandparent do if the child seems to have difficulty reading?


If you suspect your child or grandchild might have dyslexia, also known as a specific learning disability in reading, help is available. Please contact your child or grandchild’s school – in writing – and request the child’s school begin the child study process.




Where can listeners find you and find your books?

Cartwheels: Finding Your Special Kind of Smart — Et Alia Press


Amazon.com: Tracy S Peterson: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle


If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or one of today’s guests.


Road Trip Activities that Promote Speech and Language Development | TherapyWorks





What is Orton-Gillingham? (therapyworks.com)


What is Orton-Gillingham? The Orton-Gillingham approach is a technique for remedial reading instruction. It was developed in the late 1930s by Samuel Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist at Columbia University, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist.


The Orton-Gillingham approach aims to develop literacy skills in dyslexic children and was the first remedial reading technique to use a multisensory phonics strategy for reading instruction.


Orton-Gillingham uses sight, hearing, touch, and movement to convey concepts of reading, spelling, and writing to students. By breaking these skills down into smaller, more basic skills of recognizing certain letters and sounds, therapists are able to build up to larger reading and writing skills over time, at a pace that works for the patient.


This approach, when combined with sequential lessons focusing on phonics, has been proven to be highly effective in teaching children with dyslexia how to read.

Throughout its decades of use, Orton-Gillingham has proven effective for all sorts of learners, not just those with dyslexia. Educators have integrated it into classroom instruction. Speech-language pathologists have made great use of Orton-Gillingham as a therapy tool.



What is Epigenetics? | CDC


The Fundamentals of Neuropedagogy | Brain Blogger


Amazon.com: Henry Winkler: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle


The gut-brain connection – Harvard Health


Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences – NIU – Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning


Rudine Sims Bishop: ‘Mother’ of multicultural children’s literature | Ohio State Education and Human Ecology (osu.edu)


7 Myths About Twice-Exceptional (2E) Students | Understood – For learning and thinking differences


What Is Stealth Dyslexia? | The Inside Track | Understood – For learning and thinking differences

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