What was school like for you in the early days when you didn’t read yet?
Looking back, I was angry, bitter, and not approachable, and these emotions were attached to not being able to read. Academically, I was lost and didn’t care about school, which led to inappropriate behavior. Not being able to read was psychologically damaging for me.
What support systems did you have to help you stay motivated despite the adversity you faced?
I ended up splitting my time between high school and an alternative high school for special ed students, and I had a lot of great teachers and coaches who helped get me on the right path. They instilled confidence in me and helped turn me around by guiding me on how I could control my behavior. For example, they helped me get involved with coaching Special Olympics. That opportunity helped me realize I had leadership skills, which helped give me a different outlook on life.
In your senior year of high school, you were finally diagnosed with dyslexia. How did that happen and what was the impact on your life?
My mom was at a beauty salon and heard other mothers talking about a program for adult learners with dyslexia at a college run by Dr. Robert T. Nash. She called him up to ask if he would meet with us. He tested me, and I remember I couldn’t spell sight words. At the end, Dr. Nash told me I had dyslexia. He also said he saw a lot of potential in me because I was one of the most literate kids he has ever met; however, the school system failed me. Dr. Nash explained that learning how to read would be one of the hardest things I would ever face in my life, but he would teach me how to crack the code with multisensory instruction. Once he did that, I caught on quickly and took off.
You graduated high school reading at an elementary level, but you went on to participate in Dr. Nash’s Project Success Summer Program at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh before being accepted to the university for your bachelor’s degree. What was that experience like?
It was the real world and a wake-up call. I couldn’t have the same attitude that I did as an adolescent coming into an adult world. My mentors told me to mature or go home so I wouldn’t waste my time or my professors’ time. In college, I began to understand who I was becoming, and I knew that I wanted to give back and serve in some capacity. Finally, after six years, I earned my undergrad degree.
“I always felt like an outcast and didn’t want others to feel the same way.”
Afterwards, you received your master’s in education and a doctorate in language and literacy. What encouraged you to keep progressing academically?
I wanted to keep going, in part to prove to myself that I could achieve high levels of academic success regardless of where I started. A part of me also wanted to prove other people wrong…. With my PhD, I wanted to know more not only about myself as a dyslexic, but also about the space that I have lived in so I could try to help others like me.
In your research, you focus on the intersection of race, giftedness, and dyslexia. Why those particular areas of interest?
I wanted to write about Black and Brown kids who look like me, who are dyslexic, and who possess traits that are characterized as giftedness. Black and Brown kids are under-identified in both giftedness and dyslexia. I saw that this needed more attention.
Dr. Nash became a lifelong mentor for you, and he gave you the rights to his curriculum “Pure and Complete Phonics” before he passed away in 2017. What is being done with the program today?
It was an honor for Dr. Nash to give the program to me. I have used his work for adult learners with dyslexia where I teach at the Madison Area Technical College. Last semester, we piloted a free course, which is the first of its kind in the state, to teach not only dyslexic students, but also ESL learners. We saw some great results, and already have two sections for the fall filled up. It’s exciting to teach these adult learners, because I can relate to them, where they did not get the services they needed from the system to be successful.
In addition to serving adult learners, some younger audiences may know you as Doctor Dyslexia Dude, which is a character in your graphic novel series that you co-authored. When did this concept come about?
My wife and I wanted to make the research I’d done more accessible for kids and families. We wanted to try something different that would spread the messages of equality, equity, confidence, and self-empowerment. We knew that graphic novels can help students who struggle to read improve their engagement and comprehension, so we thought let’s try that in order to reach more kids. It has always been priceless to see kids with smiles on their faces and feel they have some hope because they recognize themselves in our books.
What words of wisdom do you have for kids with language learning disabilities?
You are not alone, and it is okay to feel the way that you feel. We are all going to experience failure in our life, but how we handle and channel our emotions is what matters. It is okay to think outside of the box because that’s what we do; we are creative in our thinking! Nothing is guaranteed in life, and nothing will automatically come to you, but keep working hard at whatever you are doing. There is no failure when you have done your best.
This article was originally published in The Windward Institute’s The Beacon Fall 2021 issue. You can read the entire article at https://www.thewindwardschool.org/the-windward-institute/the-beacon/article/~board/beacon-archives/post/shawn-anthony-robinson-phd-doctor-dyslexia-dude. To learn more about The Windward School, see www.thewindwardschool.org. Stephanie Huie is the Associate Director of Digital Communications & Publications at The Windward School.