After learning that his daughter was also dyslexic, Karl de Leeuw set about finding a ‘cure’. His quest triggered a chain of events that will culminate in next year’s inaugural celebration of dyslexia. The condition, he discovered, needs no cure – it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Words by Karl de Leeuw
Learning that your child has dyslexia can be devastating – it was for me. I grew up in South Africa in the 1970S where my own dyslexia went undiagnosed and unsupported.
I knew first-hand what lay ahead for my nine-year-old daughter, Alice. Just three per cent of Britons consider dyslexia to be a positive trait. Not only would she struggle with writing, reading and spelling, but she would have to battle societal prejudices, too.
Would she cope? And, for that matter, could I?
Seeking fresh hope, I researched as many sources as I could find. I soon discovered that conventional wisdom was – in our case at least – counter-intuitive and destructive. It posits that dyslexics should ‘correct’ their brains by developing their left hemisphere, commonly associated with logic, mathematics and writing. It’s a bit like trying to force a square peg into a round hole – it simply can’t be done, or at least not without inflicting damage.
In desperation, I turned to less traditional – some might say leftfield – sources and stumbled upon the Davis Method, which teaches adults and children to overcome academic difficulties by drawing on their own inherent natural strengths. Rather than attempting to ‘correct’ the left hemisphere, the Davis Method focuses instead on harnessing the phenomenal power of its right counterpart, thereby unlocking an individual’s power of creativity, intuition and perception. These are skills that not only weaken dyslexia’s hold but actually give dyslexics a distinct advantage. As a parent, this was a revelation. Dyslexia was no longer a curse but a gift.
The Davis Method is no miracle cure and it won’t work for everyone; Alice’s journey involved hard work and plenty of it. But within the space of just three months Alice, who had been moved into a learning support unit, re-joined her old class. She went through the rest of her school education having to work harder than most but coped.
Since then, the message that dyslexia should be viewed favourably has received a welcome boost by Sir Richard Branson. Dyslexia should, he said in an interview, be recognised as a sign of potential. Sir Richard, who reportedly dropped out of school at 16 and is among a raft of celebrities with the condition, including Tom Cruise, said his own dyslexia was "treated as a handicap: my teachers thought I was lazy and dumb, and I couldn’t keep up or fit in."
Drawing on my own experiences and on the views of Sir Richard and others, I set about promoting the notion that dyslexia should be seen as a gift. I even wrote a book about it, called The Dyslexia Code, which aims to support the 15% of individuals living with dyslexia nationwide and is an appeal for change on the attitudes towards dyslexia.
Now I’m taking things one step further by organising what promises to be the world’s first celebration of dyslexia. The idea came about after I held two similar events in Dublin, Ireland, based on the same objective. Though far smaller than the International Celebration of Dyslexia is set to be, both were an unprecedented (and to some degree, unexpected) success. It reinforced my goal: that society itself needs to change, not dyslexic people.
The International Celebration of Dyslexia is designed to bring that key message to the fore - through a variety of high-profile speakers - and to inspire adults and children with the condition to dream big. To the best of my knowledge, the event will be a world-first; dyslexia associations worldwide have yearly conferences, but none promote dyslexia as a gift – a flaw shared by almost all dyslexia charities.
It’s set to take place at Birmingham’s NEC in summer 2020 and attract 16,000 or more adults and children (aged eight years and older). All proceeds from this one-day event will go to sparklemalawi.org, a UK-based charity that improves the life chances of vulnerable children in Malawi.
In coming weeks, I’ll be reaching out to notable public figures with dyslexia to speak. These will include Sir Richard Branson, an individual whose presence alone would safeguard the event’s long-term future and add credence to our message.
By publicly describing dyslexia as a sign of potential, Sir Richard has already given society a gift. Sir Richard, if you’re reading this, your support will ensure that gift keeps on giving.
Karl de Leeuw is a dyslexia campaigner and the author of The Dyslexia Code, an interactive eBook with videos and further resources. His other books include The Health Spring Code and The Universe Code, which also contain further guidance on dyslexia. All can be found on Amazon UK. For further information about the International Celebration of Dyslexia visit www.icd.world
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