Dyslexia: Steven Spielberg speaks out, ‘I own my fear’ (plus Video)

Whenever I talk about dyslexia and Steven Spielberg to a new student, I get the usual “dyslexia what?” and “Steven Spielberg who?” response.  Luckily, other classmates are always eager to chime in with their explanation that dyslexia made Jack a great artist and that Steven Spielberg made movies like “Indiana Jones” or “Bridge of Spies.”

Steven Spielberg did not know that he had dyslexia until he was 60 years old, a fact that my students still have a hard time understanding. How is it possible that someone goes through life and doesn’t know that he has a learning disability like dyslexia?

Since my students are all too familiar with the gift and the curse that accompanies dyslexia, none were surprised about the pain that Spielberg describes during his interview with Quinn Bradlee. They, too, had once felt that pain.

Steven Spielberg shares the dark side of dyslexia

All of my dyslexic students understood exactly what Steven Spielberg was talking about when he discusses the fear, anger, and bullying that he experienced as a child.

Anger is a powerful force. Anger turned outward results in broken relationships, abuse, and school violence. Anger turned inward results in depression, self-harm, and suicide. Neither anger turned outward or inward resolves anything.

In a “60 Minutes” interview with Lesley Stahl, Steven Spielberg revealed that his dyslexia made him an outsider. “Oh, yeah. I was an outsider for all– most of my formative years.” As for college – Spielberg did what was best for him – flee.

The secret to Steven Spielberg’s success

Even though Steven Spielberg was unaware that he had dyslexia, he intuitively turned the curse into a gift by following his creative side. After leaving college, Spielberg turned to film making – and found his passion.

Finding a student’s passion is the key to school success for a dyslexic child.

“Well, I had found a way to accept myself in my own life by making movies. I had found that I could do something well,” Spielberg said.

While watching Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” (1975), “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977),  “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), “Hook” (1991), “Jurassic Park” (1993) or “Schindler’s List” (1993), my students  could easily recognize how Spielberg had turned the negative and challenging emotions that accompany dyslexia into something creative.

When Steven Spielberg was finally diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 60, it put the pieces of his life together.  At the age of 65, when talking to Quinn Bradlee, Spielberg said that discovering that he was dyslexic was eye-opening.

“It was like the last puzzle part in a tremendous mystery that I’ve kept to myself all these years.”

Steven Spielberg and his parents speak out

In my last post, I described the types, symptoms, and characteristics of emotional disabilities in detail. During his “60 Minutes” interview, Steven Spielberg also addresses his fear, anxiety, and the role his parents played in that:

Steven Spielberg had the kind of parents most children can only dream of. While growing up in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, with his three sisters and parents, Steven Spielberg got everything he wanted. During the “60 Minutes” interview, Steven Spielberg’s parents, 92-year-old Leah Adler and 95-year-old Arnold Adler, also share their memories:

Leah Adler: Anything he wanted, we did.

Arnold Spielberg: Yeah, that’s true–

Leah Adler: We never said no.

Leah Adler: Steve really did run us. He called the shots.

Steven Spielberg’s mother was a full-time “co-conspirator” mom and his “workaholic absent” father was a computer engineer. Like many parents who want to do and give everything to their child, there is one thing that they cannot do for a child; take away fear.

And for Steven Spielberg, fear was, and still is, a life-long companion.

“Lesley Stahl: You’re a nervous wreck.

Steven Spielberg: Yeah, it’s true.

Lesley Stahl: Is it a fear?

Steven Spielberg: It’s not really fear. It’s just much more of an anticipation of the unknown. And you know, the unknown could be food poisoning. It’s just the kind of level of anxiety not being able to write my life as well as I can write my movies.

Lesley Stahl: What about a way to handle your fears?

Steven Spielberg: There’s no better way than to tell a story about them and infect everybody else. Although, I’ll tell you something, it doesn’t get it off your chest. It doesn’t.

Lesley Stahl: The fear comes right back again?

Steven Spielberg: Comes right back again like it belongs to you. I own my fear.

Lesley Stahl: And you’re going to hold onto it, actually, it sounds like to me.

Steven Spielberg: Well, it’s commercial, so I don’t want to.

Lesley Stahl: Exactly, exactly.

Steven Spielberg: I don’t want to lose it.

How many people can say the most powerful words, “I own my fear. I don’t want to lose it?” How many people have the courage to own their fear and turn it into something creative?

Unlike Charlie, who had found his own negative secret to school success, my students learn about Steven Spielberg and his dyslexia, the Awareness – Acceptance – Action technique, and the importance of patience and practice.

One of the important secrets to my students’ school success is the daily experience that you can (like Steven Spielberg) turn a curse into a gift. Most importantly, each student is learning the skill and power to control and own your life’s challenges — instead of your challenges controlling and owning you.

Dyslexia: We highly recommend the following Amazon book:

The Gift of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can't Read...and How They Can Learn will open your eyes to some amazing insights.
Read our review here ...

We used the below set to introduce our students to Steven Spielberg’s power:

Steven Spielberg’s career as a filmmaker spans over 40 years. The Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection includes eight CDs and features Spielberg’s very first TV production “Duel,” and his first theatrical release “The Sugarland Express.” Of course, the collection also includes famous blockbusters like Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park. Watch Amazon’s video about the CDs.

Special features include conversations with Steven Spielberg, the writing for the movies, a photograph and poster gallery, the making of the movies, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes look at production meetings, storyboards, reunions of cast members, and insights into the marketing of the films.

“Love this set! I have only a film or two that is in here externally (Jurassic Park), but this set was exactly what I needed. Lots of films I have never seen, all in excellent quality. It also comes in this fantastic book-like packaging that allows easy access to the discs.”

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