Students with Dyslexia and their “Sea of Strengths”

Enrichment Therapies

March 22, 2020

By: Suzanne Moore, M.S., CCC-SLP

“I’m the worst reader in my class,”

“This is going to take so long,” 

“I don’t like anything about school,” 

“I’m just so tired.”

These are the kind of things that reading interventionists hear when they work with students who are struggling to read. It can be incredibly difficult for young students with dyslexia to understand their strengths, or even see themselves as intelligent. After all, up until third and fourth grade, learning to read is one of the main goals of your student’s schooling. Then, during third and fourth grade, students are expected to begin using their ability to read to learn new concepts independently. They have to read to learn. Reading is not something that struggling readers can “escape” from. 

A student with dyslexia is reminded of their weaknesses constantly as they are repeatedly asked to complete tasks that are difficult for them. Furthermore, they have to consistently compare themselves to students around them who seemingly glide through reading activities. 

With all of these obstacles, how can we help our students who have been diagnosed with a reading disorder or dyslexia see past their reading difficulties and help them build their self-esteem?

In her book, Overcoming Dyslexia, Sally Shaywitz, M.D. discusses viewing students with dyslexia using a “sea of strengths” perspective. Dr. Shaywitz has studied dyslexia and effective reading intervention for years. She completed a longitudinal study that allowed her to follow students from kindergarten until they were young adults. During her research, she always found that students with dyslexia possessed a vast set of strengths that couldn’t be touched by dyslexia. In fact, they even developed many skills and strengths as they found out ways to learn in spite of their difficulties with reading. She writes, 

“Far too often the focus is only on the weakness, and the child’s strong capabilities (and potential) are overlooked. Whatever those strengths are – the ability to reason, analyze, to conceptualize, to be creative, to have empathy, to visualize, to imagine, or to think in novel ways — it is imperative that these strengths be identified, nurtured, and allowed to define that child” (Shaywitz 172). 

Shaywitz urges parents, teachers, and ultimately students to view dyslexia as a small weakness in a vast sea of strengths that make up who that child is. So what about your child? What strengths do they have? How can you help them see and nurture those strengths? How can they use those strengths to help them compensate for skills that are more difficult for them? 

Below are more ideas for helping to bolster the student with dyslexia’s self-esteem. 

  • Tell your child that dyslexia does not result from a lack of intelligence or cognitive ability. People with dyslexia actually use their brains differently from others when they are reading. Different areas in the brain and different pathways are used to complete the same tasks related to reading. Their brains are just “wired” a little differently. Some people are just born that way, and that is ok.
  • Help your child think about learning to read using a “growth mindset.” For more information about growth mindset, see
  • Talk about your various strengths and weaknesses. Help them see that everyone is made up of a “sea of strengths” and weaknesses. Talk about things that you struggled to learn or times you made mistakes while reading. Make sure they know that it is ok to make those mistakes. It’s part of learning!

Most importantly, Shaywitz emphasizes, 

“A child with dyslexia is in need of a champion, someone who will be his support and his unflinching advocate; his cheerleader when things are not going well; … his advocate who by actions and comments will express optimism for his future. Perhaps most important, the struggling reader needs someone who will not only believe in him but will translate that belief into positive action … and relentlessly working to ensure that he receives the reading help and other support he needs” (Shaywitz 173).


Shaywitz, Sally. Overcoming Dyslexia. New York: Vintage Books, 2003. Print. 

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.

740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317


5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131




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