Dyslexia – 8 Basic Abilities

Ronald D. Davis © 1994. Excerpted from Chapter 1 of The Gift of Dyslexia. 
Antwerp Courthouse

Antwerp Courthouse, designed by dyslexic architect Richard Rogers.

Usually when people hear the word dyslexia they think only of reading, writing, spelling, and math problems a child is having in school. Some associate it only with word and letter reversals, some only with slow learners. Almost everyone considers it some form of a learning disability, but the learning disability is only one face of dyslexia.

Once as a guest on a television show, I was asked about the “positive” side of dyslexia. As part of my answer, I listed a dozen or so famous dyslexics. The hostess of the show then commented, “Isn’t it amazing that all those people could be geniuses in spite of having dyslexia.”

She missed the point. Their genius didn’t occur in spite of their dyslexia, but because of it!

Having dyslexia won’t make every dyslexic a genius, but it is good for the self-esteem of all dyslexics to know their minds work in exactly the same way as the minds of great geniuses. It is also important for them to know that having a problem with reading, writing, spelling, or math doesn’t mean they are dumb or stupid. The same mental function that produces a genius can also produce those problems.

 sculpture by dyslexic artist Rebecca Kamen

“Illumination”, sculpture by dyslexic artist Rebecca Kamen

The mental function that causes dyslexia is a gift in the truest sense of the word: a natural ability, a talent. It is something special that enhances the individual.

Dyslexics don’t all develop the same gifts, but they do have certain mental functions in common. Here are the basic abilities all dyslexics share:

  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.

These eight basic abilities, if not suppressed, invalidated or destroyed by parents or the educational process, will result in two characteristics: higher than normal intelligence, and extraordinary creative abilities. From these the true gift of dyslexia can emerge — the gift of mastery.

Citation Information
Davis, Ronald Dell. (1994, 2010) “Chapter 1 – The Underlying Talent”, from The Gift of Dyslexia (Perigee, New York)

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  • Art warner

    I found out that I have it at the age of 72 and I’m now 76. I really have some great stories to tell but my writing ability sucks. I’m a Vietnam veteran, retired from to jobs, one with 33 years and the other at 20 years. I considered myself stupid until now. I love reading about it.

    • Natalie

      Art! Tell your stories! I’m dyslexic and I’m a writer. Sometimes I record myself telling my stories. I highly recommend it. Your voice is important. I’m 37 and people my age and younger care about your stories an experiences. History repeats itself.

  • Keosha Shannon

    @ The author thanks for sharing . Honestly didn’t known the origin of word dyslexic. We are truly gifted. Dyslexia is basically compartmentalizing. I can honestly comp-mental- lies and dissect the truth. That’s a reply to the next ignorant person who says it’s a disability! We are gifted! Thanks!

  • João Casimiro

    My name´s João Casimiro and i´m 25. I think i have dyslexia. I have almost all of the sympthons. I have one question. I write foreign languages at the good level and have, in the same time, huge difficulties to speak foreign languages. It can be related with dyslexia or not?

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      I think it’s best to consider dyslexia as part of a person’s overall style of thinking and learning. So your dyslexia is one manifestation of the way you learn — and your ability to learn to write foreign languages but struggling with speaking them is another manifestation. Since dyslexia stems in part from differences in the way the brain perceives and interprets the sounds of language, this could be the connection in your case.

  • Rosinah Sphesihle

    Good day
    I am a community builder and also a community health worker, although my matric Mark’s are low but I truly wanna learn more about Dyslexia, ADHDD , Alzheimer and more, I enjoy working in these field.

  • Alberto

    I need help please

  • daniel

    HI Im Daniel and im from Sweden , I have both dyslexia and catch 22 syndrome Im 18 years old, and I have troubles to put words correct in my native langaunge idk if Im decent in english lmao, in high school had trouble sleeping and been tired but I gott pretty lucky this year I felt quite lot of energi to study but no discipline cause I been sleeping. I has a dyslexia person how do I stop doing the same spelling mistakes over and over again?. I been listening to audio books and watchs things in my native languang.

  • Jane

    I’m aged 59 and I was only diagnosed with dyslexia in June 2022. I’ve spent 59 years of my life pre-school, going to school and then to work not knowing I’m dyslexic.

    • David

      Hi Jane, I completely relate to your life’s situation. I basically bombed at school, mainly secondary school, then struggled through my adult life, enduring bullying, not being taken seriously and treated as a second class person. it wasn’t until 2016 I had a dyslexia assessment at university which the outcome was I have dyslexia. everything then made sense, how I have struggled, been bullied etc. So I completely understand what you have been through, so I feel your experiences.


  • Mark Lippincott

    Hi I’m Mark, I’m dyslexic in three areas so I was told and 55 today. I did not find out till I was 28. in second grade I failed and was made to repeat it, witch I thought was a form of punishment for being stupid. Well I was made fun off and asked questions I could not answer. Then to make things worse I was put into two special ED classes. which did not help me feel better. I often acted out in class in many different ways from comedy to anger. I hated school and a portion of myself. I was not like the other children. My teachers some how missed that I had dyslexia. I did accelerate in sports and most phiscale activities, my endurance was something I notice that was not like many others.
    But school was always stressful to me and most of my teachers. My Mom moved us to Arizona when I was in middle school and did not get my records to give the school I was in. So I was put into regular classes which made things worse for me. I graduated that year from 8th to 9th because I was a very good althelit but barly.
    In 9th grade I was moved to Califonia and got by but they had my records and I was put back into special ED clasess. And in 10th I went back to AZ and struggled very much as I was in regular classes again.
    At this time I begain to use drugs and alcohal heavy but had been useing since I was 12 years old. I complained to my mom finnuly and she talked with the prinapal and I was tested and passed everytest they had. Pictures, puzzels blocks hearing visal. I was tested every where except in the areas I was failing in. I also knew I excelled in mechanical and art type classes so puzzels and pictures and blockes where kinda my thing. My mom was told I was ok and I was sent back to my regular classes. Yep I was failing. I had a teacher his name was Mr Dever or Diver, eather way I always pronauched his name wrong and he thoiught I did it on purpouse and tortured me for it. I would come into his class and he would send mr to the board to ecplain was pronuns, adjatives and others word ment. I would just go to my seat and ignore him. Well he got more angry and so did I. I begain diching that class and soon was failing. My Mom came to talk with the princapla again and he said I was going to fail this year and would half to repeat 10th grade again next year, I just walked out leaving my mom sitting there. I hated school and was never going back and did not. I had anger and drug and alcohol problems which I thought was helping me but it was not. I was a very hard worker, always outworking my coworkers and alway getting rewarded with more work. I had alot of jobs. One day I hurt my back on the job and was put on light duty in a office just filing papers. I did pretty good and then I did some accounting stuff and was pretty good, I then made friends with the big money man over accounting and I think he understood me, really no one liked him to much. He was a very strange guy. But somehow I understood him. He suggested I transfer into inventory control, which I had no idea what that was. So I did, come to find out he knew the boss over there and got me in. I explained to my new boss about how bad I was at spelling and English and stuff and he said no worries. He trained me and I did fantastic in that job. and stayed a while. I later left to be a Kitchen Stewart and ran five kitchens and a crew. I really like that job but my back was getting worse, I left to do apartment management and maintenance. And did very well at that job for while. I finnuly had to have back surgery and was sent to a job retraining place to be retrained. I had to take many test to see what I was good at. It was the worst time of my life the persons running the test made fun of my testing areas to my face saying I had ti be testing so low in some areas on purpose. I will not go into detail but I almost went to jail. Later I went to see a doctor that specialized in learning disabilities as the doctor explained to me what was wrong and said I was dyslexic in three ares and thats why school was so bad for me. And why I flunked out of school. He was surprised at some of he jobs I did and basically told me I have an invisible learning disease and not to use it as a crutch and now I can understand why things happened the way they did and to go injoy life. So I did, Thank God for people like him and some others I ran into along the way, Today I have struggles still but I keep on moving. Im tying to right a book or two and its very challenging for me but I love it and hopefully will get the streangth to not quit. So the key in my life is to not stop or quit, but Its really God! thank you

    • Lisa

      I love reading what you had to say. I read every word and several parts felt like my own life story. I love your last sentence and they made me tear up. Thank you for sharing about yourself

    • scott liebert

      Hi, I to have had problems thru my life my dr at the time around 1970. Told my mom I had dislexia but that I would grow out of it. At the same time she knew I was being sexually abused by Boy Scout leader but did nothing. I still can’t get past it even with help. Anyway this site has opened my eyes. And I am an artist working in oils pen ink and other. I spent 25yrs in trucking. And now back to art. I suffer migraines and bad back from trucking. Like you say just keep moving.
      God bless………..Peace

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