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One on One with Robert Langston

Categories: Learning Disabilities

  What's powering Robert Langston's dyslexic thinking lately? Following our review of his book, The Power of Dyslexic Thinking: How a Learning DisAbility Shaped Six Successful Careers,we engaged him in an exclusive interview to get a “direct read.” RFB&D: How did readers respond to your second book? Any key learnings to share? Robert Langston: The book was really well-received, by both the learning-differences and general dyslexia communities, as well as by other CEOs. People are still looking for inspiration – reassurance that, “if my child is struggling right now, it’ll still be okay.” In hearing their stories, I felt like I was the one being motivated, not the motivator, which is what others usually look to me for. It really wasn’t about me, or for me, so much as the people I was around, and our shared experiences. At the International Dyslexia Association national conference, there was a line around the booth to get the book – it sold out, and they had to place a second order after the fact. Most of my followers are Moms. For them, these are intensely personal issues. They feel a tremendous need to help their children experience success and preserve their kids’ self-esteem as they persevere through today’s educational system. Their greatest desire is to see their kids ultimately be able to provide for themselves and their families. Their greatest fear is to see their kids on the wrong side of that upside-down bell curve I describe in my book. Based on what you’ve experienced since the second book came out, what do you see as the possible subject of your next book? My second book pretty much touched upon what I was experiencing and learning over the past 15 years – from my time in college [University of West Georgia, despite being functionally illiterate] to now. I continue to come across studies examining whether dyslexia is a gift for every dyslexic, or are a subset of dyslexics gifted, and thus more adept at using compensatory strategies to overcome dyslexic challenges. The findings in my book came mostly through experientially learning – anecdotally. I was privileged to have met a whole lot of successful dyslexics. That’s why I continue to follow, with great interest, some studies from major foundations, specifically, those related to dyslexics in business settings, CEO traits – to determine if there are any differences in giftedness, or whether dyslexia is a gift overall. If we could cure dyslexia, rewiring the brain so that these people don’t get the conceptual ability, would they go for it? What else? Well, I did sort of “leave open” a big question near the end of my book[1] about a hypothetical dyslexia “pill”: if we could cure dyslexia, rewiring the brain so that these people don’t get the conceptual ability . . . would they go for it? And there are proponents of both sides. On the one hand, there is a real worry that simply teaching kids the things they need to pass tests in school may not translate to what will bring success in the workforce, and could siphon away many of our best and brightest as well. On the other hand, many word-renowned researchers feel that we are born the way we are, to be able to benefit from early intervention[2] – an additive, not a subtractive process that could bring out even more of the giftedness that is sometimes missed in compensating for dyslexia. “Which came first?” And so how do your first two books set the stage for what may be your next book? My first book, “For the Children: Redefining Success in School and Success in Life,” was about my Mom and me; the second book was about other people who influenced me. My next book, which is probably about three to five years away, will likely test out the above theories in full, and will also be about the “fourth generation” of my relatives that have been dyslexic. My grandfather, Alonza Smoot Langston (Big Smoot), was the only child of five without a bachelor’s degree. The education system of the time told my father, Alonza Smoot Jr. (Smoot) that he was “mirror-eyed” – and now he is director of development for Georgia National Produce. From third grade onward, it’s more about 'reading to learn' than 'learning to read.' My five-year-old son has LD issues – in fact, he already has an Individual Education Plan – and is presenting all of the classic signs, just like me. My daughter, seven years old, is, like my wife, extremely book-smart. Grades K-3 are a critical time, so my wife and I want to make a proper intervention within the school system, Child Find, and so on. While my wife’s first reaction was “wait and see,” now she is all for proactive intervention. Typically it’s best not to wait, and to accept the help that is available. From third grade onward, it’s more about “reading to learn” than “learning to read.” What was the question you were asked the most after the second book came out? It was about the decoding process [i.e., the process by which a word is broken into individual phonemes and recognized based on those phonemes]: what it is, and how to get “affordably good” tutoring assistance. Like many of these parents, I am familiar with exceptional schools in my general area – in my case, Atlanta, Georgia, offers The Schenck School, Atlanta Speech School, the Galloway School, and others – but also like many of these parents’ situations, these schools are at least a 90 minute-drive away. Like any parent, I want what’s best for my child, without having to pull up stakes and move (although the nationally ranked school system in Oconee County, Georgia is one of the reasons why we moved to this area). The question then becomes, do you pick a school system based on overall test scores, or on whether it is great for every child? (i.e., those with learning differences) And I know, from these discussions with parents that this issue of where to find affordable tutoring is not limited to Georgia. In the book, for example, I mention the Newgrange School near RFB&D in Princeton, N.J., which has students bussed in from all over the state. During my March 4 appearance on a local morning show, “Good Day Atlanta,” “How do I find a tutor in my area?” was a major concern that I heard.  It can literally be as simple as parents sharing the positive, proven things that work. The IDA Provider Directory is one place to look; Orton-Gillingham is another potential resource. Parents can also keep an eye out for free seminars in their area that explain IEPs and the legal rights of students with disabilities.[3] According to Charles Schwab, founder, chairman and CEO of Charles Schwab Corporation, it can literally be as simple as parents sharing the positive, proven things that work. And also like many of these parents, I simply want to make the best decision for my son today – to get him what he needs so he can at least stay on the reading level for his grade. His conceptual skills are presenting, just like mine did: his facility with video games, puzzles, and driving his electric vehicles all show his grasp of concepts not anchored to the written word. And of course I want my son to not have to suffer like I did – even those I was so blessed to have the perspective and advocacy of two family generations in navigating me through the educational-system maze . . . as well as the opportunity to share a platform with leading lights of dyslexia research like the Shaywitzes. I continue to look into research related to use of accommodations, and whether interventions actually work. So far, my overall experience has been very positive – with the understanding that, because of who I am, my experience won’t be the same as everyone else’s. No matter who you are, however, the goal remains the same: what will make a difference for these kids.
 
[1] pp. 84-85; pp. 116-117; pp. 121-122
[2] e.g., demonstration of plasticity in the neural systems for reading and their ability to reorganize in response to an effective, evidence-based intervention; see: http://dyslexia.yale.edu/About_ShaywitzBios.html
[3] Example: In New Jersey, one such resource is practicing attorney, published author on education law, and parent of a special needs child Ralph Gerstein.

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