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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  • Dick

    I read all the time – most of my life since I was four, learning letters and words mostly with the help of my older brother and my Dad. I never understood why I read so much early on, I just knew I was curious and had to read to learn – learn everything that I could that interested me.

    Read everything because I didn’t know I was dyslexic, fortunately I never read letters backward, but I did blank out words when I read them. I didn’t realize I was dyslexic till a couple decades ago. Dyslexia also effects me when I write, I forget to write words, and must go back and re-read countless times to see what I forgot to write. It also effects the correct pronunciation of certain words, which requires much practicing the correct pronunciation.

    I also sometimes get ahead of myself when writing a word, writing the next letter out of sequence. I notice several sailors here deal with the same, but don’t edit for the mistake – whether they don’t see the mistake or see it and say why bother, depends…..To this day, I still edit and re-edit, finding whole words I missed or misspelled. – consequently it’s easier for me to add a link, then spend hours editing and correcting what I wrote or go back and highlight what I wrote with a link, which is quicker then adding a link.

    The other reason I read so much in school, was to have insight what my teachers were talking about, consequently I read all my textbooks at the beginning of the year. My mind as a dylexic wanders and wonders, which requires much concentration to stay on topic, and because of this when my mind came back to the subject at hand, I needed to understand already what the teacher was talking about.

    I’m certainly not an intellectual, I know what I know because I always read a lot. I didn’t top out those test scores for officers candidate school and engineering school because I was an intellectual, it was because I had knowledge from reading a lot and excelled at all things math. Moving up and down the west coast, with six different grade schools, I devoured books in the school and local libraries, because it gave me knowledge. By the age of six, became absorbed in math like many with dyslexia, because math is absolute. Dyslexics grab on to absolute, because so few things are absolute. I aced the GCT/ARA/MECH for the service, not because I was an intellectual, but because I had a lot of knowledge.

    The one grace from dyslexia, in my case, and something passed to my children, both girls and boys, is the ability to figure out complexities quickly or quicker then most. That’s why in the Seabees with this natural ability to figure complexities out I achieved leadership positions, and fell into layout and survey. The same with shipbuilding, marine construction and bridge building, always taking the most complex jobs when at Mowat and my final 18 years at Manson, but 00 tolerance in layout and builds always kept me employed.

    Most in the Union, are through a career, employed by dozens of contractors over their career. Building structures square, level and plumb and being able to program total station layout in a theodolite, and adhere to 00 tolerances, while setting my people up to win with a steady supply of materials, to set production records afforded me to take off 27 summers to sail and windsurf. Quit Mowat 15 times for a bit of family time & sailing and they always took me back, the same with Manson quit them 18 times for family time, sailing and travel, and they always took my back. The last two weeks of the year and the first week of the New Year, were always about family to me, and taking time off through the holidays. If one hasn’t learned to save making the wage that Union work rewards one with, working those last two weeks or first week of the year won’t make a difference in their saving habit, they or their wives will still blow through money, needlessly so.

    Even my daughters demonstrate the ability to be more mechanically inclined then their husbands, they also do it right the first time – which is why my middle daughter will tell her husband to stay in the car and watch after their toddler, while she get’s out and chains up the tires in snowstorm, because she’s gonna do it right.

  • Dennis Ojo

    Hi , my name is Dennis and I’ve read through your stories on here that’s so much like my case , I’m 37, and I only discovered a few months ago I have dyslexia through a heart to heart conversation with a friend who said this could be your problem and I went on to read about it and more into possible symptoms of a dyslexic , watched YouTube videos and now I know what the problem is and I need help . What can I do , who should I see I want to be able to read and understand things just like every other person out there to overt-come this dyslexic of a thing it has really made my life …….

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      Dennis, if you would like to get help following the Davis approach, you will find a directory of Davis Facilitators here: http://www.davismethod.org

      You can use the map on the home page to locate Facilitators near you.

  • 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.

      • Jess

        Thank you for sharing, I have dyslexia and reading your stories and accomplishments helps a lot. Especially, hearing Natalie that your a writer. I am trying to write a very important paper but the grammar , words that are similar , or forgetting to type the words has me so frustrated which makes it worst. In order for me to write I have to not be stress and. If I am stress everything goes blank even the ability to spell cat or was. When I was kid I never thought I was stupid but I always wish I could have been like everyone else because I felt like they had it easy. Like many of you I love to read , love math, and always feel a need to learn. I thought it was because of my disability and I was trying to make up for the short coming . However, if dyslexia is the reason I feel the need to always want to learn or my mind wondered . It as if I have to solve the complex problems of life and master everything I can . I not sure if anyone feels the same as if you do not learn something new you go crazy .

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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