Updated: Feb 8
I really liked Thomas West, author of Seeing What Others Cannot See: The Hidden Advantages of Visual Thinkers and Differently Wired Brains when we met to record this month’s episode of the Wonderfully Wired podcast.
It wasn’t only his gray hair and enthusiastic story telling (although my African blood can’t resist the experience and wisdom that comes from my elders) :
it was the hope represented in all he had to say.
Why parents of diverse thinkers need hope restored.
The hope we felt looking at our bright and quirky kids was lost when they first went to school . Early education rarely unlocks the potential of dyslexic and autistic learners and seldom affirms our belief that they have much to offer.
The ping pong between the good and the bad news.
The Good news
Kids naturally have hope and imagination in abundance and find no reason to believe that their difficulties will last forever.
The Bad news
School whittles away at that hope and imagination especially in dyslexic and other visual thinkers who find the primary mode of early education hard (reading, writing and rote memory).
The Good news
Tom’s real life stories of successful visual thinkers aren’t wishful thinking.
Tom proves that some of the groundbreaking thinkers in mathematics and science in the past were visual thinkers with dyslexia or on the autism spectrum. He also highlights that some of the most innovative businesses and organisations in the present are seeking out such brains to see what others cannot see.
The Bad news
Parents have to intentionally compensate for the hope and confidence our kids never should have lost (the longer we wait the harder it is to convince our kids).
The Good news
Kids are forgiving, and surprisingly adaptive.
NoticeAbility.org keeps finding that hope quickly returns to dyslexic students when they are involved in courses that develop and acknowledge their gifts. The same kids that thought themselves dumb, adopt a pride in their dyslexia and even a smugness about the strengths they thought everybody had.
Check out more writing on the work of NoticeAbility from November 2022 on wonderfullywired.online and listen to my conversation with the founder, Dean Bragonier here.
What Tom and I concluded:
Toward the end of our conversation of considering great minds in history and groundbreaking emerging sciences, Tom soberingly said that ‘Dyslexics aren’t like non-dyslexics but they are not all the same either’. His critics are concerned that you and I are going to assume that all dyslexics are Einsteins, Teslas, Churchills and Yeats.
Of course talent is not equally measured in all people.
But your and my issue isn’t that we will sue Tom and his charming stories if our kids don’t turn out to be astrophysicists or molecular biologists. Our issue is that report cards are telling us they won’t pass grade 6!
That’s when Tom and I acknowledged that learning and growing as a different thinker is still really hard!
The bit where I got vulnerable with Tom:
What is the statistical probability of my child becoming one of the remarkable people whose stories Tom describes? Aren’t the odds more likely that he will be one of the dyslexics who barely makes it through school or a kid on the spectrum who doesn’t end up as a working adult?
The practical advice Tom gave:
Expose your kids to as many situations and experiences as possible so they can find the spaces and passions in which they could really thrive.
NEVER GIVE UP. Tom explains how he had to submit his first book 70 times before it was accepted! Dyslexic ideas seldom get adopted the first time!
What you can choose:
You came to this site because you worry about your child, you search for resources because you feel stuck without options or discouraged by his or her apparent lack of progress.
What Tom offers isn’t a silver lining. It’s a redefining of difference not as a deficit but as bursting with potential.
So here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to adopt a childlike willingness to hope and feel confident because one fundamental thing continues to be true: Kids live up to AND down to expectations.
Are you with me?
Listen to the conversation with Thomas Wes as Episode 5 of the Wonderfully Wired podcast wherever you get your podcasts or right here.