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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  • Joshua FP

    Wow… I have dyslexia and am in year 12 and reading these things for the first time actually explains so much… like every single dot point I can relate to in some crazy way, such as always being able to see dust

    • Charity

      I’m sitting here waiting on my 10 year old son to finish his “take flight” lesson for the day and I happened upon your post. How amazing to have that realization. Thank you, im inspired by your post that my son may some day also have that experience with written words.

  • Jonathan

    Can you hellper me improve my skills

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      The book The Gift of Dyslexia describes the specific tools we use for developing reading skills, using the natural strengths that most dyslexics share. It is also available in audio format, with an option for a free download from Audible.com with a trial subscription.

  • Richard B

    I have dyslexia. I’ve dealt with it my whole life but was diagnosed at 15. For any sceptics of this article, all of this is true. Just wanted to say something just in case anyone was sceptical.

  • Lisa M

    Please explain “can utilize the brain’s ability to alter and create perceptions” a little more I do not know what that means.

    • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

      It means that we can use our mental powers of imagination to visualize beyond what is real and apparent. A good example is that Einstein came up with his theory of special relativity when he imagined himself riding on a beam of light. It’s not merely that he could imagine being on the beam of light, but he could go one step further and mentally picture how other things would appear to him when he was moving at the speed of light. So he was imagining something he could never do in real life, in a way that was so vivid that he could use it to further his own understanding of real world concepts.

  • Gabriel M

    I was diagnosed with dyslexia not by doctors but my mom. She noticed when I would read signes out loud change words and numbers. I was diagnosed with A.D.D when was in 3rd grade. And I didn’t get the help I needed and struggled all through school and now in my adult life. I would like to know more about my dyslexia and A.D.D.

  • Beanie Star

    I went to elementary school in the early 60’s.
    There was no help or understanding of dyslexia. It literally ruined my experience of the classroom. I was quite good at sports, art and humor which helped me emotionally but made teachers dislike me. They were not used to seeing a girl who could not learn to read or sit still.
    My Art ability grew as well as calligraphy as well as perceptual understanding of geometry.
    I started mechanical drawing in the 11th grade and blew everyone out of the water with my ability to work in 3 dimensions.
    I moved out on my own by my senior year in highscool and easily made a living doing arts and crafts. By the time I turned 25, I was working in landscaping and quickly picked up design. I have been able to compete with masters level landscape architects through my career, in regards to visualization, understanding the environment, illustrating and advanced computer drafting and rendering.
    Sooo. Dyslexia can be a gift.

    • Adrian W

      I started primary school in 1961 and certainly at that time dyslexia was not a recognised condition. I could not understand why I could not read and write like the other children. I felt I needed to hide my condition to avoid being deemed educational subnormal. It was only when I was 14 or 15 that I could read the words from a book and understand them. My education caught up when I was 16 and I went on to University.

      Looking back, I think my dyslexia could be a gift. It gave me determination to solve problems and overcome obstacles.

  • Leizl

    Hi i am from philippiness i was bully becuse of having dexlysia i never been in a doctor to confirm it i only find out i have it from my old boss that say to me do i have it and i dont k ow what is that until i search it and yes i have it and before i find it that day she ask mei was kick on my job my mother been deepress becuse i feed her and my sister with down syndrom i am now saving to go to thedoctor and still experincebeing bully they call me BoBo.

  • Carol R.

    Thank you for all the useful information and websites for parents and teachers. My 3rd grade son was identified as a dyslexic about a year ago. He is receiving dyslexia services and accommodations at the public school he attends but continues to struggle tremendously in all subject areas and absolutely hates school. I’m just searching for the best and most efficient way to help him “crack the code” and help him gain some confidence back!

    • Katherine S

      The Wilson Program works, but it is a slow process, about 3 years commitment.

      • Abigail Marshall, DDAI webmaster

        A Davis program can produce very rapid progress — often kids who were struggling are reading at or close to grade level at the end of the 5-day program with the facilitator. Sometimes they are reading above grade level. The program does require follow-up and continued practice with the Davis tools — but if the goal is the “most efficient” approach, then the strength-based approach of Davis usually results in much more rapid gains than traditional forms of tutoring. This is partly because a Davis program directly addresses the underlying perceptual processing issues that are at the root of the barriers that dyslexic kids experience.

    • Fairon C

      Hi my name is fairon when I started to reed better I would put Mozart or Beethoven on headphones and I would read books like idiot’s guide Einstein or different books on quantum mechanics and I understood for some reason but the music brought down my cortisol level of anxiety I’m having to read so slow and it helped me tremendously find music fairy lights and try it.

      • Amy

        This is exactly what I do when studying! I can only seem to focus and take things in when I listen to piano music. I’m dyslexic with particular weaknesses in relation to slow reading pace and information processing speed.

    • Brian B

      Hi my name is Brian and I have had dyslexia from 1 grade studdering hard to spell but slow everything down but keep it fast 46 years old so you do the math and understanding ️

    • Alex

      Send him to an engineer school and he’ll master the world, he’s far more advanced than the other kids, he just doesn’t know it yet.

  • Heidi S

    One of my special gifts that I attribute to my dyslexia is the ability to see discrepancies. Typos, misspellings, hidden pictures/words, puzzles, etc. jump out at me without even trying. I can glance at a series of symbols or pictures and notice the one that is missing or different. I have always had an unfair advantage at word puzzles and Where’s Waldo. LOL!

    • Phyllis S

      Thank you for sharing…My 8 year old granddaughter had her first 504 meeting for dyslexia….knowing what areas that you excel in will be the things that we can introduce her to in order to build her confidence since the school district that she lives in has ignored our pleas to have her tested since she was in kindergarten. Every year we have made each teacher aware that her older sibling was diagnosed when she was 8 years old, 13 years ago. Once our youngest granddaughter reached the point of the teacher no longer reading the instructions to her, this is when her grades plummeted from all A’s to failing grades. Then by accident we found out that our request had to be made in writing rather than orally. She has been waking up having nightmares that she will never learn to read and she will be bullied. We need all of the help that we can get and are open to any suggestions as to what to do to help her regain her self-confidence. Thank you so much for sharing with us….God Bless you..

  • The King

    I have been diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age. Practice your abilitys you will unlock the real potential of this gift!! Never doubt your power. A business manager pulled me aside and said you natural abilitys you cannot Teach. I didnt realize his true message until recently.

  • Allison B (age 13)

    I have Dyslexia. I mostly try to think about the positive side of it and not the negative side. I have a special ability besides these 8 abilities. I have a minds eye. I have read The Gift of Dyslexia before… And I was glued to it! I have always wanted to basically see in the back of my head. So it’s kind of like a dream come true! I have had some treatment and I can process and think things way more clearly than before. It also encourages me to know that famous people have dyslexia! Thank you thank you thank you for the God-sent help!!!

  • Thanks for the wonderful work you do, and for including an image of my sculpture (http://www.dyslexia.com/about-dyslexia/dyslexic-talents/dyslexia-8-basic-abilities/)

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