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Dislecksia, the Movie

By Mary Summerbell

Dislecksia, the Movie, another of my favorites from Beloit International Film Fest 2013, is a documentary by Harvey Hubbell, who narrates his personal journey to understand Dyslexia. It is a lively, balanced mix of clips from vintage home and educational videos, computer animation, and interviews – of people on the street, academics, research and medical professionals, and famous and not famous folks living with dyslexia. He tells his own story, and tells it well, with a pervasive sense of how it fits into the big story of history and society.

There are quizzes along the way – fun, no stress, where you can guess at vital statistics about dyslexia. For instance – 35 million Americans have dyslexia.

But what is dyslexia? Street interviews of people in New York City produce sad, yet hilarious answers, from complete ignorance – “I never heard of it.” – to sleep disorder, eating disorder, alcoholism, mental illness, and sexually transmitted disease. Did you notice none of these are positive things? Which means that people, if they don’t know anything about it, apparently automatically assume dyslexia is not a good thing.

According to the film, dyslexia is not a condition that causes a person to see numbers and letters backwards – a popular misconception. Dyslexia is a condition that makes it difficult for people to read because their brains process information in a different way from most other people.

One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Harvey goes to an expert on brain function, and asks him to explain how the dyslexic brain works. The audience is all set to listen to this serious, scientific, long-winded explanation when the video and sound suddenly go into fast forward, and all we hear is a “whan, whan, whan” sound, like the adults talking in the background of a Charlie Brown movie. Everyone cracked up. Then, relaxed by our own laughter, we were more receptive to that technical explanation, repeated at normal speed. It’s just one of many wonderful, unexpected touches that made this movie about a very complex issue easy and enjoyable to watch.

Harvey goes with a dyslexic teacher and a team of dyslexic student researchers to Costa Rica, where they experiment with harvesting spider silk. He talks to a mom and her dyslexic daughter about the maze of advocating they go through in the education system to finally find a school where the girl can learn. He meets with a team of young scientists and educators from Yale, Princeton and Georgetown who are working to apply shared research to new teaching methods. In a third grade classroom, he sees that reading techniques that help dyslexics turn out to be best for all students.

An interesting historical perspective in the film is that dyslexia didn’t exist until the invention of the printing press. Before that, literacy wasn’t a necessary life survival skill. Did technology create this difficulty? If so, ironically, technology, by way of computers and specific computer programs, is now making it easier for people with dyslexia to read and learn.

We see, through this movie, that people with dyslexia can thrive, can excel in an understanding, nurturing, challenging environment. The film speaks to the gaping deficiencies in our education system and in society, but it presents inventive ways to learn to compensate, ways to find and learn to play to the strengths of the dyslexic mind. For example, by asking the question, “How can I learn without reading?”

One of the things I most like about this film is that it shows no self-pity. No victim mentality. It takes a very compassionate yet matter-of-fact, nuts-and-bolts approach to its topic, tempering the undeniable struggles of dyslexia with humor, and hope in ongoing research and education, with new information ever challenging our attitudes and leading to ever-changing teaching techniques.

The movie offers a theory that dyslexia must have an adaptive advantage for the human race. If not, it would be gone from our gene pool. It says there is good, there is great, in difference. It asks the provocative question, “What might we have lost?” in our misunderstanding of this difference that is dyslexia.

As a mother of two children with dyslexia, this movie really hit home for me. It tugged at my heart and inspired my mind. I found it to be enlightening and uplifting, not getting mired in the difficulties, but focusing on individual ingenuity. I cried, and laughed, and learned a lot.

If you can, see Dislecksia: The Movie. I think it should be required viewing for everyone who has dyslexia, and everyone directly involved with someone who has dyslexia, and I highly recommend it to anyone who speaks English. I believe that films like this, by bravely exploring the differences that cause obstacles between people, can bring us all to a better and greater understanding of each other.

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