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Interview with Susan and Alan Raymond

Journey into Dyslexia

HBO

What brought you to the subject of dyslexia?

SUSAN RAYMOND

Well, a lot of roads were leading to it. We had been making several films in the last few years on education, and there seemed to be one constant theme: how was your life affected if you cant read? So, dyslexia is another version of that, but this time, its a learning disability. Meaning, its neuro-biological. Its not a failure of education. Its a differently structured brain.

HBO

Coupled with that is the stigma from a public that doesnt understand dyslexia.

SUSAN RAYMOND

Well the stigma seems to be one of the saddest things about it, because people believe if you cant read, youre stupid. And people with untreated dyslexia have difficulty reading. So thats where the stigma comes in.

ALAN RAYMOND

And dyslexic persons cant spell either. So thats also part of it.

SUSAN RAYMOND

So the misconception is that youre stupid. And theyre equating reading and spelling with your intelligence, which is not true. For the dyslexic person, if you cant read, it means you have a neuro-biological language deficiency that is probably genetic. It runs in families. And you have to get the proper amount of instruction, and then you can read. But unfortunately, many students go through school for years before its identified.

ALAN RAYMOND

The sort of wait to fail model.

"There are widespread misconceptions. All the recent studies and polls that have been conducted reveal that the general public ... have very little understanding of what dyslexia is."

SUSAN RAYMOND

They keep saying, oh, theyre immature. Give them a little more time. And that is very, very destructive to an individual. The child has to go to school and keep falling behind their peers, and they dont know why. So they think theyre stupid. Then their self esteem goes downhill rapidly, and that leads to other problems. Some implode, some explode.

ALAN RAYMOND

There are widespread misconceptions. All the recent studies and polls that have been conducted reveal that the general public, including in that group by the way, schoolteachers, have very little understanding of what dyslexia is. Most people think its a mental illness, which its not. They often lump it together with autism. But the other thing is that theres an upside to dyslexia. It's a very interesting phenomenon. So while, for kids in school through their entire schooling, it can cause tremendous problems that we dont want to, in any way, minimize, for many adults, it can also be a gift. There is that phrase, the gift of dyslexia. Because, on the one hand, you have this negative connotation, but on the other hand, you have this belief by some people that this different form of brain structure and thinking can lead to innovation and creativity.

SUSAN RAYMOND

And whats hopeful for parents is that even though you may have a struggling third grader, you have to realize that child is going to develop a strength, theres going to be something that that child is going to be very, very talented in.

ALAN RAYMOND

Society would be much poorer without people who think differently, as dyslexic people do.

SUSAN RAYMOND

Theres a whole list of extraordinary people who are dyslexic, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Pablo Picasso, among others. Its a fairly accepted idea that this different form of brain organization and thinking is very innovative and visionary and creative.

"You have to like children to make these films. And because education should be considered one of the most important issues in America, equal to taxes, the war, health care, it should be right up at the top, its so important."

HBO

As filmmakers, what attracts you to social issue documentaries?

SUSAN RAYMOND

I discovered when we made I Am a Promise that all of a sudden making a social issue documentary was fun. You have to like children to make these films. And because education should be considered one of the most important issues in America, equal to taxes, the war, health care, it should be right up at the top, its so important. We are not educating our young people properly. And if were not giving them the skills, whats going to happen to our country? So its extraordinarily important.

ALAN RAYMOND

I think weve always wanted to do serious social issue documentaries, whether its exploring middle class family dynamics, or educational issues, or when we did the effects of warfare on children. For us that's the reason to be documentary filmmakers is to hold up a mirror to society and hopefully help people understand a little better the world that they live, and maybe even offer some insight into the problems that people are struggling with.

We hope parents will see this film, and if they have a child whos struggling in school, maybe think of trying to get their child tested. We want teachers to see this film and look at it and say, wait a minute, maybe that kid in the back of the room who seems smart in so many ways, but cant seem to spell simple words, possibly has a learning disability. We also want adults who maybe have gone through life feeling depressed about their abilities in certain areas to look at this film and have an ah-ha moment and say, wait a minute, maybe thats my problem. The true value of making documentaries is epitomized in a film like this where you really can help people.

Journey Into Dyslexia