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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

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
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


sports athletes
  • 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
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
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
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
Will this person succeed in college?

Woodcock-Johnson R Test of Cognitive Ability

will this person succeed in college1
Will this person succeed in college?

Woodcock-Johnson R Test of Cognitive Ability

meet rob langston
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
Rob Langston (Age 23)(Langston, 2002, pp. 116-117)

Woodcock-Johnson R Test of Cognitive Ability

rob langston today college graduate
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
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
The Upside-down Bell Curve

Dyslexia is Overrepresented at the Extremes

(Langston, 2009, p. 45)

successful thinking
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
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
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
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
A Resource