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Blog:  The Inside Track

Play to Your Child’s Strengths, Says Ben Foss, Author With Dyslexia

The Inside Track blog post by The Understood Team
Feb 18, 2015

Ben Foss giving a presentation to an enthusiastic audience

Ben Foss is a dyslexia advocate and the founder of Headstrong Nation, an organization dedicated to empowering adults with dyslexia. He also has dyslexia and led the technology team that created the Intel Reader, a device that takes photos of text and reads it aloud.

In 2013, Ben wrote The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan, a guide for parents to renew their children’s confidence and love of learning. Recently, we caught up with Ben to talk about his book and what he’s been up to.

You wrote The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan to help parents. Do you think you succeeded?

Ben: Yes, I believe the book has helped parents learn to be present with their children and love them for their strengths.

One mom told me that reading the book changed her life (and her son’s). She’d been punishing her son for not succeeding at school. She expected him to learn the way all the other kids were learning. But he consistently failed to get his homework done. While he was at school one day, she and her husband locked all of his toys in the basement. He could have them back when he got his grades up, they lectured.

After reading my book, this mom realized that she hadn’t given her son the supports and accommodations he needed in school. She said she and her husband realized they were contributing to the shaming of their son. So she unlocked the door to the basement and brought the toys back out.

She then began asking her son how she could help him make school better by focusing on what he was good at and how to make that part of his learning.

What do you think is the most valuable piece of advice in the book?

Ben: Play to your child’s strengths!

Everyone is good at some things and not so good at other things. The book has a step-by-step approach to find your child’s strengths and build them into their learning experience. Once kids know they have strengths, they can start owning their dyslexia and being comfortable talking about what they’re good at and what they’re not good at.

Ultimately, this turns into self-advocacy and kids being able to tell their own story on their own terms. This leads to resilience and lifelong learning.

It all comes back to strengths. Figuring out if your child is exceptionally good at music, athletics, being social or even playing Minecraft (can anyone say future architect!) can greatly improve their future.

What have you learned since you wrote the book?

Ben: Question everything all the time.

Here’s an example. I often do talks at schools, as well as with entrepreneurs about finding strengths. (For a taste, take a look at my TEDx and Decoding Dyslexia talks.)

In the past, after my talks, I typically did a book signing, like every other author. I greatly enjoyed the talks, but I hated the book signings. During these signings, I sat at a desk with a large stack of books, while people stood over me and asked me to spell things out using longhand. If there is a way to torture a dyslexic, this is it!

So I questioned how this was done. And I decided to do things differently. Now, when I do book signings, I give away chocolate. I stand and talk rather than sit. Most important, I ask people who come what they’re interested in. It’s fun!

My advice: Go with strengths. Go with questioning.


A Final Note From Ben

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 my book, that material went through four rounds of edits, including structural, copy and proofing, further polishing the material.

Below are the first paragraphs of my book written as I would write it in raw format. I put it here to let you see “behind the curtain.” Yes, I am dyslexic for life and proud. Consider this my native tongue.

Ben’s “Native Tongue”

some people thisn being successful means overcoming dyslexia. Nothing could be further from the truth, By many measures I have achieved success. I have worked in the white house. I ve got a combined JD/MBA from standorf university. I directed a research group at Intel. I started Headstrong Nation, a not for profi t dedicated to helping the dyslexic community. An now, in the ultimate irony I have written a book. I know that I have been able to accomplish my goals because eI have integrated dyslexia, not because I overcame it. It is is part of whi OI am. Just as I am a man and I from New Hampshire. Indeed I have found that my my greated strengths are directly tied to my most sever weakenesses. It is the process of of recognixing my weaknesses and strengths and connecting them in my life, that has made me successful. And more important happy.

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The Understood team is composed of passionate writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.

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