Alan Alda on Dyslexia

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This live interview with Alan Alda originally aired on April 18, 2013. An edited version was aired on July 5, 2013, as part of a special Brian Lehrer Show. 

Alan Alda, actor and co-founder of the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, discusses his family's experience with dyslexia and what others can learn from it.


Alan Alda

Comments [41]

Mike from New Jersey

Mr. Alda has such a distinctive voice. Hard to believe, though, anyone would believe Hawkeye was from Down East.

Jul. 05 2013 10:25 AM
Zach from Hamilton Heights

I watched a lecture series from UCLA recently (via YouTube) on the relationship between the spheres of Science Religion and Magic. According to the professor, America has a deep tradition of populism, and today's conservatives view the 'truths' demonstrated by science to be 'rules' pushed upon them by a learned/privileged elite, hence the growing rejection. The professor also sighted the Heisenberg uncertainty principal as another factor in the growing spiritualism in the West, but in Eastern and Western mythologies.

Jul. 05 2013 10:24 AM
ann from new rochelle

highly recommended by a friend w/ dyslexic children:
multisensory approach to learning w/ dylexsia & other learning problems

Apr. 23 2013 04:42 PM
Penelope from Astoria

Please have the authors of "The Dyslexic Advantage" on the show. The book is great!!!

Apr. 18 2013 02:13 PM
Lynn Chigounis from Montclair, NJ

So glad Mr. Alda empahsized the positive aspects of dyslexia. I am a former teacher who has been working with dyslexic children and adults exclusively for the last 10 yrs. with a program based on the book, The Gift of Dyslexia. I know that dyslexics are very bright, fast, visual, 3-D thinkers/processors who get lost/confused with most traditional teaching methods. I use techniques that capitalize on the visual-spatial strenghts of these bright, creative individuals, and get to the root cause of their struggles with letters, words, numerals, reading, writing, etc. The Davis Program is highly effective for both children and adults, and also addresses issues with ADD and ADHD.

Apr. 18 2013 12:39 PM
JEnnifer Younge from Amenia, NY

The school Alan Alda mentioned was The Kildonan School in Amenia, NY. (

To purchase tickets to the event he is moderating this Sunday go to Kildonan's website or click here

Apr. 18 2013 12:34 PM
Debbie Hamilton from bklyn

I would like some suggestions on where to get some help for adults with dyslexia? I have it and I would like to fix it.

Apr. 18 2013 11:46 AM
Tony from Manhasset, NY

Great show, I really appreciate Alan Alda's initiative of communicating science to the public. I am a physician researcher and see first-hand the disconnect between communicating our research to the scientific community versus the public. There seems to be a growing general skepticism of science among the public, and I believe that ineffective communication is at least part of the cause.

Our institution is holding a competition next Wednesday aimed at presenting science to the community in an effective manner. The public is welcome, and I would encourage anyone interested to attend. If Alan Alda is free, we'd love to have him in attendance. Please see the link below for details.

Keep up the great discussions, Brian.

Apr. 18 2013 11:40 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I'm glad Mr. Alda cofounded the Center for Communicating Science. I'm a science editor, & I see a lot of problems in communicating science, not only to the public but among scientists in different disciplines. I used to edit standards written by committees, & some of them developed their own in-group terminology that even their own colleagues (in the same field, but outside the group) wouldn't understand--& it didn't even occur to them until I asked about it.

Part of the problem in communicating science to the public is that the same terms mean different things in some sciences & in everyday English. For example, in physics, a particle is called "massive" if it has any mass at all, which has led to misunderstanding by lay people to whom "massive" means something has a huge amount of mass. I don't understand why people in specialized fields forget that the terminology they learn can mean something else to other people.

Apr. 18 2013 11:30 AM
Kathy from New Jersey

Thanks. About time. My son has an IQ of 140 and could not do college level work, (he also has Tourettes Syndrome) but is brilliant working as an auto mechanic. 3D! I teach commercial art at the college level. Full of dyslexics! I find a lot of students in this field are dyslexic. (I know how to identify from working with my son & his special ed teachers for years). 3D, no problem for me & my ilk! But can I type without looking at the keys? I always type words backwards, and phone numbers were a killer until auto dial. BUT I write properly & practice writing/drawing almost daily because I like the way pen to paper FEELS!, (Which I think can help dyslexics). I can ESTIMATE math problems with lightening speed & accuracy. 3D math!!! And yes, I do see in 3D, I remember most of what I see, but forget spoken names easily. I am a visual learner & person, and I think dyslexia can give one an advantage, once harnessed! Thanks Alan, love ya!

Apr. 18 2013 11:29 AM
beth from Sleepy Hollow NY

I have a 13 yr old with dyslexia. It requires an enormous effort each night to get homework accomplished. He cannot easily write although he can comprehend everything so well and dictate his answers. It is a testament to his school as they are willing to be flexible about how he does his tests, work etc. Most people really just don't get it.

Apr. 18 2013 11:29 AM
manuela from New York

Helping scientists communicate better with the public is a huge service. Please teach them to stop chuckling at public's science illiteracy whenever they are giving a lecture to the lay people. They act as if they play no part in it. Science is extremely specialized and narrow nowadays and it is hard even for most scientists to follow other scientists' work. So please, more communication and less condescending!

Apr. 18 2013 11:28 AM
Alex from Park Slope, Brooklyn

I'm a dyslexic who has found a successful career in digital media here in New York. I appreciate you highlighting that it is not a single issue of reversing letters and numbers. There is a spectrum for those with dyslexia. I have a relatively mild version of it while my brother is actually unable to sound out words the way most people are due to his dyslexia. It's also worth noting that I have an acute sense of direction. I often say I have a built in GPS in my brain and am able to easily visualize the world around me. Definitely a good skill to have.

Apr. 18 2013 11:26 AM
Pat Stringham from Hamilton, NY

I was lucky to have had the opportunity to be trained at the Kildonan School in the Orton-Gillingham approach. This training came at the end of my 40 year career as a teacher in public school. I am a trained reading specialist, also trained in Reading Recovery, who was always frustrated at my inability to reach all my students. I had a visceral reaction to many kids, that amounted to a feeling that my kids "reacted emotionally" to print. That simple response on my part has been enhanced tremendously by the O-G training and by reading "The Dyslexic Advantage". Now that I am retired, I have devoted my time to tutoring dyslexic students and to improving my own background. Happily, I'll be at the session in Millbrook. I wish my former colleagues in public schools had access to this information. I guess they are too busy teaching to the tests.

Apr. 18 2013 11:26 AM
Anthony from NYC

my brother has dyslexia.... 50's and 60's before they knew anything about this, pretty bad.... always thought out of the box.... but was left back 3 times in school causing such a stigma.... very very tough to overcome... he's a great golfer, drives a cab....
I have mild dyslexia... filmmaker... i just have to double check things more carefully... all the time.... thank you Alan for all the good work you do for others.... with humor. thanks Brian.... great shows...

Apr. 18 2013 11:26 AM
Amy from Manhattan

When I used to hear arguments against the ERA, I used to say, "And if the ERA passes, there will be unisex bathrooms in every home in America!"

Apr. 18 2013 11:26 AM
TEAL from tarrytown

As a child dyslexic in the 50's& 60's I was constantly scolded as being "LAZY" for not learning to spell and having crummy penmanship. I believe we have come a long way from then. Take heart dyslexics you have many strenghts and will overcome. I have a 40 year sucessfull career in design. Build on your special strenths and utilize spell-check.

Apr. 18 2013 11:21 AM
Joan from Washington Heights

Hi, thanks for discussing dyslexia. I am a dylexic professor. Back when I was in elementary school students like me were called stupid and told to sit in the back of the room. I figured out my own 'work arounds' as I found out I am really good with shapes and space and color, so I could like numbers and words to objects.
But now I worry that too many students are being 'labelled' and being taught strategies that aren't one size fits all. I also am concerned that the sit and test education strategy that is going on now in NYC really kills students ability to find ways to think for themselves and thus overcome dyslexia.

Apr. 18 2013 11:21 AM

can misdialed phone#s be attributed to "reversal" between computer vs. touchtone keypads?

Apr. 18 2013 11:20 AM

One great help for parents if not teachers - a small book called The Little Book of Energy Medicine by Donna Eden and Dondi Dahlin - that's for beginning - Donna did a lot for kids in Ashland Oregon schools.

The book is $13. and really can't hurt!

Apr. 18 2013 11:20 AM
Joan from Westchester

I taught middle school math for many years. Early in my career a student was in my class who had a very difficult time learning. One day he drew a picture of King Kong hanging off the Empire State Building by drawing the negative spaces. The whole class was baffled until he finished the drawing and then the shapes appeared. To him, that is what he saw.

Apr. 18 2013 11:18 AM
Ryan from Barcelona, SPAIN

I don't know if I have "auditory dyslexia" but I had to listen so very closely, and in fact, was not 100% sure that he was not Howard Stern until Brian finally said "in the studio with Alan Alda" ....

Apr. 18 2013 11:18 AM
Claire from NYC

I reverse my 'p's and 'b's both in handwriting and typing. I usually, but not always, catch them, but I have to re-read everything I write. In handwriting, I also reverse my 'e's. Are these kinds of reversals part of dyslexia? I don't have a formal diagnosis of such.

Apr. 18 2013 11:18 AM
Jules from Brooklyn

Is mild deslexia often undiagnosed?

Apr. 18 2013 11:16 AM
Sarah from NYC

Thanks for expanding the notion of dyslexia beyond the simple reversal of letters and numbers. Interesting notion too about the "dyslexic advantage". Did you know that Steven Spielberg said he was diagnosed about 5 years ago as dyslexic, which explained why he struggled with reading as a child--and yet he's this generation's greatest storyteller.

Apr. 18 2013 11:16 AM
RJ from prospect hts

My now 18-year-old nephew is dyslexic. His parents realized in his early teens that he perceives the world and words through images--he hears a word and it first appears as an image before he "hears" and perceives the word. His thinking has been among the most imaginative--about the world, about thought, about politics, about people--and has been at least since we first started talking about ideas when he was 16. He has also increased his ability to read and decided to take classes on line, at a local state university, and is an EMT. What I believe contributes to his strong sense of self and the development of his abilities is the acceptance and respect he's had within his family and extended family.

Apr. 18 2013 11:16 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Now I know why this preening Lefty never made any sense.

Apr. 18 2013 11:15 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Perhaps Google Glass™ may have an application for this - seriously.

Apr. 18 2013 11:15 AM
Cate from Long Island

Hi, my 12 year old daughter still inverts her "b"s and "d"s and she struggles with reading and writing. She is in middle school. I think she has dyslexia but I am having a hard time getting her diagnosed. Is there a test for dyslexia that I can name for the school to use to diagnose her?
Thank you.

Apr. 18 2013 11:15 AM
Peg (dyslexic)

How can I listen to the talks in Millbrook this coming weekend?

Apr. 18 2013 11:14 AM

Winston Churchill and other notables were/are dyslectics

Apr. 18 2013 11:14 AM

Please, please do not link low intelligence and dyslexia. There are legions on dyslexics with high intelligence. It takes intelligence and grit to cope and thrive.

Apr. 18 2013 11:14 AM
Josie from NYC

What was the name of the school Mr. Alda said his granddaughter attended?

Apr. 18 2013 11:13 AM
Robert from NYC

Waht rae yuo taklign abuot?

Apr. 18 2013 11:12 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Well isn't there something to be gained from every "disability"? Ergo, the preferred term "differently-abled".

Apr. 18 2013 11:12 AM
Josie from NYC

What was the name of the school Mr. Alda said his granddaughter attended?

Apr. 18 2013 11:11 AM
Steve from New Jersey

Ask him if he's still bummed about losing the election to Matt Santos.

Apr. 18 2013 11:11 AM
Josie from NYC

What was the name of the school Mr. Alda said his granddaughter attended?

Apr. 18 2013 11:11 AM
mick from Inwood

Now that at least some types have proven physical bases, does the Americans with Disabilities Act protect at least some people with dyslexia? Have there been any successful lawsuits under ADA to provide adequate access to training or reasonable accommodations for dyslexic people? If not, why not?

Apr. 18 2013 10:59 AM
Susan from Manhattan

Dyslexia affects 20% of the population worldwide. Than translates to around 240,000 NYC schoolchildren K-12 in any given year, very few of whom get appropriate help. As Regent Emeritus Adelaide Sanford says: "We don't have an achievement gap, we have an 'access' gap."

Susan Crawford
Director, The Right to Read Project

Apr. 18 2013 10:41 AM
carolita from nyc

I'm a freelance artist/illustrator and writer. My dream of becoming an astronaut was thrwarted by my paralysis in math which I didn't realize was due to dyslexia -- anyway I never pursued the sciences, or even learned to drive. I turned out to be good in literature and the social sciences, even in linguistics, but was never good at anything dealing with numbers. I even missed college registration day one year because of mixing up the date and month numbers for registration day! Luckily they understood. My accountant benefits from my dyslexia as I can't even be trusted to use a calculator doing my taxes. And I adore her, she's a wonderful lady. I always feel happy after I leave her office, every year, refund or not. So, it worked out for both of us. It would've been nice ot go to the moon, but I like the way my life turned out.

Apr. 18 2013 10:14 AM

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