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The Story of Joseph
What is your story, or the story of a dyslexic in your life? How I got interested in dyslexia—my partner Joseph
I’m not dyslexic myself. How did I get interested in dyslexia? My partner Joseph is the dyslexic in my life. I am continually inspired by his great gifts and by how he meets and transforms his struggles. Joseph has kindly offered to share his story. His journey illustrates many of the points that we have spoken about in the heroic journey of a dyslexic. He is my hero!
The Dyslexic M.I.N.D Strengths
Before we begin, here is a little review of the dyslexic strengths explained, courtesy of Brock L. Eide, MD and Fernette F. Eide, MD from their book The Dyslexic Advantage:
- You can use this link or those embedded in the story to learn more about the Dyslexic M.I.N.D. Strengths
- Here is a little video by Dean Bragonier where he talks about them in a nutshell video: https://youtu.be/f8ijgzZCjjw.
- And right here is a mini-review of the dyslexic strengths explained:
M-Strengths: Material Reasoning
- Great 3-D or spatial reasoning.
I-Strengths: Interconnected Reasoning
- Seeing unique connections that others often miss.
- Using different perspectives and approaches to create a big-picture view.
N-Strengths: Narrative Reasoning
- Being able to create vivid mental scenes to display important ideas and concepts from the past, present and future.
- Having a great personal memory (a.k.a episodic memory).
- Being able to write so vividly that others imagine it clearly.
D-Strengths: Dynamic Reasoning
- Taking information and accurately making predictions about the past and the future.
- The ability to notice patterns, even where some information is missing, and correctly make predictions.
- Understanding how to deal with change and uncertainty from looking at qualitative data.
- Having and following insight.
Joseph, (as is common with dyslexics) has many dyslexics in his family. Both of his parents are dyslexic. As a kid Joseph, with his great 3-D spatial comprehension and boundless curiosity, took apart literally everything in the house and put it back together again, including the toaster, most of the plumbing, all his bicycles, a camera, and his first motorcycle (his dyslexic M-strengths at work). He couldn’t help taking things apart and reassembling them—it was really fun! He checked out ever single thing in the house. His mother was nervous about him having his first motorcycle. When she’d seen that he’d taken apart literally every piece of it and it was spread all over the garage, she was relieved because she thought he wouldn’t be able to put it back together again. In a few days he had it put back together and it was running in better shape than ever!
The Hell of School
What I learned about Joseph is a recognizably dyslexic story of creative thinking, achievement, and struggle with a school system which shamed him, blamed him and discarded him. His story is one where adults told an eight-year-old boy that he “would never even be able to be a garbage man because when you grow up, Joey, even sanitation workers will have to have college degrees and you can’t get one.” He got the message at that young age that he would “have no future” (a common fear of dyslexic kids). To this day Joseph still feels grief from teachers repeatedly telling him he was “stupid.” Once he was tested and found to have a very high IQ, the same teachers then told him he was “lazy” and it was because he “didn’t try hard enough” (a common and hurtful misunderstanding of the dyslexic learning process) that he couldn’t read. This about a boy who longed to read and spent hours and hours struggling to do so.
A kind, polite kid, he responded to questions in class with more advanced information than was being taught due to his astutely dyslexic observations of life, watching TV (a really helpful learning tool for dyslexics because it is a visual format), easily picking up any visual information being taught, and being a member of the adult work force long before other kids. Joseph had a broader vocabulary than some of his teachers. He offered creative and astute answers in classroom discussions. The reaction to his creative, accurate, and advanced level responses was that his teachers labeled him a “smartass” because he could verbally answer but couldn’t express himself on written tests. A teacher in junior high told Joseph that he wasn’t doing his homework because he “must feel that doing homework was beneath his intelligence.” No one knew how to teach Joseph how to read and write though he longed to, and they didn’t understand that this was why he couldn’t complete assignments and tests.
Here is a typical and frequent story of his school experience: A teacher went to great lengths to explain a concept to the students, but they just didn’t understand. Joseph, who appeared to be “daydreaming and looking out the window,” (that great and often misunderstood dyslexic D-strength processing system!) raised his hand and offered a great metaphor which all the kids immediately understood (N-strengths at work, easily finding a metaphor that others understand). The disgruntled teacher responded with, “Mr. Feusi, how is it that you have the answers in class and don’t write them on the test!” Soon after, this same teacher assigned him to tutor a fellow student in biology. Biology was taught visually with lots of pictures and diagrams on the board (a great way for dyslexics to learn) which Joseph easily understood. He not only knew the material, but was a natural and friendly teacher. Joseph helped the girl who was struggling to get an A+ on her exam. Joseph got a D on the same test. He knew all the answers but he could not read the questions nor write the answers. The teacher knew Joseph was smart, which was why he trusted him with tutoring his prize student, but the teacher was unable to give Joseph the help he needed and blamed him for his “failings.”
Another teacher paid for braces for Joseph’s straight-A sister when their divorced mom couldn’t afford them. Joseph also needed braces, but he got Ds, and didn’t get the braces. Instead, one day when Joseph was struggling to read this same teacher came over with the teapot he used to water the plants in the class and dumped the entire pot on top of Joseph’s head in order to try to compel him to do his homework “better.” Faced with belittling comments by teachers, and the horror of being asked to read aloud when he couldn’t, pretty soon Joseph learned to become “invisible” and not respond (invisibility is a way dyslexics often learn to cope).
The student Joseph tutored went on to become high school valedictorian. Joseph had a different fate. He articulately lobbied to his high school vice principal to find some way to help him learn to read and write. Joseph always understood the value of education throughout his schooling. He entered the workforce masquerading as an adult so that he could be paid higher, adult wages. He held jobs of high responsibility. But he realized that he really wanted a college education and in order to do that he needed to read and write. So he had a meeting with the vice principal of his high school and expressed his concern that the school wasn’t doing a very good job of educating him and preparing him for the world. As a student, Joseph learned to survive basically by being invisible and making sure he didn’t get in any kind of trouble. The vice principal’s response to Joseph’s concerns about his lack of education as he prepared to enter the adult world was to label him a juvenile delinquent and angrily told him that they were not going to create a special program just for him, even though the State of California mandated and authorized such a program, and there were other kids who would have benefited. Joseph pointed out to the vice principal that he had never been in trouble of any kind! Indeed, he was the farthest thing from a delinquent as you could get—he was out working as an adult! The vice principal refused to help and simply signed Joseph’s graduation certificate to get rid of him (letting dyslexic students fall through the cracks, or dismissing them, is a common injury; in addition, parents of dyslexics may find that their child’s needs will be addressed by the school system only when hiring an attorney, an option not available to Joseph).
Entering the Adult World
Meanwhile . . . Joseph had entered the adult workforce quickly for family economic reasons—his parents had gotten divorced. While attending school and spending a lot of time trying to read and write, he also was working and having adventures. Joseph began to hitchhike to Los Angeles and the Haight-Ashbury from his home in Pacific Grove at the age of fourteen. He rose from dishwasher to manager of an entire restaurant at age sixteen, and tended bar at another restaurant at age sixteen, supplying himself with a fake ID which showed he was twenty one, a mustache, his six foot five frame, and his innate emotional intelligence. His astute understanding of people’s motivations based on his dyslexic gifts made him easily appear older than he was. His ID allowed him to get paid higher, adult wages. At age seventeen he had a year stint at an old Italian fishing and fish processing company in Monterey. For a month he worked on a fishing boat, but was quickly moved to fish filleting, and within a few months he was promoted to union journeyman fish filleter. This was the highest position of fish filleter. It was a job generally reserved for skillful old-timers, but Joseph could do this based on his dexterity and panache (his dyslexic gifts at work once again).
Finding The Gifts of Being Dyslexic
After working for the fish company, Joseph left California for Alaska and learned carpentry on-the-job in three years, was licensed and bonded and formed a construction company, and built his first house at the age of twenty one (using his 3-D M-strengths). Completely self-taught, he designed his first home and built it at age twenty three. At one point, he was asked to correct the problems for plans of another architect which would have resulted in the structural failure of that company’s project. When the other architect discovered this, he tried to justify his erroneous calculations by the fact that he’d gone to architecture school while Joseph, who had saved the building, had not (an example of the nonlinear nature of the dyslexic learning process, and the disbelief of nondyslexics who do not understand their process).
All of this was before Joseph learned to read, which happened at a rare-at-the-time class for adult dyslexics when he was twenty five. He did learn to read, though his reading remains slow, and he cannot spell (dyslexics exhibit a range of reading and spelling abilities). While in this class, his fellow adult students, discarded by their school systems, were angry and sad that they had repeatedly been given the message that their only choice for employment was to become a janitor, dishwasher or line cook, or who had to turn to prostitution because they could not fill out an employment application. Joseph quickly learned he had a natural ability to counsel his fellow students (counseling is an N-strength dyslexic profession). He was subsequently able to complete several years of college thanks to the proactive help of the Anchorage college (which offered the kind of help a dyslexic needs to succeed at college) he attended at the time. He then headed south from Alaska to Oregon when he was offered an opportunity to become an alternatively-trained counselor with the help of an also-dyslexic therapist (an example of the life-changing influence of having a mentor who is also dyslexic—this man was of enormous benefit to Joseph). Meanwhile, for two years he was a successful associate lobbyist at a boutique Democratic lobbying firm that specialized in lobbying for nonprofits. One of the things he was known for was explaining complex concepts to politicians in a simple way that they could understand and then convey to their constituents and colleagues (combining his dyslexic abilities to see the big picture and give informative and entertaining explanations).
After he completed his training, Joseph moved to Whidbey Island with a relational partner. Here he became the second highest producing real estate sales agent out of a field of 127 agents within one year without being able to fill in the real estate documents!—This was before the days of computer documents. Joseph was so good at sales (another dyslexic strength) that he’d take a deposit check without a contract, explaining to the broker that he’d get the contract signed later. The broker would get anxious, stating that a check did not constitute a contract (he worried they’d lose the sale). Joseph would fax the info to his girlfriend and she’d fill out the contract and fax it back. Then Joseph would fax the contract to the client who would sign it. It always worked and he only lost one sale out of many due to the lag time between check and contract signing.
He then went north to settle once again in Alaska in 1994. He quickly had a lengthy waiting list of clients in his alternative counseling practice (the counseling profession is an N-strength) while skiing the black diamond slopes, becoming a triple black belt and teaching martial arts to the elderly and teen girls for their protection (some dyslexics are great at athletics because they are able to use their bodies in a physically-felt 3-D way). Then the laws of Alaska changed to require formal licensure and grad school for counselors. Faced with the overwhelming prospect of reading, he let go of finishing college and going to grad school—he decided to forego formal licensing, and focused instead on being a Mentor in 1997, a word he prefers to Coach. He was one of the first Mentors/Coaches in the United States (using his dyslexic entrepreneurial skill). Joseph excels at being a Mentor because he sees the big picture instantly and has the empathy and clarity to walk his clients step by step through what they need to do to achieve their dreams and goals (combining his N-strengths, D-strengths and I-strengths). His clients included Hollywood box office directors and actors, corporate boards, writers, photographers, artists, and well known musicians. He also helped entrepreneurial people open their own small businesses of many kinds. He helped others advance up the ladder in their corporate jobs. He worked via phone and Skype all over the world as well as locally. With the help of Dragon Naturally Speaking (a word to text software program really helpful to dyslexics) and a personal assistant (also really helpful for dyslexics) he wrote four film scripts and began a self help book. What always amazes me is that he: writes in his head, remembers it all, edits in his head, and remembers the edits (using his dyslexic N-strength gifts of narrative, storytelling, and scene-based memory). For example, the information on his Mentoring/Coaching website has virtually all been written and edited in his head. It is only a final step for him to dictate into Dragon. I spell check in case Dragon hasn’t picked up something.
One of the unique and dyslexic talents Joseph offers clients is to help them write letters and applications of all sorts to influence people to be sympathetic to their needs and causes, even when his clients have already been denied. This includes home loans, business loans, college applications, and asking for abatement of medical costs. Pretty much anything that a client has gotten turned down for, Joseph has a knack in his research methods and his writing style to see the big picture of what is needed and help the client express what they need to prevail in their quest. Joseph reads about and researches the person who is being asked for something—he uses his dyslexic gifts of understanding an issue from multiple facets and disciplines, and his great memory to access his huge store of knowledge about life and about human personality. He then writes a letter that he knows the recipient will respond to favorably, and then rewrites the letter as though it was written by the client, and in the client’s style so there is no disparity between how the client speaks and writes. When what is being asked for is granted, the client’s verbal communication style matches their written communication style. Joseph is able to do this because of his dyslexic gifts—he has highly developed dyslexic narrative strengths. He sees the whole thing in his head like a theatrical performance, edits in his head, remembers the edits, and dictates it to Dragon Naturally Speaking or an assistant.
Around 2011, Joseph took a partial sabbatical to dive into some writing projects. He moved down to San Francisco when we began our relationship and has reinvented his Mentoring practice to include a spiritual and conscious awareness component and to offer a specialty in helping other dyslexics as well as all kinds of business owners, artists, and entrepreneurs. He works via Skype and in person.
Joseph has done all this and still sometimes struggles with self esteem and the “impostor syndrome” (lifelong challenges of many dyslexics)—in his darker moments he wonders if all he has done doesn’t really count, or he is deficient, because he did all of this without formal schooling. However, through his own heroic journey he has also come to claim his many gifts. I admire his lifelong practice of taking the high road through both the dark times and times of great joy and creativity. My amazing partner—intelligent, creative, kind, unique Joseph!
You can learn more about Joseph’s Mentoring/Coaching business:
- On the Dyslexic Self Esteem website at this link: Joseph Feusi
- On Joseph's website: motivationalmentor.com