I really didn’t know what to expect, but I am a huge fan of Mr. Winkler’s best-selling book series, Hank Zipzer – The World’s Greatest Underachiever, and I saw this as a great opportunity to meet a man who has gone above and beyond with respect to shining light on dyslexia – both its realities/difficulties and its gifts/talents. Based on the wonderful character, Hank Zipzer, a 4th grade boy with dyslexia, Winkler’s 14-strong series of chapter books are mostly autobiographical.
Having arrived at the function an hour and a half early, I was excited to be right at the front of the line. People started assembling and the buzz of excitement was growing. In one way or another, Henry Winkler had touched the life of each person in line…either with his acting, producing, writing, or other experience!
As people around me were sharing their stories, we all were surprised to see Henry Winkler, himself, walking toward us – happy to see the crowd. He introduced himself to most everyone, taking pictures and shaking hands with awed fans on the sidewalk. No sneaky back-door entrances for him…as he was ushered in by staff, he thanked everyone for coming and walked through the front door.
This was a good sign, and things just kept getting better! Inside, Henry Winkler entered the stage-front area of the town hall to a huge round of applause. Dressed in jeans, a blue blazer, pink tie, and casual shoes, he hopped up on the stage and introduced himself. His in-person energy is FUNNY, warm, approachable, and very candid!
He started off by saying,
“I stand before you being an actor, a director, a producer, [and author]. I am a husband, a father to three children […] and I am in the bottom 3% in this country academically.”
Despite this jaw-dropping comment, his delivery was with such grace, humility, and humor, that it was a clear demonstration that academic success is NOT the only measure of greatness!
He spoke of his life growing up in New York – the same apartment building where Hank Zipzer lives. He talked about his real-life teacher (also a character in his books) who, unfortunately, always called Winkler lazy and not working to his potential. He spoke of his parents, who didn’t understand him or his academic difficulties.
Winkler was 31 years old when he found out that he was dyslexic…having spent most of his life believing that he was “dumb.” His story is similar to many dyslexic adults…a huge percentage of which are undiagnosed even now.
When his son started showing signs of difficulty in school, they decided to have him tested for a learning disability. As the results came back and they learned more about dyslexia, Winkler had the realization that they were not only diagnosing his son, but were also describing HIM!
He finally had a name…he was NOT STUPID, he was NOT LAZY, he WAS trying to live up to his potential. He was DYSLEXIC!
Winkler half-jokingly described his definition of dyslexia as:
- You spend 1/3 of your time trying to figure it out.
- You spend 1/3 of your time trying to figure out why you CAN’T figure it out, and
- You spend 1/3 of your time trying to cover up your shame and humiliation for not keeping up.
He continued on to reveal that his natural talents, dreams, extreme hard work, and personality were attributes that enabled him to put one foot in front of the other, every day, to get where he wanted to be. He believes that this potential lives within everyone! He went on to say,
“If you will it, it is not a dream. I now have found in my life that that is a phrase that makes the world turn on its axis. If you will it, it is not a prayer. What you want, if you hold it in your brain, and you never let your dream go, and put one foot in front of the other…if you will it, it is not a dream. There is no reason you cannot have whatever it is you are imagining.
Every human being who has a learning challenge – how you learn has NOTHING to do with how brilliant you are. Because you learn differently, it does not mean that you don’t have GREATNESS inside of you! Every one of you has GREATNESS inside of you and your job is to figure out what your gift is and give it to the world…and the world cannot wait to see what you give…I know I can’t!“
“I said I could never do this. I said, ‘It is impossible…I have nothing to say.’ …You put one foot in front of the other – it is AMAZING what you can figure out…what you can accomplish. You don’t even KNOW what you can accomplish until you try it. Never say never!”
There were also many times throughout his speech where I could corrolate what he was describing to classic disorientation symptoms– and wished so much that I could tell him that there is an easy way to control them! All throughout the Hank Zipzer books, there are descriptions of disorientation … Hank can’t figure out WHY he can’t seem to get it…WHY he can’t remember the spelling words he studied for…WHY reading is so hard…! As a Davis® Dyslexia Correction facilitator, I would love to see Hank have a Davis® program and feel the effects of having tools to help him!
Thanks, too, to the Andover Bookstore for hosting this wonderful event! For more information on the Davis program or New England Dyslexia Solutions, visit http://www.ne-dyslexia.com/, email email@example.com, or call 978-337-7753.