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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.









 

Comments (8)

Thank you for your words. My 7 year old was recently diagnosed with ADHD and probable dyslexia. The neuropsychologist was hesitant to label it as dyslexia at her age because she's still in the age range where significant leaps are seen in reading ability, but agreed that there were signs of dyslexia. Because my daughter has always been homeschooled, she doesn't seem to have that sense of being "stupid" that a lot of other kids get, but does have the sense of frsutration at not being able to figure out reading. We've been checking books out of the library on highly sucessful people that likely had ADHD and/or dyslexia, such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. My husband also has ADHD and dyslexia and sucessfully made it through medical school. I want to make sure that theses examples of people that worked through the difficulties and capitalized on that amazing creativity and out-of-the-box thinking become her normal view of ADHD and dyslexia. Your bog entry helped reinforce to me how important it is to continue with that plan.
Those definitions of *normal* and even the *labels* that are given to those who learn *differently* only exist and work in a school setting. Thankfully, every parent has the glorious choice of removing their unique child from school and allowing them to be a part of the real world and Shine!! All children SHINE when celebrated for Being Who They Are. Unschooling allows children to know that they are Whole and Perfect as they are...and they don't have anything wrong with them that needs to be *fixed*. My 19 year old would have had numerous labels if he were in school...but he has been a free child all of his life, following his own heart, his own passsions, and learning in his own way, in his own time. Those labels have *fallen* away because he has not only not ever had them attached to his sensitive spirit, but because he has always been celebrated for being Who He Is ~ *including* those traits that would have been labeled if he were in school.
I'm so glad I read this! I'm always looking for books/movies that depict special needs or being a little different in a positive light.
We knew my gifted/ADD son was different when he was quite young. Trying to advocate for him has been quite the road! He is brilliant (truly!), and how many times have I been told that he doesn't 'seem all that smart'. Thank goodness for finally finding a school that worked - when he was 16! Now he's almost done, with colleges beating down our door, the true star that he always should have been. Now I also have a teenage stepson who's gifted/dyslexic/ADD - an even bigger hill to climb. But thanks to advocacy and training he also knows he's smart - just different. I can't wait to read these books now. I'd heard about them but didn't realize the hero was "twice gifted". Thank you so much for talking about this.
Hi Wendy, Yes, keep reinforcing the numerous people who have achieved great things because of their ADHD/dyslexia! At the entrance to the library at my son's school there is a statue of Albert Einstein and it inspires many students! Age 7 is young to make a definitive diagnosis, but it's great you have your eyes (and heart open). A hug to you! Karen
Thank you for writing this. We have a 15 yr old son who is Dyslexic. We knew he had a problem early on and have had an uphill battle since. My Husband is also Dyslexic so that gives my son reasurance that he is not the only one that has this difference. We can't wait to see this film. Hope to see more on this issue....
I, too, liked the (brief) portrayal of uncommon neurological traits as potentially leading to alternative strengths. However, looking purely at the movie review part of this article, this film is not going on my kid's shelf for several reasons. One is that I was appalled at how little Percy seemed to be affected by his belief that his mother had died. "My mother died! I'm angry! Hey! A pretty girl!" Pretty much just like that. Also, the portrayal of females as second rate always gets the boot from me. OK, sure, it's a movie based on a book based on Greek myths. But try to say *something* other than that females are second-rate. Finally, the friendships between the characters just didn't feel genuine or developed to me. In the Harry Potter series or, say, Golden Compass, you can feel the affection, loyalty, and pride for friendships -- enough to balance the darker sides of the film. Nothing doing, here.
There was this girl who lived across the street from me when I was little. She had a Dorothy Hamill haircut, wore conservative clothes and flat shoes. No makeup. Naturally pretty, I always thought she looked like an Ivory Soap girl. She was an straight A student, had plenty of friends. And in college met the man she would marry. She's a librarian now. Let's call her Nancy Bishop. My mom always told me she wanted a daughter like Nancy Bishop. And many days I asked myself, why couldn't I be more like Nancy Bishop? Everything about Nancy was mainstream. Everything about me, wasn't. I know it might be easier to be a mom to a kid like Nancy than a kid like me (or Jacob), but I know all the effort is worth it. The diversity that comes with dyslexia (and ADHD) make this world a more special and interesting place.
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