I didn’t know until 2 years ago I was dyslexic. I barely even heard of it or understood what it was – oh that thing where you can’t read or write well, maybe?
The feedback I often received was that “you don’t try hard enough”, or that “the many typos make you seem unprofessional” or that “you don’t pay enough attention, look how many mistakes you make as a result!”. All that feedback was as useless as a chocolate teapot, I could try and focus until I was blue in face, it wouldn’t make much difference.
When I submitted my first book for proofreading the copy returned to me was FULL of edits. My brain would have NOT perceived any of them. What is on the page and what I see and read are often different things.
I also ALWAYS struggled with the alphabet or remembering definitions facts and figures. The exam I bombed in uni? There was a whole list of number – densities of different metals we had to knew by heart. Why one has to know that and can’t look it up instead, I don’t know. To this day when I have to alphabetize a list, if there is no automatic sorting capability, I have to go to a web browser and look up a photo of the order of the letters.
My disability illiteracy aside, I am an avid reader, I didn’t think you can be dyslexic and be fairly ok reader at the same time. Turns out, dyslexia can be very different from one person to another. “The Dyslexic Advantage” by Brock L. Eide & Fernette F. Eide helped me understand so much more about myself. The book starts with explaining society sees dyslexia as a disease or disorder. Children often times suffer greatly with schooling, and they feel they don’t fit or are not smart enough. The system makes it seem like it’s their fault and they have adjust, as opposed to looking into the methods and revising them to make teaching inclusive. But that’s most of society when it comes to disability.
The book takes a different perspective, to show the advantages of a dyslexic brain, which turns out operates differently. As it is explains “for many nondyslexic brains, excellent function consists of traits like precision, accuracy, efficiency, speed, automaticity, reliability”. “For dyslexic brains, excellent function typically means traits like the ability to see the gist or essence of things or to spot the larger context behind a given situation or idea;…the ability to see the new, unusual or distant connections, ambiguity detection, ability to recombine things in novel way”.
Here a few more interesting differences:
- “Nondyslexic brains are best at applying rules and procedures, dyslexic brains often struggle with following rules and find ad-hoc or new ways of doing things”
- “Nondyslexic brains are great at finding primary meaning and correct answers. Dyslexic brains find new associations or relationships”. Take “blue” and “grey” for example. What is the first thing that comes to mind or associate the words with? For a nondyslexic brain the answer is most likely “colors”. My first thought was “clouds”, color didn’t even come to mind before the exercise pointed it out.
- “Nondyslexic brains find differences and distinctions. Dyslexic brains find similarities.”
- “Nondyslexic brains display order and efficiency in reasoning. Dyslexic brains store information like stained glass or spiderwebs, interconnected".
Interestingly, dyslexia can certainly be genetically passed. People with dyslexia are also more likely to work in engineering, architecture, arts, or run their own companies. Why is that? There are some specific traits of a dyslexic brain. In the book they break them into an acronym – MIND. It’s not to say every dyslexic person displays all of these, it’s a spectrum and people can display a strong preference for one, a combination of them and so forth.
M – Material Reasoning “abilities in areas that can be termed special reasoning”. As the authors explain “Spatial reasoning at which they excel involves the creation of connected series of mental perspectives that are 3D in nature – like a virtual 3D environment in the mind”. The other flip side of the coin is that usually translates into decreased 2D ability, which nondyslexic minds excel at. That’s why fields such as architecture or engineering can have a higher percentage of dyslexic people than other professions.
I – Interconnect Reasoning “abilities to spot connections between different objects, concepts or points of view.” These can be very useful in cyber security, work involving investigation, or capability of bringing things into the big picture. The trade-off is struggle with the first degree connections. Standardized tests this can be a real challenge for dyslexic individuals with strong “I” abilities. The heighted ability to detect correlations or causal relationships, also means an increased perception of different stimuli. “Individuals with dyslexia experience difficulty screening out irrelevant environment stimuli, like noises, movements visual patterns, or other sensations”. I have always struggled with open space working and tried for example to be sat in the same spot every day. People found that “corky”, but for me it was one way of mitigating overstimulation, although at the time I didn’t understand it.
N – Narrative Reasoning “ability to construct a connected series of mental scenes from fragments or past personal experience that can be used to recall the past, explain the present, stimulate future or imaginary scenarios”. You might not think of dyslexic people as being able to be great writers, but they can certainly be and are. The way that their memory works when you invoke a word is like their brain scrolls through all the results and produces a list of all the experiences and memories. These tend to be highly detailed, and intricate. The downside, short term memory suffers. While they can recall experiences with a great level of clarity, the short term facts and figures that don’t invoke interest or feelings are hard to store. This is why one can struggle with the periodic table for example. It’s also why people with dyslexia are less likely to produce definitions, and instead their answers contain analogies or stories.
D - Dynamic Reasoning “ability to accurately predict past or future states using episodic simulation. They are especially valuable for thinking about the past or future states whose components are variable, incompletely unknow, or ambiguous”. To put this into basic terms, there is an increased ability to predict an accurate outcome, despite little supporting information. Dyslexic brains with these traits seem to jump to the result and then have to work back their steps to why it is they got there. To people without dyslexia, it can seem a random projection, smoke and mirrors, because a dyslexic person can often struggle to explain the thought process. However, the business world tends to agree with dyslexic brains given how many successful CEOs and entrepreneurs have Dyslexia and show dynamic reasoning. The drawback of this trait is reduction and speed and efficiency.
To summarize, if you have dyslexia or are working with a dyslexia person:
- Allow for environments that don't create over stimulation.
- Instead of applying the "one way fits all", allow for differences - in learning, working, communication. A dyslexic person will likely struggle with definitions, facts and figures and will be more prone to analogies and stories. They are also likely be better suited at finding the bigger picture, and struggle with high accuracy work.
- Include assistive technology and documents, tools that work with assistive technology. People with dyslexia often use features such as "immersive reader" in Word, or "text readers" allowing them to consume written content in a friendlier way for them.
- Be kind - to yourself and others. A typo is not the end of the world, so perhaps don't call that "that email is full of mistakes" the next time.