Percy Jackson and Dyslexia

Well, I thought I would wait at least a month before I blogged about my ten-year-old son being dyslexic, but having just gone to see The Lightning Thief with him this weekend I feel compelled to write about it.

If you haven’t seen The Lightning Thief and have a ten or older child I highly recommend it. (it’s suitable for younger, maybe age eight, but you have to know your child…there are graphic scenes with three-headed animals!). Most people are going to see it because it’s being billed as the next Harry Potter film series for kids, but to me it’s far more than a Harry Potter look-a-like film.

While dyslexia and ADHD are not the main themes in the film, Percy Jackson, the main character, is a high school kid who has dyslexia and ADHD. Words scramble when he tries to read them and he is constantly plagued with feeling (and being told by others, like his teachers) that he’s stupid or at least not normal. Ironically, though, he can read ancient Greek without a problem.

This might seem like a miracle to most people, but to a mother like me of a dyslexic son this is not shocking. I know quite a bit about dyslexic and ADHD kids and how they operate. And I know that most people don’t know a thing about this silenced subject, often presenting dyslexic or ADHD kids in movies as a joke or worse – stupid (ever see High School Musical and remember how the character Ryan could not read the “Drama Club” sign and how “stupid” he looked?).

The book and film addresses Percy’s dyslexia and ADHD in such a refreshingly informed way I thought the author, Rick Riordan, must also have a personal connection to these themes. And I was right.

“When I was writing Percy Jackson, my own son was in the process of being tested for learning differences. He was having trouble reading, and some trouble focusing in the classroom. The teachers were wondering about ADHD and dyslexia. He was frustrated about learning to read, and we had to explain to him that the testing was designed to help the teachers help him, not to make him feel bad.

As a teacher, I’ve worked with lots of kids who have learning differences. I’ve participated in testing evaluations and made modifications in my classroom. But somehow, it’s different when your child is going through the process. Eventually, my son was enrolled in the Scottish Rite program, which caters to children with reading difficulties like dyslexia. He’s doing much better now, but it wasn’t an easy process.

While this was happening, I did a lot of reading about dyslexia and ADHD. I especially liked the books Getting a Head in School and Driven to Distraction. I was surprised to learn that ADHD and dyslexia frequently go together. The books also confirmed something I already knew: that dyslexic/ADHD kids are creative, “outside-the-box” thinkers. They have to be, because they don’t see or solve problems the same way other kids do. In school, unfortunately, they are sometimes written off as lazy, unmotivated, rude, or even stupid. They aren’t. If they can get through their rough school years, they often go on to become very successful adults. Employers love them, because they come up with original, fresh ideas. Making Percy ADHD/dyslexic was my way of honoring the potential of all the kids I’ve known who have those conditions. It’s not a bad thing to be different. Sometimes, it’s the mark of being very, very talented. That’s what Percy discovers about himself in The Lightning Thief.”


If you have a child who is dyslexic and/or ADHD you can probably relate to Rick Riordan’s words. (my son does not have ADHD, but many of his classmates do at the school for dyslexia he attends).  Yet, even though I know my son is an out-of-the-box thinker some days I think: I just need to get Jacob through school. If he reads and writes fluently then he’ll be okay. Other days I wonder: will I have to help Jacob get through life, reading all the “caution: extremely hot” signs he will encounter?

Why is conformity and definitions of “normal” so ingrained into our thought process?

There is one thing I know for sure – Jacob is unique. Not just because in fifth grade he still cannot consistently recognize the sight word “the” every day, yet he can be asked to mathematically position kids into a complex figure and all he does is move one kid and creates the complex shape. He’s unique because he never conforms to all the “should’s.” He should read, he should write, he should sit down and be quite, he should be able to be flexible about his schedule.

If I had to describe my son as an ice cream flavor it would not be vanilla, that’s for sure. Maybe rocky road? It has taken me a long time, and many deep breaths, to be okay most days with rocky road.

“I am normal,” Jacob tells us at the dinner table last night as we discuss The Lightning Thief with his younger brother, who is not dyslexic. “One out of five kids today is dyslexic. I think that make me normal!”

As I listened to his words my heart sank for all the dyslexic and ADHD kids who do not feel normal in this world. It took Percy Jackson until high school to begin to discover that his dyslexia, as his friend Grover explained to him, is a gift. It’s the reason why he can have so many exciting adventures.

Let’s find a way to show and teach out-of-the-box thinkers from a young age that they are normal. It seems to me it’s not just an educational, but a moral imperative.

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on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 at 5:10 pm and is filed under General.
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