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Positive Aspects of Dyslexia

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Dyslexic people are highly creative thinkers who often solve problems through visual imagery. On this page we explore some of the positive characteristics of dyslexia.

Same Page Link: Why Call Dyslexia a Gift?

Same Page Link: Why do we still call dyslexia a disability?

Same Page Link: How can you teach others the visual skills that dyslexics have?

Same Page Link: Are all people who think in pictures dyslexic?

Same Page Link: Do all dyslexics have high IQ's?

Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci Special Feature: Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of a Dyslexic Genius.

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Q. Why Call Dyslexia a Gift? [August 31, 1998]

I know a person with dyslexia who has had problems all his life. He was picked on in school. He can't get a job. He does not have social skills. He can't keep any friends or girl friends. If he didn't have dyslexia he would be a genius.

G.R. [Posted to newsgroup]

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A. The aspect of your friend's intellect that makes you feel that without dyslexia "he would be a genius" is probably the same underlying talent that gives rise to the dyslexia. What Ron Davis is saying -- and Thomas West, author of In the Mind's Eye says the same thing -- is that it is no coincidence that so many creative geniuses, like Leonardo da Vinci , Edison & Einstein also suffered from symptoms of dyslexia -- the thought process that is the essence of their creativity is also the root of difficulties with the printed (and sometimes spoken) word.

This is the gift part. The main reason your friend is suffering so much is not his or her dyslexia, but the way he has been mistreated by others because of it. If school teachers did not punish dyslexics for their difficulties, if employers and friends did not treat people with disdain just because they have a hard time with reading and spelling -- then dyslexic people might still have to work hard in some areas, but they would not be suffering.

There is no other area of intellect or talent that I can think of, besides reading/writing skills, where people are treated so scornfully because of their difficulties. Think about it: if you can't learn a foreign language, can't understand higher math, can't learn to play a musical instrument, can't sing on key, can't program a computer, can't draw, etc. -- no one picks on you, teachers don't call you lazy, friends don't crack jokes about you.

When we look at the gift as well as the disability we promote a wider understanding of dyslexia, more tolerance, and development of better educational and workplace tools for enable dyslexic people to learn and work more effectively.

Abigail Marshall, DDAI
Q. Are all people who think in pictures dyslexic? [January 11, 1999]

Can a person have the gift that accompanies dyslexia -- the ability to think 3-dimensionally in pictures -- without the problems? If so, is that person still dyslexic?

Asked on the Dyslexia Discussion Board

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A. Here’s what I have discovered about dyslexic vs. non-dyslexic thinkers. I have asked a lot of people whether they think in pictures or in words. A surprisingly high percentage of the people I have spoken with think in pictures (I would say about 1 in 4). However, the ones I have spoken to do not have the negative dyslexic symptoms. Nor do they spin things uncontrollably around in their head, or look at things from different angles without planning to. It seems like dyslexics have no control over how they look at things. Things spin in their heads so that they can look at things from all angles, and their mind’s eye moves to look at things from different angles, all without any control (I think this is what is called “disorientation.”)

However, the picture thinkers who don't have negative dyslexic symptoms don’t disorient like this. Most can’t do it, even if they want to. However, some of them can disorient, but they just do it when they want to. They control it, it doesn’t control them.

I find one common theme among the picture thinkers. They solve problems extremely quickly but then have trouble communicating the answer to anybody else, either verbally or in writing. One person told me, “I can solve a problem in 5 seconds, and it will take me the rest of the day to explain it to anybody else.” Most of the picture thinkers I talked with felt very relieved after we talked because they thought something was off with them. They just couldn’t see why they had the problem done and most people were still just starting, then felt a lot of frustration about not being able to express their pictorial solution easily.

Posted by L.K., January 10, 1999.
Dyslexia Discussion Board.

Q. How can you teach others the visual skills that dyslexics have? [October 26, 1998]

Many people feel that they cannot visualize, and my experience tells me that many people make pictures in their head that flit by too quickly. Anyone know of a way to actually teach others how to have the visual gifts that dyslexic people have?

C.B., Posted on Dyslexia Discussion Board.

Note: Sometimes we get asked intriguing questions; we don't always know the answer.

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A. I have pondered the same thought at some length. "...a way to actually teach others how to have the visual gifts that dyslexic people have?"

I think I know how to develop the gift of visualization. I have a BS in Mechanical Engineering and 14 years of experience with a very large firm. I am now a manager for 15 other ME's.

When I reflect on my own situation there is no doubt that I visualize things much better now than before I started studying engineering almost 20 years ago. As with anything a person wants to do, practice, practice and practice. It definitely will come easier to some people than others. Take courses in design and drafting, with particular attention to isometric drawing. Take classes in art. Spend time with your eyes close visualizing things.

People with dyslexia begin developing it very early in life, as early as 3 months. They do it so well that it becomes a subconscious process. It works very well except when dealing with 2 dimensional objects that they don't understand, like reading. In much the same way that a dyslexic person has to work hard to learn to read, a language based person may have to work hard to be able to visualize in 3-D.

Charlie Mercer, of Tucson, Arizona, October 24, 1998
Posted on Dyslexia Discussion Board.

Q. Do all dyslexics have high IQ's? (December 7, 1998)

Does anyone know of a dyslexic that doesn't have a high IQ? More and more, I am beginning to feel that all dyslexics are above average or genius level, not just some! I have yet to read of a single person that has tested (with a good test that is) any lower than 120-130! Average is like 95 to 110 or something, isn't it? Some people have trouble with certain IQ tests because they are designed more around reading, but for the ones that aren't, dyslexics always seem to excel!!! If I ever own a company, I think I'll make being dyslexic as a prerequisite...that way I'll get hard workers with high intelligence.

Anonymous Post to Dyslexia Discusion Board.

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A. Ron Davis believes that all dyslexics have certain talents, which are shared by many famous dyslexics who are considered to be geniuses. These are:
  1. They can utilize the brain's ability to alter and create perceptions (the primary ability).
  2. They are highly aware of the environment.
  3. They are more curious than average.
  4. They think mainly in pictures instead of words.
  5. They are highly intuitive and insightful.
  6. They think and perceive multi-dimensionally (using all the senses).
  7. They can experience thought as reality.
  8. They have vivid imaginations.
From The Gift of Dyslexia, Chapter One, The Underlying Talent.

Dr. Linda Silverman, of The Gifted Development Center, has found that most very highly gifted children have a visual-spatial learning style, and that it is very common for these children to have learning problems commonly associated with dyslexia.

Abigail Marshall, DDAI
Why do we still call dyslexia a disability?

Why, even on this web site where you call dyslexia a gift, do experts and teachers still insist on referring to this as a 'learning disability'. Why can't we admit that some people's brains are just different and they learn and process information differently than others? This is not a disability; it is a difference. Disability infers that someone has something wrong with them. Until our education system realizes that everyone learns differently and stops trying to force all children to learn "their way" or be 'classified' and dumped into special education with low expectations our public schools will continue to be a failure.

Jim M., asked via e-mail.

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A. We agree that dyslexia reflects a different way of thinking and learning, and not a defect. When provided with the proper tools for learning, dyslexic people can succeed in school and at the workplace, and they should not be stigmatized or discriminated against because of their dyslexic characteristics.

However, even though dyslexics have many gifts and talents, the problems associated with dyslexia can be a very real disability to adults and children alike if they are unresolved, or if the individual encounters discrimination in education or employment because of them. Some skills, like basic literacy, are essential to get along in today's world. Other skills are not as important, but can be a barrier to dyslexic people because of societal and cultural expectations. We should not deny the reality of the problems that dyslexics face: they can not become better readers or spellers merely by 'working harder' or 'applying themselves' or 'paying attention'.

We can help if we:

  1. Relieve dyslexic people from expectations of performance that are not all that important in today's world. (Example: Does it matter if a person has messy handwriting and poor spelling if they are proficient with a word processor?)
  2. Provide appropriate tools in schools and the workplace, especially now that computer-based technology (such as voice-to-text dictation software) is readily available and inexpensive.
  3. Provide dyslexic people of all ages with appropriate educational tools and resources, geared to their learning style, for areas such as basic literacy where it is important for them to succeed.
Abigail Marshall, DDAI


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