Kids often look to TV and movie characters to help them make sense of the world. If your child has , she may benefit from seeing her own struggles and successes played out on-screen. Here are some characters to watch together.
Theo Huxtable in The Cosby Show
Theo (played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner) was one of the first characters on TV to struggle openly with dyslexia. He was based on creator Bill Cosby’s son Ennis, who had dyslexia. Theo has trouble with school for a few seasons.
Then the landmark 1989 episode, “Theo’s Gift,” shows him learning about new ways to study and improve his grades. In the end, Theo graduates from New York University with a degree in psychology.
Donna Martin in Beverly Hills 90210
When Donna (played by Tori Spelling) gets a low score on her SATs, she thinks her dreams of college are over. But after finding out she has dyslexia, she retakes the test as an oral exam. And this time she performs much better.
This 1991 show marked one of the first times for dyslexia were talked about on TV. And Donna’s struggles have a positive outcome. After high school she attends “California University.”
Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life
In this teen series, Jordan (played by Jared Leto) is a bad-boy heartthrob. He reverses letters when he writes. And he’s just not great at school generally. In the episode “Why Jordan Can’t Read,” Angela Chase (played by Claire Danes), suggests he has dyslexia.
But Jordan won’t hear of it. He insists, “Hey! I can read, OK? Just not ... that good.” Despite his rebellious streak, his intelligence and sensitivity come out in his songwriting.
Captain Rafe McCawley in Pearl Harbor
It’s 1940. Despite his dyslexia, a young man (played by Ben Affleck) gets into the United States Army Air Corps. And though the U.S. hasn’t entered World War II yet, viewers know it’s coming. This historical action-drama follows Rafe and his friend Danny as they pursue their dream of being pilots.
Though the film is rated PG-13, many scenes may be too violent for young viewers. But Rafe is brave, energetic, and resourceful. And parents may be interested in seeing how dyslexia was viewed decades ago.
Max and George in George Lopez
It’s tough for George (played by George Lopez) to hear that his son Max has dyslexia. That may be because it’s hard for him to accept that he does, too.
When a teacher suggests that Max get school services, George explodes: “He’s a boy, he’ll grow out of it! You know, I appreciate your concern but this is a school and you’re a teacher. So why don’t you teach him?” But eventually George does listen to the school’s ideas. And Max begins to work with a tutor — which helps enormously.
Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy
High achiever Dr. Cristina Yang (played by Sandra Oh) was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 6. That’s decades before she lands at Seattle Grace Hospital. Four seasons into the show, viewers learn that Cristina got straight A’s all through medical school. Her success — in school and as a doctor — reflects the perseverance she shows in each episode.
Matt Parkman in Heroes
On this sci-fi TV drama, Matt (played by Greg Grunberg) is a police officer who has trouble reading words. But everything changes when he finds that he can read minds. When the show begins, Matt is eager to succeed and launch his career. But his dyslexia keeps him from passing the detective test.
Then, while he’s at a crime scene, he realizes he can hear people’s thoughts. After that, he uses his telepathy to solve crimes as he patrols the streets of Los Angeles and later, New York City.
Percy Jackson in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
In this film based on a popular kids’ book, Percy (played by Logan Lerman) struggles with school. He’s even been expelled several times. Then he finds out that he’s a demigod, and that his dyslexia and actually work to his advantage. Says Lerman, “The film really has a universal theme, because everybody goes through this kind of journey of trying to find out who they are.”
Also enjoy the sequel, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.
CeCe Jones in Shake It Up
Nothing’s going to stop CeCe from following her dreams of becoming a famous dancer. That includes dyslexia. Bella Thorne, the actress who played her, can probably identify. Reading issues haven’t kept Thorne from achieving her own stardom. A successful actress, singer, model, and dancer, she’s also a spokesperson for the Dyslexia Foundation.
“Dyslexia might have made things more challenging but it didn’t stop me, and the challenge made me stronger,” she’s said. And the bold character she played on this Disney Channel show might well say the same.
Ryder Lynn in Glee
In season four, the McKinley High Glee Club welcomes a newcomer. Ryder (played by actor Blake Jenner) is a football player. Then Finn spots him and convinces him to audition for Grease.
Ryder has dyslexia and has had to work extra hard to do well in school. But he’s hidden his struggles from his parents, teachers, and friends. Jenner has said of his character, “He’s gotten to where he is by himself with a lot of hard work and determination, but it’s been hard.”
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About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.