If you had a chance to speak to your younger self about learning and thinking differences, what would you say?
For fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger, who has dyslexia, the advice would be this: Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Hilfiger is speaking out in a new campaign from Understood founding partner the Child Mind Institute (CMI) to raise awareness around learning and mental health issues. (May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.) The campaign is called Speak Up for Kids.
Watch as the fashion designer shares his advice:
The campaign features 31 influencers and celebrities giving advice to their younger selves. Some have learning and thinking differences, like Hilfiger, Jay Leno (dyslexia), and Michael Phelps (). Others are speaking out about mental health issues. These include Wayne Brady (depression), Elizabeth Vargas (anxiety), Howie Mandel (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and many others. Each story begins with a childhood photo, followed by a short video from the celebrity.
For Hilfiger, the campaign is especially meaningful. The second of nine children growing up in the small city of Elmira, New York, he “failed miserably” in school due to his undiagnosed dyslexia. In his book American Dreamer, Hilfiger describes his struggles with reading:
“I just couldn’t follow the texts. When I tried to read a book, I’d make it two pages into a chapter and start reading from the bottom up. My eyes would jump from one line to another. I would land in the middle of a page and start reading upwards. Sometimes I would start at the right side of the page and read backward — and I could not control it.”
Even though Hilfiger couldn’t “read worth a damn,” he had a knack for identifying the clothing brands and styles his teachers were wearing. He eventually parlayed his sharp eye for fashion into a global brand with sales of more than $6 billion.
Hilfiger wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until much later in life. In his video, he tells others to ask for help sooner. “I was embarrassed to talk to my teachers and my family about it,” he says. “But if something is bothering you, if you think you have a challenge, reach out to an adult and allow them to help you.”
Read about more entrepreneurs with learning and thinking differences.
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The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.