Lessons from people with learning disabilities in reading
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Lessons from People with Learning Disabilities in Reading. Martha J. Larkin, PhD 43rd Annual Conference of the Virginia State Reading Association March 2010. http://www.nemours.org/service/preventive/brightstart/dyslexia/people.html

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Lessons from People with Learning Disabilities in Reading

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Lessons from People with Learning Disabilities in Reading

Martha J. Larkin, PhD

43rd Annual Conference of the Virginia State Reading Association

March 2010




  • Jay Leno, comedian

  • Whoopi Goldberg, actor

  • Keanu Reeves, actor

  • Salma Hayek, actor

  • Robin Williams, actor and comedian

  • Henry Winkler, actor

  • Keira Knightley, actor

  • Danny Glover, actor

  • Cher, actor and singer

  • Will Smith, actor and singer

  • John Lennon, musician and artist



  • Charles Schwab, investor

  • Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group

  • Paul J. Orfalea, Founder of Kinko’s

  • John T. Chambers, President and CEO of Cisco Systems, Inc.

  • Tommy Hilfiger, clothing designer


Scientific and Historical Figures

  • Michaelangelo, artist

  • Thomas Edison, scientist and inventor

  • Albert Einstein, mathematician and physicist

  • Leonardo da Vinci, artist and inventor

  • Alexander Graham Bell, inventor



  • Muhammad Ali, World Boxing Heavyweight Champion

  • Earvin “Magic” Johnson, NBA Los Angeles Lakers (Center)

  • Nolan Ryan, Major League Baseball Hall of Fame (Pitcher)

  • Greg Louganis, Olympic Gold Medalist (Diving)


Learning Disability (LD)

  • Neurological disorder or differences in way brain “is wired”

  • Average or above average intelligence

  • Possible difficulties with reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and/or organizing information

  • LD for life – “no cure”

  • With appropriate support and intervention can be successful in school, career, and life


LD Facts

  • About 15% of US population (1 in 7) has an LD.

  • Basic reading and language skill difficulties are the most common LDs.

  • About 80% of students with LD have reading problems.

  • LD often is prevalent in families.

  • LD is not mental retardation, autism, behavioral disorders, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

  • LD should not be confused with lack of educational opportunity.


Common Learning Disabilities

  • Dyslexia– a language-based disability in which a person has trouble understanding written words. It may also be referred to as reading disability or reading disorder.

  • Dyscalculia– a mathematical disability in which a person has a difficult time solving arithmetic problems and grasping math concepts.

  • Dysgraphia– a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letters or write within a defined space.

  • Auditory and Visual Processing Disorders – sensory disabilities in which a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision.

  • Nonverbal Learning Disabilities– a neurological disorder which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative and holistic processing functions.



Will this person succeed in college?

Woodcock-Johnson R Test of Cognitive Ability

Will this person succeed in college?

Woodcock-Johnson R Test of Cognitive Ability

Will this person succeed in college?

Test of Achievement

Meet Rob Langston

  • “I’m Rob Langston and I have dyslexia.” (p. 1)

  • Georgia license plate “ABLE-LD”

  • Elementary School

    • Kindergarten is fun

    • 1st grade was difficult

      • Stress induced physical illness

      • Summer vocabulary list and tutoring

    • 2nd grade

      • IQ Test (Score 84)

      • Outside phonics help (minimal results)

    • 3rd grade

      • One-on-one tutoring with a reading specialist (minimal results after 1 year)

        (Langston, 2002)


Rob’s Coping Skills

“That day in the first grade marked the beginning of what I now call my ‘bag of tricks.’ That ‘bag of tricks’ soon expanded to include lying, cheating, and memorizing. That is how I made it to the 5th grade without my teachers knowing, or so I thought, that I could not read.” (Langston, 2002, p. 17)

  • Invented stories to cover the truth

  • Listened to other children read first to recite a story verbatim ( incorporated teacher’s corrections for them) while looking at the book

“I Can’t Write What I Know” (Langston, 2002, p. 21)

  • Rob’s mother, Martha Langston, his advocate.

    • Helped Rob get extra assistance with reading both within and outside of school

    • Helped him study

      • Read the text and other information to him

      • Rob & Mom discussed contents & summarized major points

      • Mom simulated the test by asking Rob to answer questions

  • Conversation after a 5th grade test and an accommodation

Rob’s Puzzle Piece (How He Learns)

  • Another coping strategy - Counted paragraphs to find his “read aloud paragraph”, but if the teacher called on students out of order…

  • Mom told Rob he could politely tell the teacher that he did not want to read aloud.

  • Rob’s strength is listening.

    (Langston, 2002)

Middle School(It’s ok to tell the truth about LD.)

  • Separate classroom one period a day (“janitor’s closet”)

    • Asked permission to go to class 5 minutes late so friends would not see him going there

  • Told friends about his LD one day after school when he could not read directions to new video game.

    • He then realized his friends accepted him the way he was.

      (Langston, 2002)

High School(Use your mind to make a difference in your life.)

  • Rob was frustrated and angry about having a LD and not being able to read.

    • Elementary School – turned anger inward

    • High School – directed anger towards parents

  • A psychologist explained to Rob that anger is just energy that can be directed however one desires.

    • He helped Rob to deal with his anger through visualizing what he wanted (e.g., being a successful football player).

    • Do good with your success. Rob convinced bullies to stop picking on another student with LD.

      (Langston, 2002)

College(My Own Advocate)

  • Rob’s family expected him to go to college (grandfather, father, and brother had reading difficulties).

  • Rob went to West Georgia College in 1986 (now University of West Georgia).

  • He was not the first student with LD, but was first to receive accommodations.

    • Oral testing

    • Taped textbooks and readers

    • Tape recorder and note takers

    • Extra time for in class writing assignments

      (Langston, 2002)

Rob Langston (Age 23)(Langston, 2002, pp. 116-117)

Woodcock-Johnson R Test of Cognitive Ability

Rob Langston (Age 23)(Langston, 2002, pp. 116-117)

Test of Achievement

Rob Langston Today(College Graduate)

  • President of Langston Company

  • Founder of For The Children Foundation

  • Conducts assemblies for children in the United States

  • Works with Charles & Helen Schwab & Professor Garfield Foundations making a difference for children with LD

  • Author of two books:

    • For The Children: Redefining Success in School and Success in Life (2002)

    • The Power of Dyslexic Thinking: How a Learning Disability Shaped Six Successful Careers (2010)

  • Writes blog on dyslexia for Psychology Today

  • Speaks with CEOs about his success strategies


Rob Speaks to Prisoners

  • 40-60% illiteracy rate in prisons

  • Many prisoners never finished high school due to academic and/or behavior problems.

  • Instance of dyslexia higher in prisoners than in general population.

    (Langston, 2009)

The Upside-down Bell Curve

Dyslexia is Overrepresented at the Extremes

(Langston, 2009, p. 45)

Successful Thinking

  • “People with dyslexia can be highly successful-the trick is learning to embrace thinking like a dyslexic.” (Langston, 2009, p. xi)

  • Rob’s Success Formula

    • Determine your goal

    • Do exhaustive research

    • Take action (If something doesn’t work, try again)

    • Affirm success

      (Langston, 2002)

Lessons Learned

  • Educators can do “For The Children”:

    • View the whole child.

    • Learn and consider the child’s perspective.

    • Provide a safe environment for a child to take risks in order to learn (fear impedes learning progress).

    • Encourage the child to build upon his/her strengths (affirm success & keep self-esteem intact).

    • Encourage the child to embrace his/her disability

      (work on weaknesses, but don’t let define who the child is).

    • Encourage the child to ask for help when needed.

Lessons Learned 2

  • Educators can do for themselves which ultimately benefits the children:

    • Don’t operate by fear

      • “I don’t know how to teach children with learning disabilities. I don’t have the training.”

      • “I might say or do the wrong thing.” “Let someone else do it.”

    • Trust and caring can go a long way in building good teacher-student relationships

    • Learn from our students. They can teach us a great deal.

    • When faced with a new situation involving a child with a disability:

      • Learn what colleagues might do.

      • Consult professional literature and reputable internet sources to gain new information and insights.

      • Use your best judgment and try something.

    • Be your authentic self, but have an open mind to explore new possibilities.

Other Success Stories

Davis, R. D. with Braun, E. M. (1997). The gift of dyslexia: Why some of the smartest people can’t read and how they can learn. Berkley Publishing: New York, NY.

Lee, C., & Jackson, R. (1992). Faking it: A look into the mind of a creative learner. Boynton/Cook Publishers: Portsmouth, NH.

Lee, C. M., & Jackson, R. (2001). What about me? Strategies for teaching misunderstood learners. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH. (See also http://www.christophermlee.com/default.htm

A Resource


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