Balance

Josh Clark
Josh Clark, Head of School

I have been told I have a problem. Some call it a dependency; others say addiction. I say it is just who I am.

Staring November 1, I am decking the halls and lighting the lights. From Christmas to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Diwali, I love all the winter holiday traditions and celebrations!  Yep, I am that guy. 

Some find holidays a source of stress or even shame. I find it sweet relief. When others do not know if they can take anymore, I dive in deeper. Passive aggressive family dinners, weird Uncle Ed, and that distant cousin who always has an “investment opportunity” for me - I love it all! My enthusiasm is most notable in my Christmas tree obsession. Last year I put up 12, and the number continues to grow.

I appreciate that for many people this is a trying time of year. It can be a reminder of loss or loneliness, and I empathize with the stress of family gatherings. For me, though, the opportunity to reflect on the opportunities and blessings of my life outweighs the drama. A little late night eggnog never hurts either.

As with so many things, I believe the holidays are what we make of them. We can succumb to the stress, or we can celebrate the opportunity for joy. It can be the same with dyslexia.

Recently, the School was fortunate to have the Director of the Florida Center for Reading Research, Dr. Don Compton, on our campus. In addition to visiting the School’s outreach work at Thomasville Heights Elementary School and providing a half-day workshop for our teachers, Dr. Compton gave a public presentation. As part of his talk, Dr. Compton questioned whether dyslexia should be characterized as a gift. In a print-saturated world, difficulty learning to read, write, and spell can be a tough sell as a positive trait. 

As a parent of a dyslexic learner, a leader of a school that specializes in dyslexia, and dyslexic myself, I lean hard into the “dyslexia-as-a-gift” narrative. Without question, there are many highly talented and successful people who credit their success to dyslexia. The billionaire Richard Branson is a notable example. Recently, he founded Made By Dyslexia, a global not-for-profit organization with a mission to change the world’s understanding of dyslexia and recognize its potential.

I appreciate Dr. Compton’s caution, though. When I learned my son, Rigby, is dyslexic, I found myself looking at his Lego creations in a new light. What two days prior was a red box became a post-modern estate reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright. His Minecraft obsession was suddenly not a distraction; it was his training ground for inventing the next iPhone. My son was not dyslexic; he was a superhero!

After reflection, I realized I was searching for a balance. If my son was destined to struggle in school, it had to be outweighed by a superhuman talent. If dyslexia meant that something was wrong with him, I had to find something right. With the best of intentions, I was creating a new normal for my son to live up to.

I consider myself a reasonably creative and successful person. I love thinking about the big picture, and I often make connections across ideas many people do not see. Is this because I am dyslexic? Maybe, but it is not why I consider my dyslexia a strength.

When I sat down with Rigby to explain he was dyslexic and had ADHD, I told him he had inherited my gifts. I conceded that there would be days when he wants to return them. There will be times when they seem not to fit and feel more like a weight then a present. I promised him I understood, but that when he grows up and is navigating his career and starting his family, I hope he comes to see those times as the best parts of my present.

I am living proof that there exists a distinction between “giftedness” - a talent or proclivity that exceeds normal expectations - and taking the opportunities, obstacles, and circumstances given to us and choosing to see them as gifts. I am not gifted but enjoy a life full of gifts.

I am not sure if dyslexia made me more creative or a better problem solver. I do know that it forced me to forge my own way. The path most of my peers followed was not available for me. My path was hard and often unfair, and it was the best present I could have received.  

I am thankful my son is dyslexic, because it is another wonderful part of who he is. I hope some things are easier for him because of it, and I am thankful that some will be harder. He probably will not be the next Albert Einstein or Pablo Picasso (both dyslexic), but that will not stop me from putting a chemistry set and art easel under the tree.

I mean, you never know….