Dyslexia – It Has an Upside!
By Shlomo Maital
Over the years I’ve had many many students who are dyslexic. Dyslexia is “difficulty in learning to read fluently and with accurate comprehension”. Since undergrad and graduate studies all require heavy reading, dyslexic students have a huge handicap, beginning with simply doing well enough in high school to get in to college. Many of my dyslexic students developed their own methods and tricks for overcoming the handicap, and all had great determination to succeed despite the difficulty. I’ve given many of them oral exams, for example.
Now, comes research showing that dyslexia may actually convey some advantages. Writing in The New York Times, Feb. 4, 2012, “The upside of dyslexia”, * Anne Murphy Paul reports on research done by Gadi Geiger and Jerome Lettvin, cognitive scientists at MIT, who find that “people with dyslexia can rapidly take in a scene as a whole – absorbing the ‘visual gist’.” Another scholar, Dr. Catya von Karolyi, a psychologist at U. of Wisconsin, affirms that “dyslexia should not be characterized only by deficit but also by talent.”
Long ago, we knew that dyslexics populate fields like art and design in unusually high numbers. Here are just a few of the artists who are and were dyslexic: Leonardo da Vinci, Ansel Adams, photographer, Tommy Hilfiger, clothing designer, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Auguste Rodin, Andy Warhol. Here are a few of the inventors who were dyslexic: Alexander Graham Bell, Pierre Curie, Physicist (1903 Nobel Prize), Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday.
I’ve found that creative people have unique ability to “zoom out”, to see the big picture; apparently this is a talent that dyslexics have in abundance.
Let’s be clear. Difficulty with reading is a major challenge. You can’t characterize dyslexia as a ‘gift’, that’s too glib and too patronizing. But once you understand the true nature of dyslexia, you can help orient dyslexics’ education in directions that build on their strengths. And if you yourself are dyslexic, you can both overcome the reading disability and leverage the advantages that dyslexia seems to confer. Edison and Einstein did. And by the way, so did George Washington.