Blog:  The Inside Track

How I Start a Conversation About Dyslexia

The Inside Track blog post by Ben Foss
Aug 01, 2014

Group of high school students in a computer lab

Read the first paragraph of Ben’s blog as it was written without the benefit of spell-check, word prediction or editing.

A big part of being successful when you have dyslexia is being able to engage people who don’t know much about dyslexia in a conversation. I like starting with some stats: “Dyslexics are 17 percent of people, 35 percent of entrepreneurs and 41 percent of prisoners.” People nod when they hear 17 percent; their eyes widen when they hear 35 percent; they cock their heads to the side in genuine surprise and interest when they hear 41 percent.*

These three numbers tell a story about our community. They will provoke a conversation—which is really your ultimate goal. A good gag line following this is to say, “Of course, entrepreneurs and prisoners are not mutually exclusive!” Try this out on someone you’re just meeting and I’ll bet you get a big smile.

Don’t be afraid to use hard science to spark interest. Explain that dyslexia happens in the “language processing center of the brain.” Then point with your finger to a spot right above your ear. This is one of the most effective openers I use. Remark that “this region is called the temporal parietal lobe.” This makes people think, “Oh, he must know what he’s talking about.”

Another savvy way to introduce the topic of dyslexia (or other learning and attention issues) is to name the emotional realities at play. Unfortunately people often make (wrongheaded) assumptions that a person with dyslexia is lazy or stupid.

When Intel launched its reader for dyslexic people, a device I invented, one of the biggest websites around went with the headline “Intel launches a reader for the lazy and the infirm.” When I saw this I (eventually) thought “thank you.” They had said out loud what many people are too polite to mention.

You can use a little conversational judo in situations like this. Try saying, “I’m nervous to tell you about my child’s profile. He’s so talented, but some people assume that if you’re dyslexic you’re lazy or stupid.” Immediately, the person hearing this has to check their assumptions. And hopefully, they’ll start seeing your child’s talents.

This last part is key: Be sure to talk about your child’s strengths. In my years as Director of Access Technology at Intel, I did over 200 interviews with dyslexic folks. I found that we frequently have strengths in one of the following eight areas: verbal, social, narrative, spatial, kinesthetic, visual, mathematical/scientific or musical.

Famous dyslexics Whoopi Goldberg and Anderson Cooper are exceptional in verbal skill. Dyslexics Steven Spielberg and John Irving are talented in narrative skills. Spend time identifying your child’s greatest strengths. To make this easier, I’ve included a simple-to-use measure I call the Strength Star in my book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint to Renew Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning.

Above all, you want to practice telling these stories until you’re confident and easy with them. Your body language sets the tone for how the conversation will go. When it comes to dyslexia, you can be proud of your community!

See Ben’s “Native Tongue”

I’ve found that people have a hard time believing my dyslexia when they see only the final product of my written work. These days, I generally speak to a computer and use Dragon Naturally Speaking to have it transcribed, greatly increasing my speed and accuracy when writing. For this blog, that material went through four rounds of edits, including structural, copy and proofing, further polishing the material.

Below is the first paragraph of this blog written as I would write it in raw format. I call this my “native tongue.”

a big part of being successful when you are dslexic is being able to engage people whenwho don;t knwo much about dyslexi in a conversation. I liks starting with some stats. Dyslexics are 10 percent of epople , 35% of entreprenuers and 41& of prisoners. People nod their heads when you say tn persent, they cock the head ot the sdie when they hear 35% and they ier eye widen in genuine suprise when they hear 41%. The three number tell a story about our communiti and they will provide a conversation about our community, which is really your goal. A good gag line follwoing this is to say “Of cousr, pentreprenuers and prisoner s are not mutually exclusive!” Thy this out on someone you are just meeting and I will be you get a big smile.

*These statistics are based on Ben’s personal research, not Understood’s. 

Any opinions, views, information and other content contained in blogs on are the sole responsibility of the writer of the blog, and do not necessarily reflect the views, values, opinions or beliefs of, and are not endorsed by, Understood.

About the Blogger

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Ben Foss is dyslexic and the founder of Headstrong Nation, a national organization for dyslexic adults and parents of dyslexic kids.


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