HBO documentary “Journey into Dyslexia”

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Journey into Dyslexia is a very moving and informative look into the lives of dyslexic kids and adults. It spotlights the struggles and celebrates the incredible successes of these creative, out-of-the-box thinkers.

This HBO documentary outlines the neurobiological origins of dyslexia as a learning disability that is unrelated to intelligence. Functional MRI scans show that dyslexic people use their brains differently than typical readers. This information is helping bring to light the struggles of dyslexia and the remediation that can turn dyslexic kids into strong students. The film highlights special programs where dyslexic students are experiencing great academic success after years of struggling to read and write in mainstream schools.

To read highlights from each segment of the film, see Highlights from the Film at the end of this article.

The most moving part of this video is the interviews with people who have become tremendously successful as adults despite terrible struggles with school. Some of these adults are reduced to tears as they describe what life was like for them as kids who were labeled “lazy” and “too stupid to learn.” Most of these adults expressed great relief at finally learning that there was a name for their problem, and are happy to be able to help their own kids who struggle with inherited dyslexia.

Watch more segments from the documentary on YouTube:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Read more about the movie on the filmmakers’ web site.

Read more about the movie at the HBO web site. The entire documentary is available for sale at the NBO store.

Get the “Journey into Dyslexia” brochure

Get the “Journey into Dyslexia” discussion guide


Highlights from the film:
Part 1:
“Dysteachia.” Contemplated suicide. the stupid kid.” “lazy, stupid, crazy & lazy.” Dyslexia as a gift and strength. “Monumental negation of who you are as a human being.” Working so hard to keep up. “Stop pretending.” “Dreading every day you went to school.”


Part 2:
A special school for kids with dyslexia. What is dyslexia. We’re not automatic readers; we use less efficient parts of the brain. “…uses 5 times more energy to do the same thing.” “Working harder for less gain than the people around you.” Dyslexia is very misunderstood by a lot of people including the students. Importance of encouraging kids that they CAN learn to read. “System expected me to be something I’m not.” Need a different way of teaching. Special schools throughout the country serve ONLY 1% of students with dyslexia. “Math came easy to me. It was a walk in the park. Reading…everything just fell apart.” “They said, ‘She’ll grow out of it’…for 4 years.” “Ask for help…you shouldn’t be ashamed.”


Part 3:
“At my old school, kids never wanted me to sit next to them…they thought that different was bad.”


Interview with world-renowned Sculptor Willard Wiggins. Teacher says: “Children, here we have an exhibition of failure…he is a failure. This is what NOT to become. The reason the word ‘failure’ is written in the dictionary is because of Willard.” Willard: “I was destroyed. Obliterated academically.” Another teacher: “You don’t need to know because your brain doesn’t have the capacity, so it’s pointless.” Willard: “Before I knew it, I was at Buckingham Palace to receive a medal, one of the highest honors you can get.” Prince Charles says, “You are a true genius.” He wraps up with, “Dyslexic is actually a gift. That’s what I believe.”


Dr. Maryanne Wolf: “Reading is unnatural! Reading is a cultural invention. There’s nothing natural about it. Every reader had to have a brain that created a whole new circuitry for that reading process.” Kids with dyslexia have a very important role to play in design, art, building, thinking. The hardest consequence “…is that people equate being able to read with being smart.” “Some of our children with dyslexia are our most intellectually gifted humans.”


Part 4:
Nobel Laureate Carol Greider, Professor at Johns Hopkins, “I always thought that I was really kind of stupid.” “Just because you’re dyslexic doesn’t mean you can’t do anything you want to do.”


Neuro-biological information and functional MRIs. “People who doubt whether there’s such a thing as dyslexia, there should be no doubt in their mind because the research is so clear…we can see it in the brain.” Difference in brain function between skilled readers and dyslexic readers. It runs in families. It’s a lifelong issue. It doesn’t go away.


“At least 50% of kids with learning disabilities drop out,” especially those in self-contained classes for disabled students.


Tracy Johnson, former school custodian, now college recruiter. Special ed 6th grade through HS. “They just said I was slow.” Tracy applied to community college, failed the test. “The counselor asked, ’Who told you you could be here? How did you even get this far?’ She yelled and screamed. That was the worst experience I ever had.” Tracy became a school custodian. “This is all I can do.” Watched an episode of the Cosby Show about dyslexia. “A light went on and it was a relief. All these years I never knew what I had.” She worked with a tutor, went to college and became a college recruiter.


Part 5:
Applying to college, accommodations. “I don’t need to be fixed.” “I read terribly. I spell abysmally.” “The act of reading the word is like taking me back in front of the stairs and having me go up them on my elbows every time.” Let go of that and move forward. Alternatives: text to speech, invented a device for point-shoot-listen. “Technology is a ramp into a book.” “If you have this access, then you have access to that text, and ultimately you have access to hope, and to self respect.”


35% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic. Excellent verbal communications, delegate authority, highly creative in problem solving. “They go out and build the environment in which they succeed.” “Lots of those people didn’t go to college.”


Part 6:
Tearful interview with entrepreneur Steve Walker. Taking risks. “I had nothing to lose.” “I put a million dollars aside to work on a project. If we lose it, we lose it.” Talks about starting his business by tapping into a niche market: wood stove pellets. Talks about life as a kid with dyslexia. “I really don’t read at all. I’ve read two books in my life.” Spent many years with tutors, faked it until 8th grade. High school shop saved him. “That was the only pat on the back I got that wasn’t sympathy.” “That’s where I learned. All the other classes you could take away, just not that one.” Made models, molds, parts in wood shop, machine shop, auto shop. “Then the schools shut down all the shops. It was the last blow. It was deplorable.” Failed out of college, bought the school machine shop. Founded a $3 million/yr. company. About dyslexia, “It is a gift? Absolutely.” “It went from a huge burden and this terrible disease to a gift that I am very confident is why I’m as successful as I am…”


Activist Erin Brockovitch, “The mind is huge. The mind in incredible, and there’s not just one way that it works.” “It was my gift. I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t have dyslexia, and it opened a whole lot of doors for me.”


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