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The Theory of Desirable Difficulty

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“You wouldn’t wish Dyslexia on your child, or would you?”

What is Dyslexia? Dyslexia is primarily linked to the difficulty with reading. Educators tend to refer it as a “reading disorder” or “reading disability”. It can also affect writing, spelling and even speaking to a certain extent.

Dyslexia is never regarded as a sign of low intelligence or laziness. Poor vision is unlikely the cause of Dyslexia, but the brain may be the culprit. Brain scans of a reading dyslexic showed that brain matter that was supposed to light up might not light up at all, which explained the root cause of Dyslexia.

I’d like to share a story with you by Malcolm Gladwell, inspired by his book titled “David and Goliath”, on The Theory of Desirable Difficulty.

David Boies is an American lawyer and Chairman of the law firm, Boies, Schiller & Flexner. He has been involved in various high-profile cases in the United States. When he was a young child, Boies’s mother would read to him and he would only memorise what was said to him as he was unable to catch up on the page she was at. He preferred comics then as there were tons of colours, drawings, and little words. As a result, his vocabulary was limited. Whenever he came across a word that left him puzzled, he would pause, spell it out slowly and attempt to understand the word.

You may wonder how Boies graduated with a law degree, a course of study that requires extensive reading on lengthy cases, opinions, and scholarly analytical articles while battling the great difficulty in reading.

During the course of his law degree, Boies discovered “shortcuts” to assist him in his quest of graduating. He realised that there were summaries of major cases that brought forth key points that could be summarised into a page or so. While his classmates busily took down notes in class, Boies would be busy paying attention to the lectures as his primary method of learning was through attentive listening. Since he is dyslexic, he has trained himself to listen to all his life.

After graduation, Boies chose not to be a corporate lawyer as that was a career suicide for him. Instead, he chose to be a litigator that required him to think on his feet compared to the heavy reading of a corporate lawyer. His vocabulary was limited, therefore, the way he broke down a case was to use simple layman terms that everyone could understand, such as asking simple questions that lead to straightforward answers. His listening skills soon came into play, and he was able to decipher whether a witness was trying to hide any information or cover up details when they spoke too slowly or too fast.

There are a lot of successful dyslexics, names you would have heard of such as Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg, Charles Schwab, Brain Grazer, Gary Cohn, President of Goldman Sachs, and Ingvor Kamprad, the founder of IKEA.

Dyslexia, in the best of cases, forces one to develop skills that might have otherwise have lain inert. So, the question is, do you wish your child to be Dyslexic? Perhaps yes?