Soon after relocating my learning disabilities (mostly dyslexia) diagnostic practice to Annapolis, Maryland I encountered a bit of a mystery during my family interviews. Fortunately it turned out to be a lovely mystery.

In the mid to late 1990’s I had a thriving practice evaluating and diagnosing a wide range of learning issues for kids and adults.  I had learned early on in my training that collecting as much information as possible from BOTH parents was critical to truly understanding who these young people were as…people…and not just a set of test scores.  So I made it really clear in the intake process that both parents needed to attend the initial interview.

But something strange although ultimately wonderful started happening during my meetings with mom and dad.

It went like this:

Me:  So, what do you do for a living?

Parent:  I work for the government.

Me:  Yeah, yeah, right. So what do you actually do for a living?

Parent:  I work for the government.  

Stone-faced, resolute response.  Period.  

Hmm, what’s the deal here?.  It took me a few family interviews to figure it out and then the light came on.

Annapolis, Maryland is a bedroom community outside of Washington, DC.  Of course DC is the home to the FBI, Secret Service, CIA and the NSA (among other shadow agencies we don’t even know about). Guess where all these folks live?  Specifically with the NSA, employees are not allowed to tell anyone where they actually work.  Hence the stonewalling which was really just a reaction to my cluelessness!

But here’s the real story.  I was getting a LOT of referrals for families that did not share where they were employed! Why was that?

Of course, as we now know, dyslexics and people with other learning issues think differently. More importantly, they approach problems in atypical and oftentimes unique ways.  The NSA is all about finding unique solutions to huge, hoary global problems buried in massive volumes of data.  They HIGHLY VALUE dyslexics as employees because they possess special cognitive abilities!  Dyslexics, by and large, see things differently which is enormously valuable to security agencies.

I can’t confirm this but I’ve heard that up to 50% of people who work at the NSA have some sort of wiring issue in their brain. It’s certainly not something that the NSA would publicize but it makes sense.

Here’s where the story gets lovely.

We know that far too many of our dyslexic kids suffer needlessly in school–often for many years–due to a lack of understanding about how they learn and how they need to be taught.  This is not a knock on teachers. They just haven’t been getting the type of university training and professional development they need.

Often my NSA parents had suffered through school as well… but they ultimately had the experience of finding themselves being highly valued for their brains as adults.

They were embraced and highly respected in their careers.

That experience gave them the wisdom and foresight to know that their children would be okay too. Once they got through school that is.

The world will open up to them too. This knowledge so deeply informed their emotional response and actions when their children started struggling in school that their own experience became a gift to their children.

My NSA parents were able to consistently deliver the message to their children–both emotionally and rationally–that they were okay.  They weren’t stupid or weak or broken.  It was the environment that was not taking proper care of them–there was nothing wrong with them.  Yes, school was a pain.  Yes, they had to go get tested.  Yes, it was a struggle.

But there was such a deep and clear emotional understanding that “we are going to get through this as a family” and the children would flourish and their strengths would be valued as the world opened up to them later in life.  

To this day, I am enormously influenced by my experience with those moms and dads. I will never forget them. Of course it was tough but it was a beautiful example of how parents can raise their child to thrive even in difficult times.

It was a great gift to me too.