Dyslexia – The Gift and the Curse – Part One

Eleanor Clarke, November 17, 2017

Dyslexia is one of the most misunderstood yet common conditions in the world. It effects around 10 - 20 % of the population, meaning there are dyslexic people in almost every work place. Despite this, very few people actually know anything about it. When I was nineteen I was officially diagnosed with severe dyslexia. In this two part blog series, I want to share my story and what I’ve learned about Dyslexia, in the hopes of shedding a bit of light on the disorder. In this first blog post, I’ll be discussing what dyslexia is and addressing some common misconceptions.

So, what is Dyslexia?

Well, let me start with what it isn’t. It is not a reading problem, it is not a spelling problem, it’s not a visual problem and it is absolutely not a focus problem. These are very common symptoms of Dyslexia but not the condition. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability and spectrum disorder that includes difficulty in the use and processing of linguistic and symbolic codes, such as letters and numbers.

What causes it?

While our understanding has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, no one understands what causes dyslexia. We know that there is a strong genetics component and we also know dyslexic brains are structured differently, but we don’t know much more than than that. Brain scans have also revealed Dyslexics use many more areas of our brain when processing language than neurotypical people. Due to the structure of our brains, signals have to travel a lot further. This means our brains work around five times harder than the average!

Does it make me stupid?

I’m sure I don’t have to say this to you enlightened 21stC folk but just so we are perfectly clear, Dyslexia has absolutely no bearing on a person’s intelligence. Einstein was a dyslexic, as are Richard Branson and Steven Spielberg. Dyslexia is so common at MIT university; they jokingly refer to it as the MIT Disorder.

What does it mean for me?

As I’ve alluded to already Dyslexia is not all doom and gloom, it actually has a lot of upsides. For instance, because of the differences in our brains we excel in many areas non dyslexic people don’t. Dyslexics are often extremely creative problem solvers who are notoriously good at ‘big picture’ thinking - we see the links between seemingly disparate pieces of information that others can’t. We also have great narrative, emotional and visual reasoning skills, which is why we are so over represented in the arts and humanities. When Dyslexics are empowered and understand their own condition the results can be truly stunning.

Dyslexia doesn’t just effect your reading and writing

Constantly late? Messy? Forgetful? Distracted? Yep, these are all classic symptoms of dyslexia. I know it seems like I’m just listing all my bad habits and claiming it’s the dyslexia but honestly, I’m telling the truth. Remember, Dyslexics are creative problem solvers. That’s because we don’t think linearly or in fine detail. This can have huge advantages but it also means organising, planning and time keeping are next to impossible for us. If I’m honest, I’m yet to find things that really work for these problems but specialists can help you come up with coping mechanisms. I personally like to put lots of reminders and alarms all over my house. Stick post-it-notes all over my computer and desk. Write things down on my hands (this especially effective if you lean on your hands and end up with stuff printed on your face) and try whenever possible to leave cushions of time because I know certain things will take me longer. I also listen to headphones all the time because they stop me from getting distracted. Music sort of acts as an anchor for my mind and protects it from external stimulation.

I hope this has done something to shine a bit of light on an often-misunderstood topic. Check back in next week for part two when I’ll be discussing what to do if you think you might be dyslexic and the what help is available.