Grammy award-winning musician Carly Simon struggled with dyslexia as a child. Here she is performing in California in 2012. (Frank Micelotta/Invsion/AP)
Few parents are thrilled by the news that their child has dyslexia.
But increasingly, families are viewing the language processing disorder in a new light — not as a disability, but simply as a different way of perceiving the world. Indeed in some families, the dyslexic brain is viewed as having distinct advantages.
One celebrated Martha’s Vineyard family is trying to spread the word that a diagnosis of dyslexia doesn’t spell doom; on the contrary, it can lead to more creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
Carly Simon, the Grammy award-winning musician, is now 70. But few people know that the accomplished singer and songwriter struggled with dyslexia, and a stutter, as a child.
“Being embarrassed at school is a terrible thing…when your peers are making fun of you because they can’t understand what wonderful whimsy your mind may be making up and going through,” she said recently. “While they’re just going 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, you’re going 1-2-4-5-7-8-9-3!”
Carly Simon in West Tisbury on a recent summer day (Rachel Zimmerman/WBUR)
‘Welcome To The Cool Club’
Still, Simon believes her dyslexia has a direct influence on how she makes music. She says her hit song “Anticipation,” for instance, “came down from the universe into my head and then out my mouth, so it bypassed the mind.”
These days, Simon lives in a lush compound on Martha’s Vineyard, where family members often spend the summer.
Dyslexia tends to run in families, and it runs in Simon’s. Her 38-year-old son Ben, a musician, has dyslexia. So does her 41-year-old daughter, Sally, an artist.
But the family wants to show their dyslexia can be a positive force — a challenge, absolutely, but also a catalyst for new ways of framing the world or problem-solving that might lead a child to become a famous artist or a successful entrepreneur.
Simon’s daughter Sally Taylor (whose father is musician James Taylor) vividly recalls the day, at age 10, when she learned she had dyslexia: She anxiously walked home with the diagnosis scrawled on a piece of paper in her hand.
“I just felt as though it was somehow the end of the world,” Taylor said in an interview. “[W]hen my mom saw my tears streaming down my face, she said, ‘What’s going on?’ and she opened this letter and saw that I was being diagnosed as having dyslexia and she just said, ‘Wow, this is awesome,’ like, ‘Congratulations, this is fantastic, and welcome to the family. We’re all dyslexic therefore we’re all going to understand each other better now…Welcome to the cool club,’ ”
Sally Taylor, the daughter of Carly Simon and James Taylor, describes herself as “an artist, mother, wife and dyslexic.” (Courtesy of the family)
Simon speaks of her daughter’s struggles at school.
“I remember Sally reading ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,’ ” Simon said. “She couldn’t read enough pages to get the assignment…she’d cry and feel different and feel stupid.”
Sally Taylor’s husband, Dean Bragonier, also dyslexic, was teased mercilessly in middle school for his painfully slow reading.
Now, he hopes to make things better for other kids with the disorder. Bragonier is swimming around Martha’s Vineyard — 50 nautical miles over several weeks — to raise money for his nonprofit, called NoticeAbility.
The end result will be a set of educational tools for middle school-aged kids with dyslexia. It’s an online, project-based curricula that doesn’t replace traditional classroom learning but seeks to enhance it, allowing each child to focus on one of four specific areas that they might be drawn to: entrepreneurial leadership, engineering, architecture and the arts.
In general, these are realms that some dyslexics have excelled at: think Whoopi Goldberg or cellphone pioneer Craig McCaw. Continue reading