Dyslexia is a learning disability that wreaks havoc in the academic, psychological and social lives of students who suffer from it. Often interfering with reading comprehension, listening skills, mathematics comprehension and writing, it haunts more students than many of us could possibly imagine. Famous creative minds like Walt Disney, Agatha Christie, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonardo Da Vinci and Andy Warhol struggled with disability, yet they also prevailed.
So has actor, Henry Winkler. Best known for his role as Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days, Winkler grew up in a highly academic family. The fact that young Henry struggled with academia baffled his strict, intellectually minded parents, who sent him to doctors to find out why their son wasn’t achieving to their level of expectation. One doctor told him he needed to focus more, but no matter how hard he tried to focus, it did no good.
It wasn’t until Winkler became a father himself, and his son began to struggle in school, that father and son were both diagnosed with dyslexia. The cards he’d been dealt in life finally fell into place, and for the first time Winkler understood he wasn’t “stupid” as everyone believed. He was just different and needed to approach learning from a whole new perspective.
Today, Winkler is not only acting, but he also writes childrens’ books that deal with the subject of dyslexia and learning disorders. The Hank Zipzer book series follows the challenges and antics of a young school boy with a learning disorder, but the books focus more heavily on life itself, rather than centering around Hank Zipzer’s trouble with learning. At present, there are seventeen books in Winkler’s series, and parents and kids alike seem to love them.
Winkler is also an ambassador for the UK’s My Way program, which dedicates itself to spreading awareness about dyslexia and the learning disabled. Earlier this week he spent time in a Welsh primary school sharing his story with the kids there.
It’s amazing to me, after hearing Winkler’s story, just how far he’s come. That no matter how he felt about himself as a child because of his inability to learn at the expectation of the authority figures in his life, he managed to prevail and come out on top.
Winkler’s definitely given me pause this morning, and a reason to pop up both thumbs and say, “Ayyyyyyyyyyyy!” to the Fonz.