Ben Foss

Make Dyslexia About Strengths, Not Shame

Read Ben’s post as it was written without the benefit of spell-check, word prediction or editing.

Let me introduce myself: My name is Ben Foss, and I am dyslexic.

When I was a kid, my mother read out loud to me. When I went to college, I’d fax my term papers home to her in New Hampshire so she could read them to me over the phone and help me find spelling mistakes.

I know what it’s like to feel lonely, and I want to tell dyslexic people—especially dyslexic kids and their parents—that you’re not alone.

Here I’m sharing some of the insights I’ve gained on my path from special education to completing my law and business degrees at Stanford, and eventually becoming the Director of Access Technology at Intel. I hope these insights will help you learn the facts about dyslexia, tell your story and build a toolkit that will allow people with dyslexia play to their strengths.

For starters, let me tell you that when it comes to dyslexia, most people focus on reading or spelling. They could instead focus on shame. Shame is a feeling that you’re unworthy because of something you are. It’s different from guilt, which is feeling bad about something you did, like stealing or cheating.

Shame comes from not feeling normal. But what is normal? As my mom told me when I was a kid, quoting the humorist Emma Bombeck, “Normal is just a setting on your dryer!”

If you’re terrible at a thing you’re asked to do every day—in my case as a kid, reading—you begin to assume that you must be the problem, and you try to hide it. That is shame. The key to success as a dyslexic person is to understand your strengths and weaknesses.

This can be very scary, and it takes time. Finding joy as a dyslexic person or as a parent of a dyslexic child involves first understanding the facts, then starting to tell your story to people you trust. If your child has dyslexia, he can eventually create a practical toolkit—including books on tape or a computer that will write down what he says—that allows him to play to his strengths.

See Ben’s “Native Tongue”

I’ve found that people have a hard time believing my dyslexia when they see only the final product of my written work. These days, I generally speak to a computer and use Dragon Naturally Speaking to have it transcribed, greatly increasing my speed and accuracy when writing. For this blog, that material went through four rounds of edits, including structural, copy and proofing, further polishing the material.

Here’s what the first paragraphs looked like before that. I call this my “native tongue.”

Let me introduce myself. My name is ben foss and I am dyslexic. When I was a kid, my mother read outoud to me. When I went to gollage I faxed my paper home to my nother in new hampshipe so she could read them to me over the phoe and help me find spelling mistakes. I know what it is like to feal lonely and I want to tell dyslexic peopel and especially dyslexic kids and their parents.