As youngsters across the country settle into a new school year, some parents will receive disturbing news: little Jason or Emma has dyslexia. While this difficulty in processing written words can create challenges, it can be overcome with creativity. Two extraordinarily accomplished adults relate how their struggles with dyslexia in childhood contributed to their current achievements. Learn how parents can help children confront this challenge.

Guests: Dr. Edward (Ned) Hallowell is a child and adult psychiatrist and the founder of The Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Sudbury, MA and New York City. He is the author of Driven to Distraction, Delivered from Distraction, and 16 other books. The website is The photo is of Dr. Hallowell.

Philip Schultz is an American poet, and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry. He is the founder and director of The Writers Studio, a private school for fiction and poetry writing based in New York City. The website is His most recent book, a memoir, is My Dyslexia. His article for The New York Times is “Words Failed, Then Saved Me.”

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for six weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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  1. DCE

    Thank you for this episode. It was wonderful, educational, and inspiring. It made me proud to have ADD

  2. jf

    I’m 56 and have always felt I’ve had ADD or some type of learning disability since grade school. I was always in the 3rd group and always self-conscious of not being smart. I’ve always had a problem with comprehension; however, I love to read and can read very well aloud. I don’t know how I got thru school. I envy adults that decide to go to college. I feel it would be a struggle for me.
    Being female and menopausal, I have problems with memory and articulating what I want to say.
    I have a job with a wonderful company; I’m well liked and they accept me as I am.
    I had convulsions as a baby, and was hit by a car as a little girl. Unfortunately, family history tells me we aren’t highly intellectual.
    I discussed my focus problem with my family doctor and he prescribed Adderall. I’ve been taking the generic for 2 years and it helps. I try to eat healthy even with a terrible sweet tooth. Is there any hope for me?

  3. CT

    To the comments posted by EAS: Right on, sister! I agree that saying “teachers” makes listeners think all teachers act this way. How I wish the critics would say “some teachers” or even “poor teachers”, instead of all teachers! I understand that this show is heard around the country, and I do not know what schools are like in other states. But in New Jersey, we DO take learning strengths and weaknesses into account as we plan our teaching for our students. As interesting as the program was, it was not new information.

  4. Educator

    I find interesting the comment that, as educators, we don’t have all the answers. At what point was that stated that I thought we did? It was Joe who commented that students who struggle in reading are regarded as “slow” by teachers, not the Doctor. As for my negativity/abrasiveness, trying to negate my opinion, which clearly is all a “comment” is supposed to be, defeats the purpose of this venue, which I would hope would be about healthy discussion, not an evaluative statement about what kind of educator you seem to think I am because I disagreed with some comments in the program.
    I do not dispute the Doctor’s education, expertise, or validity. However suggesting that dyslexia is characterized by difficulty sounding out words is, frankly, quite an antiquated way of diagnosing reading difficulties. If you have studied Marie Clay, are a Reading Specialist, or have a degree in Special Education, let’s talk.

  5. DAR

    Early on (in grade school) I had trouble reading and understanding what I had read. I found that by reading aloud to myself, I could understand clearly what I had heard. This method carried me through college, especially with technical papers & chemistry labs. It’s worth a try.

  6. Michael S.

    I went to school before much was know about dyslexia and I was in my early thirties before I figured it out. I am writing to say two things.
    The first is thank you for the show.
    The second is Please, please, please stop saying things like “someone has dyslexia.” Dyslexia is not a disease. You would never say that someone has left-handedness. Dyslexics simply work a bit differently. There are times when this is a problem, but there are other times when it is a great benefit.

  7. M H

    My daughter is an Assistant Principal at a high poverty elementary school. Her journey to this position began when she discovered that all three of her sons were dyslexic. After trying an in school program that did nothing for her sons, and holding the twins back for a year, she learned about a tutor in the Orton-Gillingham approach. The third son gained so much that she took classes to learn how to teach this method using Wilson materials with her other two sons..
    After tutoring her sons and other children for a couple of years, she went back to school to become a reading consultant. All the while she had to go to many conferences to make sure her sons were getting the assistance they were eligible for. Some teachers were of the opinion that they were just lazy, but that was before they met my daughter head-on.
    As the boys approached graduation from High School, she realized that she wanted to do more to get this reading approach into the classroom, so back to school again (with a scholarship) for her degree in School Administration. So now she is in a position to have some say-so in curriculum development. I am excited to share your program with her.
    One of her sons is at a university with a scholarship to become a teacher, another one is at a university studying Sports Management. Both these twins made 3.6 gpa’s their first year. Her third son is at a Community college studying turf management. I have no idea where these boys would be academically if they had not been trained with the multi-phasic learning method. I spread the word wherever I can. Thank you for an excellent program.

  8. K

    As I was listening to your show, a big smile came across my face and I felt affirmed, encouraged, empowered and hopeful- a weight was lifted and as silly as it might sound the sky even seemed a little bit brighter.
    Although I have not been diagnosed with dyslexia, I have in recent adult years been diagnosed with ADD, depression, bi-polar II, and anxiety and it has been very difficult for me, my family, my friends etc. Your words were like fresh air and brought life.
    For me, these words were very powerful.
    Extraordinary talent is often embedded in extraordinary challenges (ADD, dyslexia, depression, bi-polar, anxiety disorder)
    As soon as you get a diagnosis, find someone to help you uncover your strengths, talents, gifts.
    My disability is not my diagnosis, but rather the shame and fear that goes along with it (that I believe in).
    I am not defined as a person with ADD who has to be fixed, but rather as just one person on the team (whether that be family, work. etc.) and we should all work together based on our strengths. Ex. assign jobs based on 1. strengths, talents 2. interests 3. whether it adds value and then divide up the other stuff that no one wants to do.
    My 10 year old son has always been the reliable, super organized one in the family. I have often been so frustrated with myself for being so dependent on him at times when “Mom should have it all together”. Instead I should celebrate the gifts he brings to the family and look for my gift somewhere else.
    I am looking forward to reading your books. I don’t know if things will change or not, but I definitely have a different perspective and a better outlook. Thank you!!

  9. P

    I used to wonder why everyone else had lots of time in high school. I managed a B average in a college prep high school. At Syracuse they said I couldn’t read fast enough to get through high school. Syracuse took me from a 95% comprehension to 50%, then flunked me out. Self esteem was zero. I told the girl I loved (and still do) to find someone else. I never saw her again, but I heard I really messed up her life. Six years and two more schools got me a BS in Agronomy, not the forestry I had wanted.
    I love to read, but… I am too slow to read the hymns in church. I guess it doesn’t matter any more at seventy-one. I wonder, though, what life would have been like.
    I managed to have some great kids and have some bright grandkids, so I am content.

  10. Gary G.

    Dear educator,
    After reading your post I realized the diversity of thought and understanding about this interview with Dr. Hallowell. I also became aware, after reading your post, that it was possible that one could feel that a general brush was glossed over educators not being sensitive (or even ignorant…abusive) towards students with such challenges as dyslexia. However, I was sadden by your comments about feeling insulted and not viewing Dr. Hallowell as an educational expert which in effect minimizes his contributions. In my opinion, teachers/educators as a group were not portrayed as labeling children. Dr. Hallowell (an educator himself) named wonderful educators who recognized the specialness of children that are challenged and helped lift such children to soar like an eagle.
    Being in the public schools for 21 years myself I have witnessed first hand that there are some teachers that are quite frankly, ignorant and damaging to children in how they treat and react to children that challenge them in some way; however, it is my observations and belief that most teachers are drawn to the profession because they do care and love children and want to make a positive impact on them…and do!
    I agree with you that this interview served well to increase awareness so sorely needed for the issues at hand. I also believe it helped listeners understand that research continues to develop to guide adults who teach children with varied learning needs (references noted for those so inclined for additional practical understanding and direction). However, probably the most important aspect of this interview was that it encouraged adults who teach/interact with children to embrace an attitude of empathy for all children and help mine the gold in all children as every child has gold to mine!
    As educators, we need to accept that we don’t have all the answers and that some of the answers that we have understood to be accurate need to be modified or changed all together as better information becomes available from such leading thinkers as Dr. Hallowell.
    With hope educator, you are not as abrassive/negative with your children that you work with as you were with your comments regarding this seminal interview when you don’t agree with (or understand) their perspective.
    Educator I thank you for your seemingly honest comments, your years of service as an educator, and pray that you are a wonderful agent of learning and hope for the children you guide along the way.

  11. C. F.

    Always wake up Saturdays with your program and love it. Today I was wide awake, I have a granddaughter who has real trouble reading, but who is great in art. She has had tutors and it seems to help some. But amazing is that I just discovered for myself that I was ADD all my life, just never really knew.
    Life was a pain in younger years and I really never knew why. I always had the hardest time to finish what I started, but could do many things at once, but not to the finish. I thank DR. Howell so much for his encourigement for all special needs, better special talented children and people. Keep up the good work, thankfully Carola

  12. Parent of a Dyslexic

    Thanks for a great program! I am the parent of a dyslexic and I agree wholeheartedly that most children who have difficulty reading after 2nd grade have some issues with dyslexia. We struggled for years to determine why my daughter, who has an IQ of 135, could not read. As an avid reader myself, it just never made sense. I wanted so desperately to have my daughter discover the wonderful adventure of reading. In meeting after meeting with teachers, dyslexia was never suggested.
    Teachers are not educated by the universities they go to that they will see 2-3 children in EVERY class they teach that show characteristics. I tried phonics programs, read to her constantly, sent her to a local tutoring center for 2.5 years, had vision/hearing tests performed and much more…. finally in her 5th grade year I discovered using audiobooks helped tremendously which led me to web search about auditory processing and dyslexia.
    I found the Barton Reading and Spelling program site and knew that this was the key that could open the door for her. In the first 6 months of tutoring she was given the “Most Improved Reader” award by her 6th grade teachers and move from “Basic” on her state test to the very top of “Proficient”.
    I am over the moon and am so passionate that I have formed a non-profit called Reaching to Read whose mission is to educate teachers, administrators and parents and to be a source of support for them. I have ordered your program CD for my non-profit library.

  13. Educator

    I understand the plight of children and the families of children who struggle with learning how to read. My colleagues who have replied before me have eloquently stated how the teaching of reading, and the profession, in general, have embraced best practices to meet the needs of all learners.
    I understand the focus of the show was to address the stigma and, in some cases, humiliation of children for whom reading is painful and makes them feel inadequate. I appreciate heightening public awareness to how damaging past behaviors and attitudes in education may have contributed to this. However, as an educator with twenty-two years of experience, I am insulted both by the portrayal of teachers as branding children as “slow”, and quite frankly, the characterization of how one can tell if a child is struggling with learning how to read.
    Dyslexia is not a catch-all label for children who struggle with reading. It is a very specific term, yet unique to each child or adult to whom it is applied. Please. Think to include an educational expert in future broadcasts to truly inform the listeners as to how they can help their children educationally, not just medically. I expect more from Public Radio.

  14. Rosemary

    Dr. Hallowell
    I enjoyed your radio talk show on today it was uplifting and gave me hope. I was diagnosed with a Spatial Deficit Disorder in 2002. I could not understand why or how because I had always been a honor roll student through school even college.
    This problem showed it’s self upon taking my RN nursing exam(1987) I could not define words as except not could not spell words as simple as the. I went to Texas rehab commission to see if they could help me and one of the things they make you do is have a Psychological exam in which he told me I had the Spatial Deficit Disorder. He also said that Einstein had the same problem and so do many others.
    He gave me more time to take the test. This did not help I still feel cloudy or in a fog when trying to think of answers while taking a test. How do I combat this problem so I may pass my RN exams it has been 24 yrs and truly want to pass this exam so I can move on with my career. Please send me help!
    Thank you Rosemary

  15. MotherGoose

    Thank you for the program on ADD/ADHD. I am the mother of an adult son with ADD. He never finished public school. We hired a tutor to help him with his reading and he enrolled in a correspondence school where he finished his high school education.
    He wanted to be a truck driver so he went to a six-week truck driving school. He aced his exit test there. He could park large semi’s perfectly within inches of others lined up at the loading dock.
    He can draw beautifully, but never uses that talent. His junior high art teacher commented that he had perfect perspective in his drawings for that class.
    He now works for a local company delivering hazardous material. The only thing he reads is his Bible which he does extensively and can tell what he read, also the instructions for mixing the chemicals. When he was a child, his room was messy (like my computer room is now), but now he is very neat and well organized.

  16. MM

    Our Music and Art teachers and I (the school librarian) have been deep in this discussion since school has started this year. We truly believe that children’s strengths can emerge in the fine arts classes and in physical education classes and in enrichment clubs. And I personally believe that educators’ minds CAN be opened by seeing real kids who discover their own gifts in the midst of working through their challenges.
    Many teachers ARE still myopic about kids with ADD and dyslexia, as well as about kids from poverty, but from those of us who share your perspective and efforts: THANK YOU, EAS, for fighting the good fight.

  17. Gary G

    So validating and encouraging for all educators of children. I have worked in public education for 21 years and the strength perspective, “unwrapping their gifts” is such a liberating and hope impressing line of thought!
    Thank you for such a meaningful and helpful show.

  18. Marci

    “Your struggle gives you an EDGE” THANK YOU Mr.Schultz!

  19. A. J. F.

    Dear Dr. Hallowell:
    Thanks for an informative program. As a former reading specialist in the public schools of VA working with the Title I program, I certainly saw much of what you described; and I agree with many of your comments, references, etc.
    Could I be so bold now, as a professor who has researched and taught an Applied Phonics course for many years, to suggest that sounding out letters, as you modeled, may be passe? We emphasize word chunks/roots/families, whichever interchangeable term might ring a bell for you, not individual letter sounds once they are mastered. Does a child need to know the letter-sound connection? Most definitely yes, but one uses those soon-understood phonemes as a reference for say, /th/-/ink/-/ing/ about pronouncing words by chunking them, as I have indicated. This process, naturally, is for words not already in a person’s sight (previously learned) vocabulary.
    Hope this helps clarify your much-needed work!
    A. J. F., Ed.D.
    Associate Professor
    College of Education
    PS. for the Graedons:
    Wouldn’t miss your show! (-;
    Thanks for the super topics and intelligent commentary.

  20. Liz

    I found out that I had Dyslexia when I was 46. I found the Wisconsin Dyslexia center in West Bend Wi. and found out that I was not stupet. I have a 135 IQ. They taught me how to decode the language.
    I read all the time now. I also draw and paint. I have a very good singing voice, I am also a good problem solver. I have two children and a sister and two brothers who have dyslexia.
    I know now that it is a gift now a handicap. I still do not spell well but that is what spell check is for. Liz

  21. blm

    I loved hearing this information today. My grandson just starting the school year and is having problems in class.
    I cried, after hearing the show. You need to speak to all educators of young children. I agreed with you stating the disability is what is emphasized and not the strengths.
    My grandson has many strengths but his disorder is always the focus. Many many parents, teachers,and health professionals learn from you.

  22. DyS

    Your show today brought tears to my eyes. Like the previous commentor, I will need to check this text for errors many times prior to sending it.
    As a child I could not tell time, read aloud or pronounce a word consistently, spell anything, sound out words, keep numbers, letters, or words in a specific order, do arithmatic, etc…
    I learned to quickly adopt a simple and effective survival strategy in school, at home, everywhere: its better they think you’re lazy than stupid.
    As an elementary school teacher I lived with great anxiety that my administrators would find out my secret: a teacher that cannot spell or do math. After some 15 years of living in fear for my job I confessed, only to find that my principal has dyslexia! She pointed out that I had already worked very hard for 15 years to compensate for my deficits and become an effective, successful, and beloved teacher.
    Now, in my 25th year of teaching, I am considered the go-to math educator.
    One more thing. Why did they name our blessed condition with a word that we will never be able to spell!!! Dyslexics of the World Untie!

  23. MM

    I teach First Grade and I agree with a lot of what I heard on the show this morning. Thank you for the discussion. As a teacher in a high poverty school, every year I have several students that have exceptional difficulty reading. However, I am always able to find strengths in other areas to work from.
    One part of the show that gave me pause though was the statement about the 9th grader whose principal said he didn’t have an Executive Processing problem. I don’t know if this applies to that 9th grader, but reality is that while there are some students with real challenges that are biological/cognitive, there are also some children with learned helplessness, and the students with this challenge need to learn to overcome it as well.
    There are students whose main problem is their parents spoiled them or taught them that school is hard and it’s ok or expected that they won’t do well. The bottom line is that there are ways to help all students have success as long as I take the time to see each child as an individual with individual needs and strengths. It’s easier if the parents support me in this work, but if they don’t – well, those children deserve my best efforts too.

  24. Debbie

    I am a full-time student in an Exceptional Student Education program and a tutor of an adult with dyslexia. I really appreciated the information regarding dyslexia and cognitive and emotional disabilities. I really agree with Dr. Hallowell’s statement on using a ‘strength-based’ approach to helping these individual reach their full potential. I can’t wait to read his book, ‘Driven to Distraction’. Thanks so much for this show!!!

  25. TD W.

    Our youngest child (will be 21 years old on Sept.22), had terrible difficulty with reading when he was in the 3rd grade. We met with teachers, principals, etc…etc. The Fort Worth ISD was absolutely NO help.
    We sought the help of someone who taught the “Davis Dyslexia System”. A system that includes most of the attributes Dr. Hallowell mentioned in his interview. It cost us almost $3,000.00, but it was the best money we ever spent.
    Our son went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Southhills High School in Fort Worth. The challenges of dyslexia can be overcome if we could have more progressive minded people like Dr. Hallowell associated with our public school systems. If only educators were allowed to educate & not be tied to the notion that a “standardized test” was the hallmark of an intelligent person!
    Thank you for a great program,
    TD W.

  26. DBM

    Wonderful show with encouraging information. I teach literature & film in college. This information will change what I do in classes next week. I’m in a hotel room with only a smartphone, hence I won’t start building until tomorrow.
    These ideas might just change the life of one student or even more. For me, breakthrough thinking on something I’ve long tried to reach. Thanks.

  27. VHW

    I attended overcrowded Catholic schools in the early 1950s at a time when learning disabilities were unknown and discipline was very stern. I could not learn to read and was always placed in the slowest reading group. I was labelled dumb and lazy; eventually becoming the latter by high school. It was excruciatingly painful to be called on to read out loud. I would fake coughing to try to avoid the teacher calling on me. Excelling in art was my only saving grace in elementary school, and in high school my English teacher discovered and encouraged my flare for creative writing.
    To this day at age 68 I still dislike reading because I read so painfully slow and rarely finish a book, even one I find very interesting. In college I majored in finding a husband which took three years and allowed me to drop out once I earned my MRS. In my mid 30s I returned to college and earned an associate degree in commercial art, and for the first time in my life I felt smart when I graduated with a 3.8 GPA.
    Over a 25-year career I advanced from a graphic artist to public information officer at a public institution. But even today as a retiree and plenty of time, I turn down invitations to join book clubs because I know I could never read fast enough to meet the club deadlines.
    In retirement I have become an exhibiting abstract photographer. After a lifetime of struggling with reading I am finally comfortable talking about my disability without embarrassment.

  28. EAS

    I am an elementary music teacher. In one week I see 700 students, k-5 in two very different schools. I am enjoying today’s show, but wanted to weigh in with two thoughts.
    First, not everyone that is in the trenches of teaching draws the conclusion that students that don’t fit into the mold of ‘a good student’ are ‘stupid.’ Howard Gardner’s research on the different kinds of intelligence and learning is not taken seriously enough by many teachers, administration and policy makers, but as for me, I lobby for these students to stay in my general music classes rather than being pulled from music and art, which some view as an ‘extra’ class rather than a crucial part of their education. Often these students, because of policies that focus with tunnel vision on the ‘core subjects’ require students to stay in language arts classes with their peers, even if they are unable to follow along, and then exclude these students from music class to get intensive help with a specialist. Completely backwards!
    Secondly, the teachers that do recognize the importance of fostering student’s strengths are often overwhelmed with too many students in one classroom that makes it very difficult to cater to individual’s needs. Decreasing class size is one of the most important factors in improving student education. I have had Kindergarten classes with as many as 31 students, including students that have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, ADD, ect. It leaves the teachers and students frustrated trying to address the variety of needs you find in a classroom with that many children, and the resulting chaos is the last thing an ADD student needs!
    Please continue to spread the word about the gifts that these ‘different’ children often possess, but please don’t assume that all educators are stuck in an outdated way of viewing them.

  29. LHM

    I am 77, and I have suffered with dyslexia since childhood. Dyslexia was a foreign word in the rural South when I was a child in school. Then, people who were slow, had poor reading and writing skills were called and known as lazy and dumb.
    My problems with dyslexia remain the same today as when I was a First Grader. I read and form the correct spelling of words in my mind, but I write or type something else. I learned in university to read and reread all reading matter 6 times. I will probably read this email at least 6 times for errors. The one error I make 99 times out of 100 is I know a question requires a question mark, but I still place a period at the end of a sentence.
    I was told by neuroscientists that my failure with reading and writing might be a blessing. My mind is active during the day and hyperactive at night. I get maybe four hours of sleep a night. I did very well at writing reports for my jobs after midnight because I was a “night person”; and my mind may be too active to acquire Alzheimer’s.

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