Wow, I am so overdue for a blog post. Not that I don’t have a bunch of ideas in my head, just not enough time to sit down and get them on paper!
As many of you know, I really enjoy the New York times, especially their Health section. After moving, I’ve had to adapt to reading it online instead of holding the paper copy in my hands. I know am old fashioned but I miss the sensory experience of opening it up wide on the breakfast table to start my day.
This past weekend I read a wonderful article, “Jay Leno’s Advice for my Dyslexic Son, ” about 16 year-old Aidan who started writing to successful dyslexics for advice in frustrations after getting back disappointing grades in ninth grade. He heard back from a ;surgeon, economist, sculptor AND Jay Leno. I thought the varied advice was honest and encouraging to any student tired of having to try so hard to succeed in school with a disability.
The article shared some honest and practical acvice from his ….Dr. Delos Cosgrove, a surgeon and chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, was the first. He started his letter, “Dyslexia is an advantage in the fact that it makes us think more creatively.” The second person to write back, the economist Diane Swonk, said among other things, “Success is the process of learning from failures, and I had more learning experiences than many.” The sculptor Thomas Sayre said, “It appears that most dyslexics are improvisers. We have to be.”
Not one letter denied the challenges that come with having a significant learning difference. Instead, each letter provided the perspective that can only be gained over time. They all said, in their own ways, “Kid, you’re going to be O.K.”
My son pinned their letters up. He looked at these letters when preparing for a test or writing a paper or recovering from a bad grade. It would be nice to say that they provided the perfect antidote. They certainly did help, as did his academic accommodations. But midway through the year, his teachers called a meeting to see if anything more could be done.
Aidan’s principal, David Schwenker, wondered aloud whether taking one less class each semester might be the answer. “It would mean graduating one year later,” he said, “but then you could stay in honors classes.” Aidan was crestfallen.
It was fortuitous that the writer John Irving’s letter arrived around then. In it, Mr. Irving wrote, “You need to give yourself more time; it takes you longer to do things than it takes your friends. So what? If you do it well?” It helped to know that Mr. Irving, himself, had taken an extra year to finish high school. He graduated in 1961, when accommodations for disabilities were far less common. Aidan decided to do the same.
We are each born with different strengths and weaknesses, and learning to live with these is part of every life. What is regrettable is that often, far too early, the path some of us choose is shaped more by what we can’t do than what we can.
But back to Jay Leno.
By phone, he told Aidan many stories, including one in which his high school guidance counselor had recommended that he consider the training program at McDonald’s. Mr. Leno paused and chuckled. He obviously hadn’t listened to the guidance counselor. In fact, he went on to say, years later, he had invited this very guidance counselor to “The Tonight Show,” where he introduced him and they both laughed about that misguided advice.