Whenever my brother’s dyslexia comes up in conversation, people normally respond with the question, “So can he even read?” This type of commentary always triggers the same physical response in me. My stomach churns into knots and my palms become clammy. I always brush it off, as if people automatically assuming that my brother is dumb isn’t a massive insult, and I grit my teeth.
My Overprotective Sister armour engages as I reply dryly, “reading is not one of his strong suits, no, but rebuilding car engines is.”
Saying this helps to make the other person realize that their question was irrelevant, because his intelligence and talents do not have to do with whether or not he can read.
According to The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, “dyslexic children and adults struggle to read fluently, spell words correctly and learn a second language, among other challenges. But these difficulties have no connection to their overall intelligence. In fact, dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader. While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often, paradoxically, are very fast and creative thinkers with strong reasoning abilities.”
While dyslexics are incredibly artistic, and possess many unique strengths, people tend to focus on only the negative attributes of their learning difficulty, especially in schools, where reading is so valued. This, however, not only places a negative light on dyslexia itself, but also instills a sense of embarrassment and inferiority among children who are dyslexic. Their strengths should be celebrated, instead of overshadowed by their challenges.
Like most dyslexics tend to be, my brother is extremely creative, artistic, and imaginative; he’s an outside-of-the-box thinker with strong reasoning skills. He can also build, rebuild, or fix just about anything.
These traits, which are shared among many dyslexic people, have to do with the fact that while ordinary readers use left-brain systems, dyslexic readers rely more on their right brain, which are illustrated in brain scans. While the left side is referred to as the language side, the right side is known as the creative side. According to Dyslexia Specialist, Joellyn Hartley, the right side “thinks” holistically, and in pictures, instead of words. This can explain why some of the most creative people were/are dyslexic, including Pablo Picasso, John Lennon, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Cher, Steven Spielberg and Whoopi Goldberg, to name a few.
So no, while my brother may not enjoy reading or writing in his free time, nor has he chosen to pursue another language, he is smart, and more notably, he is special.
I am willing to bet that most other children are not rebuilding motorcycle and car engines, grinding, shaping, and welding metal sculptures, and producing beautiful, intricate wood furniture, all before the age of 16.
I wish that people would stop jumping to conclusions about a dyslexic person’s intelligence and instead see their other talents for the gifts that they are. Rather than assuming that because someone with dyslexia has more trouble reading they are dumb or less intelligent, they should assume, if anything, that they are more creative and have great problem solving skills and spatial knowledge.
Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, 2nd edition, p.143- 24
About the Coach
Katherine Emery is a rising senior at Bucknell University majoring in Psychology.Meet Katherine