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Three keys to unlocking dyslexic strengths

Updated: Nov 21, 2022


It’s the first time I facilitate an online programme of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Course offered by NoticeAbility.org, day one I meet three very different girls.


THE GOOFBALL at 14 flips between the filters on Zoom from bunny ears, to red lips, to the beret. If you can’t be good at something, it helps the discomfort by being the clown and making everyone laugh.


THE QUIET ONE at 15, has her mic on mute and herself half off camera. She looks bored.


THE BUBBLY ONE at 13 seems very young.


I explain the overall project:


The kids are to identify a problem they see around them in the world, and then come up with a solution to that problem.


They should design a business plan, discuss their ideal customer, develop a marketing strategy and eventually prepare THE PITCH to investors in ‘the fishbowl’ (slightly kinder but just as exciting as the shark tank).


We start by brainstorming problems in the world around us:


What bothers you?

Cold hands in exams,

tangled charger cables,

losing the back of earrings.



What bothers your mom?

Mud in the house,

power cuts,

losing her keys.


Nothing is off the table.


I introduce the idea that because of the MIND strengths in a dyslexic brain - the girls are more able to solve these kinds of problems than most other kids.


I have their attention but I can’t help feeling they aren’t buying it.



(You can check out Dean Bragonier of NoticeAbility.org describe of the strengths here or catch a summary of the book by Fernette and Brock Eide who first coined the phrase here. Then let me know if your kids buy it here.)


Over the next ten weeks I see three keys unlock these girls to a possibility they had never considered: dyslexia might actually be an advantage.


KEY #1 AUTONOMY


The kids develop their business ideas on their own. I’m not allowed to weigh in and analyse their ideas, challenge practicality or even ask questions.


I switch off my camera and mute myself. The kids must wrestle this thing out for themselves. Research shows that students learn and retain more information when they feel in charge of their own learning.


Once or twice I have to bite my tongue and resist the temptation to unmute.


The only time I chime in is when a discussion gets heated: I simply remind them that their autonomy hinges on this condition:


They have to use the key skills we discussed in sessions 3 and 4

conflict resolution,

negotiation

active listening


As long as they do that - I’ll stay out of their business. Literally.






Key #2 GAMING TECHNIQUES


Along the journey to THE PITCH at the end of 11 weeks the girls are incentivised by fictitious money or ‘Seed capital’. I award the girls money for entrepreneurial skills, social emotional skills, team work, participation and effort.


They know: the more money they take into their pitch the wilder their ideas can be.


When I notice them using their entrepreneurial vocabulary like ‘hidden gains’, ‘viability’ and ‘prototype’; I excitedly award more money.


They come up with a business idea: FindIt: A way to find lost things.


They design stickers to put on keys, phones, shoes and backpacks that can be tracked by an app to identify within a couple of meters where that item is.


As we go through different steps I see THE QUIET ONE be asked to design logos and packaging. She is brilliant and the others affirm and celebrate.


In week seven only THE BUBBLY ONE is ready to even say out loud ‘I am dyslexic’ when we have a discussion about each person and how they are gifted.


In week eight THE GOOFY ONE surprises us with brilliant feedback gained from interviewing several people on the viability of their product.


I award seed money with enthusiasm!


In week nine we talk about STRESS AS A GOOD THING. Can a pounding heart before a pitch to the sharks prep them for action? The thought of the pitch frightens THE QUIET ONE but thrills THE BUBBLY ONE. We talk about the different responses and the need to connect and show empathy.


For the first time I end the session feeling they are becoming a team.



Key #3 an OPPORTUNITY TO SHINE


It’s game day. We have broadly invited parents and grandparents and second cousins twice removed. Dean and Katie from NoticeAbility.org are joining us online. The nerves are high.


Today’s big challenge seems to be about whether the audience would like the business - whether the sharks will invest.

But it’s about more than that.


Each girl is standing up and saying: Here is my idea. I think it’s cool. I had it because I am dyslexic. And I think that’s pretty cool too.



I watch the girls present.


THE GOOFBALL is suddenly serious and knowledgeable. I hear her say


“We want to introduce FindiT and ask for your investment of $100 000 in exchange for 30% of the company. We have raised….”


THE BUBBLY ONE speaks next about markets, pricing and reach, and about the technology needed for the patent. She sounds twice the age she seemed when we first met.


By the time THE SHY ONE speaks I stare in disbelief. She presents her original designs with absolute confidence and surprising charm. Is this the same girl who wouldn’t speak to only three of us ten weeks ago?


I was told that parents often have a tear in the eye at these pitches.


But I’m the one wiping mine.



Kids report three things happen during Noticeability’s courses like this one


  1. An increase in self esteem.

  2. An increase in tenacity that translates into work outside the course.

  3. A decrease in stigma about what it means to be dyslexic.


It isn’t rocket science, I think to myself: We catch some kids doing something well, kids more used to failing and compensating with defense mechanisms.


We catch them and find them surprised by their own ability.


Then we point out to them: You aren’t brilliant despite your dyslexia.


You are brilliant because you are dyslexic.



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