Sally E. Shaywitz, M.D.
She is the Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development at Yale University and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.
Dr. Shaywitz, both a physician-scientist carrying out cutting-edge scientific studies to increase our understanding of dyslexia and as a deeply caring physician, is devoted to ensuring that individuals who are dyslexic, their parents and teachers receive all this wonderful new scientific evidence so that they can act on and benefit from it.
She is the creator and Principal Investigator of the Connecticut Longitudinal Study (CLS) which has for 39 years continuously followed a random sample of 445 boys and girls from kindergarten entry at age 5 years to mature adulthood age 45 years. She continues to monitor and assess 82% of the original population. The current phase–the Wellbeing phase—is examining a number of domains including life satisfaction, purpose in life, happiness, and grit in these adults. These data will allow us to examine the relationship between early predictors and later outcomes.
This study has provided the data for much of our contemporary scientific knowledge of dyslexia including its prevalence—20% or one in five; dyslexia occurs equally in boys and girls; and dyslexia is unexpected for a person’s intelligence. The scientific validation of the unexpected nature of dyslexia has led to the new definition of dyslexia codified in federal law, PL 115-391 as “an unexpected difficulty in reading for an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader.”
Furthermore, data from the CLS has shown that the achievement gap between typical and dyslexic readers occurs as early as first grade and persists. This finding provided us the impetus to develop a new instrument, the evidence-based Shaywitz DyslexiaScreenTM published by Pearson. This screener, ideal for universal screening, is designed so that teachers can efficiently and reliably screen kindergarteners, first, second and third graders for dyslexia. The child’s teacher completes this evidence-based screener on a tablet, taking about 5-10 minutes for each child. There is an adult version of this evidence-based Shaywitz DyslexiaScreen also available.
With so much misunderstanding of dyslexia, especially the incorrect and harmful mistaking slow reading for slow thinking, Dr. Shaywitz developed the Sea of Strengths conceptual model of dyslexia as a circumscribed weakness in connecting letters to sounds surrounded by a Sea of Strengths, in higher order cognitive processes including reasoning, big picture thinking, thinking out of the box, problem solving, empathy and concept formation.
She is also the author of 350 scientific papers and chapters about dyslexia as well as the go-to book on dyslexia, Overcoming Dyslexia, 2nd edition published in 2020 by Knopf/Penguin Random House. As part of her ongoing efforts to bring and share 21st century scientific knowledge about dyslexia to parents, educators and policy makers, Dr. Shaywitz will be giving a comprehensive, highly accessible course on dyslexia offered via the hugely popular (92 million viewers) online learning platform Coursera. The course is available completely free of charge as a non-profit educational effort.
Dr. Shaywitz has been honored to receive a number of awards, including election to the National Academy of Medicine within the National Academies. Some of her more recent awards include: 2022 Keynote Address for the Dyslexia Roundtable at the US Congress; the 2021 Honorary CDC Health Literacy Hero Award from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); along with Dr. Bennett Shaywitz, the Liberty Science Center 2019 Genius Award “in recognition of your inspiring accomplishments and your groundbreaking work in advancing our understanding of dyslexia;” a 2018 profile in the Scientists at Work section of the New York Times; featured speaker at the GoogleX conference on the Future of Reading and at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and a lead story on CBS Sunday Morning with Jane Pauley.
She co-chaired the National Research Council Committee on Gender Differences in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty; served on the National Research Council Committee on Women in Science and Engineering and as Chair, Steering Committee for AXXS Workshop; Committee on Women in Science and Engineering Policy and Global Affairs Division, National Research Council. She has served on the Advisory Council of the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS), and the Scientific Advisory Board of the March of Dimes.
Dr. Shaywitz has served on the Congressionally-mandated National Reading Panel and the Committee to Prevent Reading Difficulties in Young Children of the National Research Council and, by Presidential appointment (President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama) on the National Board of the Institute for Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education. She was honored to be selected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Dr. Shaywitz has testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) on the topic of “Dyslexia: An Explanation and Potential Solution to the Reading Crisis in Education” and before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on the “Science of Dyslexia.” She presented at a Congressional briefing sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and to U.S. Senate field hearings. In her testimonies, Dr. Shaywitz points out that while we are always seeking new knowledge, in the case of dyslexia, we have sufficient knowledge to do more. Rather than a knowledge gap, in dyslexia there is an action gap. We must take action to implement the deep scientific knowledge we have of dyslexia and ensure that this knowledge is translated into policy and practice.
In addition she is a Trustee of the Park Century School, serves on the Board of the Louisiana Key Academy Dyslexia Resource Center and serves on the Board of Trustees of Great Minds. She served on the WISC V advisory panel; on the New Haven Blue Ribbon Reading Commission; on the Advisory Board of the Adult Literacy X Prize; on the Chicago Public Library Advisory Group; and on the Dyslexia Guidelines Work Group of the California Department of Education.
Dr. Shaywitz received her B.A. (with honors) from the City University of New York, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and her M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She completed her pediatric training, including a fellowship in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.