Cher Among Award Winners for Overcoming Dyslexia
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Cher, the actress and singer, says she can’t dial a long-distance telephone number and is ″a terrible reader,″ but like many of the 25 million Americans with dyslexia, she’s found a way around her handicap.
Cher was one of a half-dozen prominent people honored Wednesday as ″outstanding learning disabled achievers″ by The Lab School of Washington, a private, federally supported institution where 160 dyslexic children and adults are getting an education.
The other award winners, cited for the way they ″learned strategies to cope, live successfully and excel in their fields,″ were:
G. Chris Andersen, managing director of Drexel Burnham Lambert, a Wall Street investment banking firm; former Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner, artist Robert Rauschenberg, Dallas real estate developer Richard C. Strauss and movie actor Tom Cruise of ″Risky Business″ fame.
The six were congratulated by Nancy Reagan at a White House ceremony Wednesday morning, followed by an evening black-tie awards dinner and dance held to raise funds for the Lab School.
Dyslexia is a neurological disorder centered in the brain, causing its victims to have great difficulty in reading, writing, spelling and doing math problems. Although they are otherwise healthy, and may have above-average intelligence, dyslexic children often are mistakenly regarded as lazy, inattentive, stubborn or even mentally retarded.
There is no cure for dyslexia and the causes are still a mystery, although medical scientists believe it may have something to do with the early formation of brain cells. It is seven times more likely to occur in males than females, and is believed to be hereditary.
Dyslexic children confuse the letters ″b″ and ″d″ or ″p″ and ″q.″ They will transpose letters when writing a word, so ″brown dog″ comes out ″borwn god.″ They do not hear the difference between ″pen″ and ″pin,″ for example.
A dyslexic teen-ager can discuss Homer but cannot recite the days of the week or the alphabet in sequence. Another can identify fossils but loses his homework and cannot remember where his next class is.
Sally L. Smith, founder and director of the Lab School, calls dyslexia ″a neurological deficit in the brain akin to a telephone switchboard with some loose wires that somehow are short-circuiting the incoming and outgoing messages.″
Some famous dyslexics of the past include Albert Einstein, inventor Thomas Edison, former Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, Gen. George S. Patton, sculptor Auguste Rodin, President Woodrow Wilson and Hans Christian Anderson, who could not read or write and was forced to dictate his fairy tales to scribes.
Cher dropped out of high school, bored and discouraged by repeated failures, but went on to a successful career as a singer and actress in such movies as ″Mask″ and ″Silkwood,″ for which she received an Academy Award nomination.
Cher said in an interview Wednesday that she never realized she was dyslexic until she was about 30, when she arranged for medical tests for her daughter, Chastity, a poor achiever in elementary school. Mother and daughter were ″devastated″ to learn they both had learning disabilities, she said.
″I’m a terrible reader,″ Cher said. ″I don’t write letters. Numbers and I have absolutely no relationship. I can dial a phone OK, as long as it’s not long distance. I write the first letter of the word, and my mind races to the last letter. I see words and jumble them together. I see great billboards, billboards no one has ever invented.″
Yet, she says, ″the brain has a way of compensating. I read my scripts very, very slowly, but I memorize them almost immediately. Now, my problem is only annoying more than anything else.″
Jenner, 36, says the greatest fear he remembers is not the grueling decathlon competition at the Summer Olympics in Montreal in 1976, but being ″absolutely terrified having to read in front of the class,″ knowing he could barely read and afraid of he couldn’t hide his failure.
″I had a terrible image of myself,″ he said. ″I thought of myself as a dummy.″
That was Jenner’s motivation to enter athletics, where he excelled naturally. ″Sports helped me out a lot,″ he said. ″All of a sudden I could hold my head up high, and start to say ‘I can come back and lick this problem some day’.″