Most of us think dyslexia is a bad thing. At school I had a friend who was told by a teacher that he was “thick” and “wouldn’t achieve anything in life”. Not because he was stupid (he was, and still is, extremely intelligent) but because his reading and writing abilities were horrendous.
Things have thankfully changed, but probably not enough. Many consider dyslexia a disability or a disorder. And this isn’t just in popular culture: if you search through the academic literature, nine out of ten articles describe dyslexia as an impairment. (Try it yourself at Google Scholar)
Shame on us. Today’s society is so dependent on alphanumeric communication that it is difficult to see it dyslexia as anything other than disability. But our ancestors wouldn’t have seen it that way – the success of our species probably owes much to the ‘dyslexia trait’. It’s high time we all got re-educated…(myself included)
Dyslexia, not disorder
I receive a fair amount of spam emails. Since launching a crowd-sourced popular science magazine six months ago, quacks and opportunists try their luck at free publicity in the same way wasps swarm round a jam jar (US: read Jelly).
A few days ago I received an email I nearly binned. A wannabe-contributor contacted me, keen to submit articles. Within the email he cautiously confessed he had dyslexia. The email was littered with so many spelling mistakes, it read like another spam email. My initial prejudices compelled me to hit the delete key – but thankfully I didn’t.
After looking through some of this budding writer’s work, it became patently obvious that for all the linguistic imperfections, his work had some other brilliant qualities: it brimmed with personality and humour in a style most writers strive for.
Was this man alone in having a grammatical abilities substituted with other aptitudes? Of course not.
An up-to-date summary published in the Dyslexia journal outlines the many beneficial traits afforded those labelled with dyslexia:
The advantages of dyslexia
- Increased ability to solve physical problems or assemble complex machinery
- The ability to see ‘the bigger picture’ rather than focusing on the tiny details
- Enhanced logical thinking
It appears that dyslexics tend to think pictorially and in three dimensions, rather than in words or in two dimensions. The ability to navigate routes; work with one’s hands, see a broader perspective and to solve logical problems would be amongst the most prized capabilities to our ancestors – not abstract thinking and verbal prowess. The same is true for modern day hunter-gatherers who esteem the qualities associated with dyslexia.
One in ten of us are on the spectrum of dyslexia, and it is likely the survival benefits afforded by these traits means that a predisposition to dyslexia has been preserved in our genetics.
If this is true, and dyslexic traits have been at the root of the modern homosapien, then it will always be a part of our species. But come the day when the internet shuts down and the Sat-Navs fail, we as a society will be thankful for that.
I just wish I could have said all this to that bigoted teacher.
Thanks for reading – feel free to comment below…
The issue of whether people with dyslexia have real talents over and above anyone else is a point of controversy in some circles. You can catch a snippet of this debate on this blog post.
A list of famous people with the gift of dyslexia
Ehardt, K. (2009). Dyslexia, not disorder Dyslexia, 15 (4), 363-366 DOI: 10.1002/dys.379