May 2, 2016
While a quality summer camp experience can create a powerful growth experience for any child, it can be a true gift to a dyslexic child. But before explaining how camps can serve dyslexic children, it is useful to look first at the education environment that most children experience.
The current school system is often a deck of cards stacked heavily against the dyslexic child. Schools, after all, focus on exactly the skills that are often among the most challenging for a dyslexic child. There is an immense amount of pressure to achieve “reading level” in the early years, and even non-reading subjects like math require textbooks to explain concepts in the later years. The unintentional but sad result is that the dyslexic child in school feels “different,” or not smart, or unlikely to succeed.
But we know that those ideas simply aren’t true. Many dyslexics do very well in school. Part of the reason for their success is the way that they develop impressive compensatory skills. What a dyslexic child may lack in organizational or written communication abilities, they make up for with creativity and oral communication. Throughout their lives in school, they are practicing and honing these alternative skills.
In fact, Julie Logan, a researcher at Cass Business School in London, found a strong link between dyslexia and entrepreneurship. She published a study that found that while dyslexia affects around 15-20% of the population, around 35% of entrepreneurs she surveyed identified themselves as dyslexic1. She proposed that one of the reasons dyslexics might be drawn to entrepreneurship is that the “strategies they have used since childhood to offset their weaknesses in written communication and organizational ability - identifying trustworthy people and handing over major responsibilities to them - can be applied to businesses.”
How, then, can the parent of a dyslexic child encourage the development of these compensatory skills that enable their child to thrive? The school system does not often do so naturally. There are two opportunities that parents can focus on:
Camp is such an environment. Unlike school, camp is a community where oral communication, creative expression, and peer interactions are the name of the game. For a dyslexic child, camp plays to their strengths. The compensatory skills they have developed will shine and improve even more. They will understand their peers quickly. Maybe they will hear camp songs once and remember every word, or come up with a clever new way to present their cabin’s skit at a talent show.
A dyslexic child often has the ability to remember oral communication more rapidly. They can use visual strengths to solve problems. By learning how to rely on additional help from mentors at a young age, they become adept at reading and understanding other people. They can recognize that others are stronger in written and organizational areas and learn how to effectively delegate tasks.
Opportunities to practice and utilize these qualities exist in abundance at camp and in the workplace, but not as much in school. In the same way that a dyslexic professional succeeds in business through connecting and communicating with other people, a dyslexic camper thrives in the summer camp environment that prizes interpersonal relationships, trust, and individuality.
No one cares about school at camp. It’s a level playing ground. A camper’s worth is not measured by tests, but rather by kindness and connection. Achievements can be physical (climbing the rock wall, getting up on waterskis), or creative (inventing a cabin sing-song, working on a project in arts & crafts), or interpersonal (helping a friend overcome homesickness, cheering on a cabinmate).
Camp increases resiliency in the dyslexic child by focusing on goal setting and achieving those goals with more success than they might experience in school. This happens in a few ways.
For example, a cabin at camp sets group goals to foster unity and friendship. “Let’s all remember to encourage each other today at swim lessons.” “We’re going to work together to come up with our cabin roll call.” Or, counselors at activities help guide a camper to set and reach a personal goal: “How high do you want to climb today? Halfway up? That’s great!” “Get up on a kneeboard today, and waterskis next time? Awesome!”
Every child benefits from the warm encouragement of their peers and mentors. But for a dyslexic child in particular, camp provides the opportunity to teach resilience through unique challenges that they do not face in school. Rising to these challenges helps build a strong sense of accomplishment and confidence in themselves.
By coming to camp each summer, a dyslexic child has a buffer to the often disheartening academic environment they might experience for the rest of the year. Remembering that there are communities in which they can thrive, that there are skills they have in excess, that they are talented and exceptional, is a powerful reminder of worth and value.
Camp is a “reset button” to remind them of their extraordinary capabilities and prepare them for another school year in the fall. It can empower them to survive their academic career and develop a strong set of skills that will make success in college, the workplace, and beyond school much easier.
1 Logan, Julie. “Dyslexic Entrepreneurs: The Incidence, Their Coping Strategies and Their Business Skills.” Dyslexia (2009). http://www.nota.nu/sites/default/files/Dyslexic_Entrepreneurs_Logan.pdf.