Like many kids with reading issues, Shawn Robinson struggled in school. But he never got the help he needed. His dyslexia made it hard from him to keep up with his peers. His grades dropped and he started acting out in class, hoping he’d be sent out of the room.
Fast-forward to today, and Robinson is a researcher with a Ph.D. in language and literacy. He also recently published a children’s book that he hopes will inspire kids with dyslexia—especially kids of color.
Doctor Dyslexia Dude is about a boy with dyslexia who’s also a superhero. It shows him conquering challenges caused by his reading struggles. The key takeaway is that kids with dyslexia can succeed if they have the right support. (Watch Robinson talk about the book and his story in a recent news broadcast.)
“My book, Doctor Dyslexia Dude, is based on my life,” Robinson tells Understood. “It’s also based on the research I’ve conducted.” Robinson is a senior research associate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. There, he studies the link between illiteracy and racial bias. His passion for the subject comes from his own academic journey.
In school, Robinson had an . But it didn’t include the type of specialized instruction that helps kids with dyslexia. His frustration grew as time went on. So did his misbehavior. “I would do anything to avoid being in class, like pick fights and talk back to teachers,” he says.
By the time Robinson was a sophomore, his behavior and grades were so poor that he had to leave his high school. He was placed in an alternative learning program, where he improved because the work was less challenging. When he graduated from high school, Robinson was still reading at a third-grade level.
“I was basically funneled through the system,” he says. “And unfortunately, that happens a lot in school systems. Especially to kids of color.”
Luckily, Robinson met someone who would change his life. His mother had learned about Robert Nash, a professor at a local college who helped students with dyslexia. Nash evaluated Robinson at the end of high school.
Nash led a college-level reading program called Project Success at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh. Robinson applied and was accepted. For the first time, he got instruction designed for people with dyslexia. He quickly became a fluent reader.
“The program used Orton–Gillingham instruction,” Robinson said. “Dr. Nash also had dyslexia, so he dedicated his career to helping those who also had it.”
The program gave Robinson the tools he needed to succeed at the University of Wisconsin. He earned his bachelor of science degree in human services there. Then he went on to other schools for his master’s degree in education and his doctorate.
Like Nash, Robinson wants to help others with dyslexia in college. He plans to start a scholarship fund with the proceeds from book sales. The International Dyslexia Association, where he’s a board member, will award the scholarship.
Robinson and his co-author and wife Inshirah plan to turn the book into a series. They have a goal beyond inspiring kids: They want to see more early reading intervention in schools. Says Robinson, “We want to change the narrative for kids of color with learning differences.”
Get answers to common questions about racial disparities in special education.
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About the author
About the author
Tara Drinks is an editor at Understood.