"Nelson helped me start my journey of understanding my emerging feelings surrounding my experiences as a person who is dyslexic."
By Dr. James Folkestad Ph.D.
It was National Disability Employment Awareness Month in 2014, and I was heading to pick up Nelson Lauver (aka Brons), a syndicated radio personality and writer engaged to speak at Colorado State University. I was not sure what to expect; you see, Brons and I had never met before, we only knew that we shared the diagnosis of dyslexia. In fact, my diagnosis was very fresh. I had referred myself at age forty-seven for diagnosis and had received my full psychological report just two months prior to picking up Nelson that night at the Hilton.
Over dinner, Nelson helped me start my journey of understanding my emerging feelings surrounding my experiences as a person who is dyslexic. The connection between dyslexics is strong. It’s an instant bond that I imagine soldiers experience when they meet another who fought in that war or battle. Although my story follows a different path, our experiences with schooling were very similar, and the trauma of those experiences created immediate friendship.
I like to start my story at the end (which is really the beginning), when I was denied a promotion at my university in 2013. For those who aren’t aware, this is basically an end to a career path. I couldn’t keep up with the “rigors” of the university. The university requires an extremely focused research agenda which is evidenced by a lot of published written works. It is necessary to document that focused research agenda in an academic resume, often in excess of 100 pages that is scrutinized by panels of experts who look for any and every flaw including punctuation and spelling errors. One of the reasons for being denied the promotion was that my resume contained spelling errors.
Interestingly, if you looked at my academic resume at the time, I imagine it would look something like Brons’ resume if he was required to put one together. I had conducted research and work in 3D computer-aided design, team building, production processes, spray metal tooling, video games for learning, and learning analytics. Examined through the academic lens, this was unfocused. It was far from the linear expectation. Oh, and did I mention the spelling and punctuation mistakes? However, this was my dyslexic mind at work. In each of these projects, I brought my strengths of identifying and solving the problems, however, I didn’t know how to showcase those strengths in the myopically focused academic system. The academic resume is literally a linear list of written works. My work goes well beyond this, toward creative and innovative problem identification and problem-solving. I find it fascinating, but not surprising, how these prejudices originate from the top of academia and continue to trickle down to all schooling below.
Brons’ book is a valuable and delightful read. It’s Nelson Lauver at his best, telling heartfelt stories and connecting the dots between his experiences with schooling, teachers, and his parents. It takes a deep dive into how schools can decimate a young person's self-esteem and how influential people can rekindle the growth mindset that is so important for learning and advancement.
When I read Nelson’s story, I love envisioning myself as a child in his dad’s garage, tinkering away towards realization and self-acceptance. In fact, my mind immediately gravitates to my own experience in my own garage. I was working for a wonderful man named Peter Rodgers at a company called Industrial Container Corporation (ICC). I remember it well. I was hired as one of three people on a temporary basis to begin work as a packaging designer. The job was to design protective packaging for all types of products. Basically, packaging design is problem-solving in three dimensions. As you read on in this book, you will see the similarities to Brons’ stories in that I could envision the packaging solution before anyone else could. ICC was my garage, and finally someone valued the inner workings of my mind. In the end, my dyslexic mind easily won that position. I had found my garage and had begun to understand my mind strengths.
Most dyslexics that I have talked to have struggled along this difficult and challenging path somewhat alone. Dyslexia is a hidden learning difference that often includes shame and anxiety. We know deep down that we have a superpower, however, we struggle to find a garage in which to learn about that power and to highlight our insights.
As you will read, Brons uses his dyslexic-mind strength to re-imagine and create a shiny new term, difstypro, which shifts our thinking and orientation toward the unique mind strengths that the dyslexic learning difference affords. I believe this is a major contribution to the overall conversation about human potential and the value of diversity. Of course, I don’t want to still Brons’ creative genius, so I will not spoil your pleasure of reading his introduction and rich description of this term. However, I will say, bravo Brons!
Brons inspires us to take control of our own narrative, to find our garage, and to leverage our difstypro powers. There is extreme value in what difstypros’ do, however, we need to take control of the narrative. We need to believe in those superpowers. You see, even though I didn’t have Brons’ term difstypro at the time, I began to rewrite and control my own narrative. Since meeting Brons, I rewrote my academic resume. Yes, it is still linear, it is still required, and I hired an editor to correct all of my simple mistakes. It is now more in line with the world Brons imagines, a more difstypro-centric world. You see, the power of my work and the strength of my academic resume only begins to shine if you see it through the difstypro lens, and I needed to have the understanding and personal strength to highlight and showcase that superpower. I received a promotion to full professor and I was nominated by my peers. I am now one of twelve University Distinguished Teaching Scholars (UDTS) at Colorado State University (CSU). Furthermore, I am working hard to build a garage at CSU, allowing more students to realize their unique difstypro talents.
Nelson, thank you for being so kind and generous. This book and your thinking around the gifts of the difstypro mind will impact so many people. I couldn’t agree with you more, “it doesn’t have to be so hard.”
Univesity Distinguished Teaching Scholar
Colorado State University