We’re often asked why we’ve chosen to focus our work on dyslexia. After all, we began our clinical work with learning and cognition as ‘generalists’, and our first book was on the whole spectrum of learning differences. So why did we narrow our focus?
The answer is simple: Because dyslexic people are amazing.
How We Came To See The ‘Dyslexic Advantage’
Over the years, as we saw more and more families, we noticed something fascinating. Each time we saw a person with dyslexia, and did both cognitive testing and a survey of their interests, hobbies, family history, and other important topics, we didn’t just find one common pattern. That is, we didn’t just find the well-known pattern of challenges they shared with other dyslexic people in reading, spelling, rote memory, etc. We also found patterns of strengths.
These strengths showed up strongly not only in the dyslexic people we examined, but also in their families. We found that in almost 90% of the cases, at least one of the dyslexic person’s parents was also dyslexic, or had close family members who were. We noticed that over four times as many of the parents were engineers or architects compared with college graduates in general. And we found that three times as many of them had degrees in philosophy as college grads in general—they were classic big picture thinkers.
The creativity of this group was also amazing. We couldn’t believe how many had patents or copyrights—often not just one or two but dozens, and in several cases hundreds. Ditto for the number who’d started not just one business, but many. Or were artists. Or architects. Or creative in other ways.
And few of these individuals had just one career. They were musician/inventors. Software architect/chefs. Salesperson/sculptors.
And very, very often, we heard this tale: “I was really a late bloomer in school. My third grade teacher told my parents I’d never go to college or would flip burgers my whole life.” Now, years later, they were hearing the same things about their children.
Different Wiring In The Exam Room
When we examined dyslexic individuals, we certainly saw all the usual dyslexic challenges. Problems processing word sounds, low short-term auditory-verbal memory, often problems finding words, difficulty learning by rote, and so on.
Yet we also saw something else. Although they usually stumbled through ‘reading readiness’ tasks like albatrosses wobbling across a beach, when we asked them questions requiring creative thinking these children took flight, and were some of the best performers.
For example, on conceptual grouping tasks they made so many compelling connections between all the sets of pictures that it made scoring of the task essentially impossible. They also often excelled at tasks like “ambiguous sentences”, where they had to spot two or more meanings to a sentence like, “The chickens are too hot to eat,” or “The woman saw a man eating fish.”
Over time, the dyslexic people we saw began to look less and less to us like they had a true disability, and more and more like they were wired to have different kinds of strengths. While their minds struggled to work like safety deposit boxes—to take in some piece of information then return it later in ‘mint condition’—they excelled at making new connections or seeing things in new ways.
In 2011 we wrote our book The Dyslexic Advantage, and by a long series of circumstances that led to the birth of the Dyslexic Advantage nonprofit organization. Through Dyslexic Advantage, we’re seeking to use what we’ve learned about what it means to have a dyslexic mind to help promote positive identity, community, and achievement among dyslexic people.
With your help, working together, we truly believe we can create a world where dyslexic people are known for their strengths!