A common thread that runs through the lives of many dyslexics is their incredible struggle to read and to discover their path to success in life.
This is especially true for those who were never diagnosed or given support or accommodation in their younger years. How does a struggling dyslexic develop the hope and resolve necessary to work through their issues and discover their life’s work?
One way is to look to the example of other people with dyslexia who have found their way to a fulfilling life. I recently met Dr. Dan Peters, a licensed psychologist, who struggled early in life with undiagnosed dyslexia, but managed to find his path to success in life through hard work and determination. Today he is happy that his work allows him to help many other families with dyslexic children to thrive.
I wanted to share his story because I found it inspiring. I hope you will too.
Don: Please tell us about yourself.
Dr. Dan: I am forty-nine years old and fortunate to be happily married with three children (who are all dyslexic) ages fifteen to nineteen. I work as a licensed psychologist and I am the executive director of Summit Center, a group of psychologists and educators passionate about helping children, adolescents, and families realize their developmental potential. I also co-founded Parent Footprint, an educational resource for families, with the mission of making the world a more loving and compassionate place, one parent and child at a time. In addition to an online interactive parent training program (Parent Footprint Awareness Training), I have a podcast which I enjoy immensely. When not at work, I enjoy spending time with my family, being in nature, running, building, and creating.
Don: What was it like growing up with dyslexia?
Dr. Dan: When I was growing up, I didn’t know I had dyslexia. However, I learned I had dyslexia once I was in my late 30s, after the third of my three kids was also diagnosed with dyslexia. Suddenly, my school experience as a child made more sense. I read very slowly. My spelling was poor and my handwriting illegible (and still mostly is). Math didn’t stick (I had math tutors through graduate school). I couldn’t put my thoughts on paper for writing assignments and I remember crying at the kitchen table as my mom tried to help. I didn’t feel as smart as my friends. I remember being confusing to teachers—not reaching my potential, not doing well on tests when I seemed to know the material. I relied on my people skills, relationships, and a lot of hard work to get by. I was often nervous about tests, worrying that I wouldn’t finish if I took all the time I needed to understand the questions and think them through. I cheated when I had to, which made me feel bad since it is not part of my moral code. One strong memory is having to give an oral book report on a chapter book. I kept trying to read the book but couldn’t get past the first few pages. I didn’t know what to do. My teacher called me up to the front of the class when the time came, and I made up the entire book (which everyone seemed to enjoy), and then was anxious for weeks waiting to get caught.
Don: What were your challenges and how did you come to accept them and commit to your passions?
Dr. Dan: My primary challenges included reading and understanding textbooks, expressing my ideas in writing and using appropriate grammar, understanding and remembering math, and taking tests. Growing up, I was passionate about tennis and played competitively. I gave everything to it—I practiced, studied the game, and learned from watching the top players. Tennis was where I felt competent and confident. I later learned that dyslexic athletes have unique skills on the court and field due to their visual/spatial strengths and their ability to anticipate what is unfolding. I had this ability. I was also passionate about leadership in high school and people in general. I didn’t realize it was a skill, but I could read people and situations well and often found myself in a “counseling” and problem-solving role. I am not sure I ever accepted my challenges back then. I feel I just dealt with them, was frustrated by them, and tried to focus on my interests.
Don: When did you choose to go into psychology? Did your dyslexia play a role in the choice?
Dr. Dan: This is actually a funny story that I share with clients. During my senior year in high school, my parents took me to the college counselor that my older cousins had used. I took a bunch of tests and then we met with him for the results and his recommendations. He said that I should be a business major and a Spanish minor, study abroad in a Spanish speaking country to become fluent, and then go to law school to become a bilingual attorney. I remember thinking that absolutely nothing he said resonated with me, but I figured that he was the expert so he must know. We had a follow-up meeting with the counselor at the end of my freshman year in college. He asked me two questions that changed my life: “What classes did you like the most this past year?” and, “Which classes did you do the best in?” My answers were psychology and psychology. He asked if I had ever thought about being a psychologist and I said I had not. He then told me to change my major to psychology, sign up to work in a research lab, and get a part-time job working in a group home for children. Now that resonated! I did what he said, and the rest is history. Turns out I didn’t need a bunch of fancy tests (which I apparently didn’t do well on). I just needed to be asked a few pointed questions. I do think my dyslexia played a role in my career choice as I was unable to understand classes that did not make sense to me or did not have any meaning for me (most classes outside of psychology). I had always been naturally drawn to understanding people, dynamics between people and groups, and I had an ability to help and problem-solve (which turn out to be dyslexic strengths).
Don: How did you come up with the title for your platform, Parent Footprint, and what would you like my readers to know about your work?
Dr. Dan: The name Parent Footprint was coined by my business partner, Payman Fazly. He told me about his awareness that as parents, we leave “footprints” on our children, and our job is to become aware of the footprints that were placed on us by our parents so we can be purposeful about the footprints we leave on our children and grandchildren. Here’s the key–in order to raise happy, healthy, and engaged children, we parents have to focus on the same things in our own lives. As a technologist by training and career, he wanted to use technology to create an affordable and accessible online training program that people who cannot afford counseling, cannot geographically access counseling, or do not feel comfortable with counseling could benefit from. I was all in! We spent every weekend for at least a year creating the platform and content for a training program combining my decades of working with children and parents, his decades of working in technology, and our shared passion for raising the next generation of healthy humans and making a difference in this world.
Don: What are your greatest joys and challenges in your work?
Dr. Dan: My greatest joys are seeing people come to understand, accept, and like themselves; achieve their goals; overcome worry and anxiety; and realize that their life’s possibilities are virtually limitless. My greatest challenges are basically the opposite— when people are stuck, don’t see who they are and who they can become, and are deep in the throes of anxiety and depression. I have learned that this is part of life and their journey, and yet I want them grow and thrive. I have learned that I have to be patient and let their journey unfold.
Don: What books have you written and what would you like my readers to know about your books?
Dr. Dan: First of all, if you told me as a child that I would be an author when I grew up, I would have thought you were crazy. I hated to write and was terrible at it. It wasn’t until after graduate school that I learned I could express what I thought and talked about all day if I focused on what I “thought” and used the words I would use to speak to a client, rather than focusing on “writing.” I have written a series of books to help children, adolescents, and their parents overcome worry and anxiety (a.k.a. The Worry Monster):
Make Your Worrier a Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Child’s Fears
From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears
The Warrior Workbook: A Guide to Conquering Your Worry Monster
These books come from my years of working with children and families who are dealing with anxiety, and I merely put my training, work, and experience into written words to guide a reader through the process in a user-friendly way.
I also co-wrote Raising Creative Kids with my friend and colleague Susan Daniels, PhD. This book takes our combined experience in working with and educating creative children and their parents to help others understand creative people and how to nurture their strengths and overall development.
Don: From your training and experience, what is the most important thing you’d like to share with parents?
Dr. Dan: The most important thing I have come to realize both as a psychologist working with kids and parents, and as a parent myself, is that we must know ourselves— our past, our triggers, our personal goals, and our goals for our children. All of this guides our behavior as individuals and as parents. If we have that awareness of where we have come from, what we liked and did not like, and what drives our own behavior, we can parent with intention and purpose.
Don: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Dr. Dan: Our children are always watching us. Be the person you want your child to become. What you do is more important than what you say. I will leave you with the question I ask myself daily and the question I use to end every podcast, “What footprint do you want to leave?”
Don: I’d like to thank Dr. Dan for sharing his work and message with my readers, and for all the fine work he is doing in the dyslexia community and to help parents examine their role so that they can parent with love and consciousness.
Listen to the Parent Footprint Podcast with Dr. Dan where he interviews Don M. Winn, author of Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know.
About Dr. Dan Peters: Dr. Dan Peters, licensed psychologist, is the co-founder and executive director of The Summit Center, specializing in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families with special emphasis on gifted, talented, and creative individuals and families. Dr. Dan speaks regularly at state and national conferences on a variety of topics including parenting, gifted children, twice-exceptionality, anxiety, and dyslexia. He also writes for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Dr. Dan is author of Make Your Worrier a Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Child’s Fears, and its companion book, From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears. He is co-author of The Warrior Workbook: A Guide for Conquering Your Worry Monster, as well as co-author of Raising Creative Kids. Dr. Dan is also a co-founder of ParentFootprint.com, an on-line interactive parent-training program, and Camp Summit, a sleep-over summer camp for gifted and 2E youth. He is the host of the Parent Footprint Podcast with Dr. Dan.
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