Is Dyslexia a Gift? Sink or Swim

open water swimmer maleInspired by a discussion on the Being Dyslexic forums I decided to look into whether dyslexia is a gift. There is this perception that dyslexia gives you great talent at the expense of mundane skills such as reading and writing. People claim that many of the great scientists such as Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell and Faraday were dyslexic. Though given the arguments over diagnosing dyslexia on living people I fail to see how you can do it on dead people.
So is dyslexia a gift? Does it make you more creative and smarter? Ron Davis in his book The Gift of Dyslexia certainly thinks so as do many dyslexics. Certainly there is anecdotal evidence which is reinforced by web sites like the International Institute of Dyslexia: “[Adult dyslexics are] often spatially talented; professions include, but are not limited, to engineers, architects, designers, artists and craftspeople, mathematicians, physicists, physicians (esp. surgeons and orthopedists), and dentists.
But what is the truth? Is this wishful thinking by parents who would rather dream their child will be great one day rather than tackling actual problems of dyslexia? At this point I need to get something off my chest:

Disclaimer: I’ve never felt dyslexia was a gift. School was hell and when I left school I struggled in the world of work. I couldn’t draw or play musical instruments or study science no matter how hard I tried. My dyslexia held me back and since I’ve got rid of my dyslexia I can now draw, play instruments and spell complicated words. I’m not very good at any of them yet but I am getting better.

So my opinion may be biased however this shouldn’t matter because there should be good scientific evidence to settle the argument right? Wrong, I’ve only found two studies that are immediately relevant. The prevalence of dyslexia among art students found that “according to self-reports combined with objective testing, the incidence of dyslexia was far higher among art students“. So it looks good for the dyslexics-are-creative argument. However this study paints a different picture: Findings from the International Adult Literacy Survey on the incidence and correlates of learning disabilities in New Zealandcompared to non-[Self Reported Learning Difficulties] (SRLD) adults, those with SRLD were found to leave school earlier, engage more often in manual occupations, are more frequently unemployed, and rely on more state assistance“. Dyslexics are more likely to be without a job or in a poor job. Dyslexia isn’t looking like a gift now. If we examine those at the bottom of society, two studies on dyslexia and prison found that 50% of prisoners are dyslexic.

So how do we reconcile the higher percentage of art students plus the anecdotal evidence against the increased unemployment and the prison studies?

Simply put, its sink or swim.

10% of all children are dyslexic and they are as diverse in their strengths and weaknesses as normal children are. Some dyslexics are bright, some aren’t so bright, some are good at art, some can’t hold a pencil properly and so on. Image you are a dyslexic child who struggles in academic subjects but do quite well in art and you get the opportunity to pick which subjects you want to take at GCSE level. Are you going to pick art based subjects or academic subjects? Inevitably people pick subjects they can do and drop the other subjects as soon as they can. Where as a child who is good at art and good at the academic subjects might pick art or they might pick an academic subject. So all the dyslexic, artistic students will end up in art school where as only some of the non-dyslexic, artistic students will. This will skew the number of dyslexics in art school and then subsequently in jobs like graphic design and architecture. It is not the dyslexic that made them good at art but it was the dyslexia that forced them along a certain route.
The same concept applies to science and dyslexia. Some people do have a natural interest in science and have the memory for details that you need to study it. If someone has enough interest and memory skills then they can cope with the essays and books even if they are dyslexic. If science is the only subject area a dyslexic can cope with then they are going to focus on it. So again dyslexia doesn’t make them good scientists, it just prevents them from pursuing other academic subjects.

But what happens to the dyslexics who don’t have the interest in science or the artistic abilities? The system fails them. They under-perform, become disillusioned with school and often society as a whole. They drop out. In any class there are going to be kids with emotional problems or who just are not very clever who will be at the bottom of the pile. These are who are statistically likely to end up unemployed or in jail. The curse of dyslexia is that it is the averagely able but dyslexic students who join their less able peers at the bottom of society.

The school system is like a long distance swimming race. Some competitors are strong and fast. They will win the race and set new records. Most competitors are in the pack, never winning but still completing the race. Whereas the weak swimmers at the back, they struggle to reach the end but some flounder and drown. Dyslexia is a heavy weight that is given out randomly to the competitors regardless of how well they can swim. Those who are fast and strong can overcome the weight. The weight might even help them, force them to work harder and learn to swim better. The average competitors given a weight will struggle. Maybe they are just strong enough and those will keep their head above water but find themselves at the back with the other strugglers. Pity the those already at the back who are given the weight. What chance do they have of keeping their head above water?


  1. Great article…

    I don’t think dyslexia is anyone of the three individually. It is a combination of all three (sorry to sit on the fence).

    Some aspects to me, such as visual memory, creativity, dedication, design etc… are gifts, which I believe dyslexia has enhanced for me.

    Some aspects, spelling, organisation etc… are a curse… but at the same time challenges to try and establishment methods and routines to overcome them.

    Every day is slightly different with dyslexia, as soon as you overcome something, you find something else.

    For example… I bought a diary to write everything down in to help my organisation. Worked well for about 4 days… then I forgot to write in it a couple of times and lost it… not so great!

  2. David

    I think everything you have written is right, but then life and people are much more complex then that, I mean, how long would it take to unravel only one individual, with their own backround and make up that creates the unique character that goes with Dislexia?

    From the time I started school to the time I went to secondry school, I wrote words back to front and upside down, and generally couldn’t write very well. I was a drop out at school, although the teachers said I was more intelligent then I thought. The one thing I had was a gift at drawing and painting. I could sit for hours.

    After school, I actually found that, when I had an interest in something, when there was a real strong feeling for what I was doing, I excelled and created my own way of learning, in my own time.

    So, I guess it comes down to the individual and that individuals relevant past. My guess is most people with dyslexia have very strong emotions which over-ride the thinking process, but the gift, or chance of a gift maybe depends on the amount of compassion and awareness, again pointing to individual growth, as a more aware person will realise they have a strong imagination and work with it whatever way they can, where as less aware individuals with little or no compassion will become angry through confusion and frustration, releasing onto others the frustrations of not being able.

    Maybe a bit biased speaking as a dyslexic, but I feel, hope I added some relevance to the topic, and not too many spelling errors 🙂

    Interesting article

  3. kljsdlfjdskl

    everything you have said is innane, illogical and wrong. People it’s stupid to argue for or against it. The prison facts are retarded, the diagnosis is extremely hacked and inconsistent, it’s a silly category that means nothing — especially when people’s brain’s natural self-diagnose and get scared to “act like something bad” which its natural.

    Go make something, and how about sense this time.

    Get a life dude, go outside!

  4. kljsdlfjdskl

    I always admire people who have a strong grasp of the English language, its grammar and how to put forward a cognitive and intelligent argument.

    Of course, people who write vague insults and aren’t man enough to put their name to it are beneath contempt.


  5. james morley

    i just wanna say yeh i agree with you to some extent because dxylesics have to put up with being treated like duncess. Which really isn’t right when they grasp concepts as fast as anyone else if not faster. This is reflected in dxylesic peoples IQ and it is shown that dxylexics have an average or above average IQ
    because of there disability with reading and writting and organization they make up for it in intellgents.

  6. Stan

    I thought I was stupid… I have become successful, I think, but I struggled through grade school, high school and college. Socially, I had been an out case and clung to other social out casts. (This may be why so many dyslexics end up in jail). No one caught on that I might be dyslexic. To this day I can’t tell my left from right, have trouble telling time on an analogue clock, reading, typing (you should see how many times I used the back space to type this!).

    I thought I was stupid until I heard a radio program on dyslexia … It was about me, or at least seemed like it was. They described all of this. They explained how we think differently, how we see the world differently. The normal world is still a struggle and doesn’t understand. But now I understand me more and try to exploit this “Gift”, if you will, to my advantage. I have always seen things differently sometime for good sometimes not. Bottom line, this is how God made me. He made me this way for a reason and I am going to live it.

    I guess I used to sink but now I swim.

    I find the honesty of your article validating and releasing. Thank you and know that there are folks out here that understand.


  7. morning star

    Good article.
    Folks, if you haven’t read The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis – I highly recommend it! This guys’ insight into the causes of dyslexia, ADD and hyperactivity is brilliant! His methods of helping children and adults with these problems are extremely encouraging! Being able to disorient your mind’s eye to look at an object from the front, back, side and above may help a child in real life, but is disastrous when he’s trying to figure out the symbols of letters into words. Also, if the child thinks mainly in pictures rather than words, how confusing for him/her to try to picture the such words as: the, some, and, another, between, also, ago…….. these kinds of words are totally baffling to the dyslexic!

  8. Kay

    No, having a gift does not make you hold down a job or keep you out of jail,…but if one learns the tools to *correct* their dyslexia they can benefit from their gifts without having them interfer with their jobs and allowing them to stay out of jail. There is many stats that state that jails are full of dyslexics….people who have gone down the wrong road because of feeling like failures in school and life. Ron Davis has taught us that there are *tools* to correct dyslexia.
    Thank you Morning Star..you echo my exact thoughts!!!

  9. OK! !i’m dyslexia. and i’m in high school. so i need to think about jobs ans stuff now. what kind of jobs are good for people that are dyslexia???? i want to be an interior designer. but is that a good job for me to want to do??? what do u think??? ps:thanks:)

  10. i walk into a room and i feel something anywhere. i want to reach out and touch everything. look at things from different view points. everything tells a story and the colours just make me crazy.

    it is very overwelming at times in the most intents and satisfying way. i am constantly on this rollercoster of emotions. just talking about this i am typing so fast and its so crazy and awsome.

    my pashion for designing everything stops me alot of the time because my abilities get in the way of my designing because what is in my head at the time doesnt neciserally come out what i want. like in music thats why i have this freek out when i have to play the trumpet without music and not from memory.

    i am mostly very visual and i look at every detail every where i go. i love evrything way to much that my ability to focus gets in the way. sometimes my conversations go from one thing to another when i am talkinga s i get a new idea of something to say in my head. and if i dont say it, i feel this horible feeling that i am hiding something that must be sayed because this conection visual or textual or emotional is the whole reason i was put here on this earth

    when i am listening to other people i have an inability to completely phocus. i find it difficault to listen to what they have to say because i am constantky looking around me and at them. like hair and eyes and skin etc. i hate this because i have a passion for conecting with people. people dont have to be pretty for me to feel something with them. the more different they are the more my senses go crazy because of this joy of new visuals. when people use hand jestures or draw pictures for me if i am trying to learn about someone or about a subject, these are very helpful. it may make me look like i dont care sometimes and i would rather be doing something else, however usually the one thing i want to phocus on isnt the thing that is dominant when it hits my brain.

    in a design sence my god, i fill this ergencey and a fire inside me that makes me go at a milion miles an hour, almost like a crazy person. i have to do something with it. sketch it or find a picture and edit the colours to the way the picture makes me feel. even writing helps me alot. i dont ever care about my corect grammer or my spelling as trying to do this cuts of the flow of thought and the pashion and emoutions.

    i also have this ergency to touch things, like tree bark, leaves, walls, chairs, clothes, hair, skin, tiles, pavement. and if i cant then i get upset within myself. thats why i am perobably a bit touchy with everyone.

    i love my job because i am sarounded by colours textures lights people. the fact that i am aloud to touch the clothes and put them on a manican and make that a piece of art is what drives me to go to work every day and to have me happy when the day is over.

    music wize the extraordinary thing with playing brass and classical music, is the intens detail and the fact that it must be absalutly correct. with anything else this would stress me and make me angry inside and a little violent like when i was trying to learn this growing up in school. where i was in trouble and spent most of my time in the principles office
    anyway… the classical music technicalities make me some how calm down and happy, because i am aloud to do a million this at once and make it come out as a single thing that effects people in an emotional way. i also get taken on this journey, the room is becomes white, and my creative visuals takes over and i forget where i am and that i am actually playing the music.

    my phycologists and brain scientests did not understand the connection aswell as an oposit feeling, but overall the same enjoyment with music and my designing. they are the same but differnent and i always found it very hard to explain.

    so there you go that pretty much sums me up in a nutshell.

    i feel calm now and releieved i got all of that out of me because i just had to run over and tell everything. for me aswell it helps to write it all down.

    i would not give up my visual dislexia disorder for anything. it has definitly helped me in life!!

    ps i could write a book on the subject. the spelling would be atrotios aswel as he punctuation but at least it shows what someone like mes writing actually looks like and how it would flow if the had a similar type.

    great site 😀

  11. mel

    yeah… dyslexiea annoyed me…

    i struggeled my way throgh school..
    teachers kept calling me lazy and that i wsent reaching my potentional and that i never tried hard..

    even thogh i would try my hardest.. but could never understand the instructions.. or couldnt copy the notes off the board fast enough…

    so in the end i just gave up…
    and beliveed i was completeyly stupid..

    even when i tried my ahrdest i would get “extremeyly poor” for commitment grades on my report

    so that lowerd my selfhusteem!

    so i gave up..
    and started rebelling against the school..
    got into a life of drinking…

    tyhen finally got expelled…

    then iw ent to college and finally got it disagnosed!!!!!!

    16years too late!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

    theyve got to learnt to disagnose it earlier!
    it could save so many people a lot of stres!!!!!!

  12. Stan

    Mel, You are not alone. As I mentioned above, I struggled all through school. Back then we thought a dyslexic person was someone who read books using a mirror. I had a cousin who did. So, I went through life thinking I was STUPID because I would get confused telling time, telling right from left, forgetting things, had trouble reading. On the flip side I could design stuff, write very well (to the point that professors thought I cheated based test scores), envision how things worked (electronics, mechanics, etc), couldn’t memorize theorems but I could derive them. I have visions in my head that I can’t seem to figure out how to put canvas (wish I had that gift!).

    A few years back I began to suspect that I might be dyslexic after hearing a takl on the subject. At age 41 have confirmed that I am dyslexic (too late!!!?). In a very odd way, I am releaved and validated. I am not stupid. I also felt anger because it wasn’t found earlier. What is more important is what do I do with it now.

    I did read the book “The Gift of Dyslexia”. Also, the website below was helpful. http://www.dys-add.com/index.html

    There are means of channeling the characteristics of dyslexia to not only compensate for the disability but also use those characteristics as an asset. When that happens, the non-dyslexic world is either in disbelief or astounded or both because they cannot comprehend.

  13. T CREEK

    dyslexic 40 years old and have never had a job that made a good living .I have two girls
    my 17 year old is dydlexic,scotopic and my 15 year old has scotopic sensitivity .the one thing that I have workd very heard on is to help my girls be successful in life even if life gives you hell on the way we have had many
    many time where we would cry over homework everything my girls do they put heart and soul into it .I did not have parents that were very helpful to me or my education but I will do everything in my power to see my girls be successful in life and not fill like sinker in
    the pool of life.

  14. I have been struggling with this all my life. I have always known I was different. I can’t seem to maintain any meaningful relationships. They seem to always get to a certain point and they either feel that I cut them off continuously, (for fear that when I get some vision, expression in my head I feel that If I don’t express it immediately, I will forget or be distracted and lose my train of thought, or they feel that what they have to say isn’t important. There are times when I just feel like I have lost a whole part of myself…sometimes it doesn’t even seem as if I DID do something…it all seems like a dream sometimes. Most people say things to me like, you are in the fantasy world, some kind of alter reality. But I completely excel in music, and just about any hands on creative work, I can sing 5 octaves and whenever I sing a note I can hear the harmonies immediately. I am extremely super sensitive to the world, I am extremely overly helpful, cheery which makes people think I am not genuine. People just don’t believe that there are people this genuine in the world. I guess I am having a really bad day…really big argument with my special person…and I feel very small I guess it just helps to know that there are others out there that can connect with my challenges.

  15. Bucky

    Born Dyslexic and have taken special classes. I was told that in elementary, i mixed up letters when writing and numbers with math. I took special classes which only made me feel like an idiot.
    Now I’m 21 a senior in college. Since a year ago, i have became an avid reader. I can’t stop. I use to hate reading but when i started reading articles about health and nutrition, i was hooked. I wrestled in highschool so nutrition and even brain health became interesting to me.
    Reading is easy. I come to the assumption that when i was in elementary that i just didn’t care enough to learn about basic fundamentals of school. If somebody explained to me why it was important to practice reading, then i would have done so. Since i was a child who thought way more often then the teachers presumed, i stayed in my own bubble not caring about the rest of the world.
    As i got to junior high and high school, where reading became a priority, I found myself rereading over and over again a paragraph that i couldn’t quite understand. And do you know why? Because i never learned in the first place? Do you know why i didn’t learn in the first place? Because i didn’t have the passion to learn to read.
    Reading in high school was more hard because my mind would wonder. (The power of reading is that it develops an attention span.)So to help me get more engaged in reading my textbooks i found it help to practice focusing on one thing, kinda like meditation. Andrew Weil’s audio book, “Breathing: the Master Key to Self Healing”, helped me focus on my breathing and i practice this type of meditation every now and then when my mind begins to meander more often. Then after i learned the art of focusing, then i began to read straight through without any interference from the outside world.
    Passion is the key word. I realize that if i am passionate about something, i can take it and run with it. I am now passionate about knowledge. I’m unstoppable.
    Someday i want to write a book, but right now i’m not that savy with the structure of words. I’m a political science major, so i am forced to write but am not that good. I look at writing like i do the guitar. It would be cool to play the guitar and jam out to Stevie Ray Vahn, but i don’t have the passion to study and learn it. In my case, i don’t have time to study writing. I’m jammed with 18 hours of book reading.

    So, In a nutshell. I think Dyslexia is a term that puts down kids who aren’t passionate about anything yet. Some kids need reasons and explanations why it is important to take the time to do something. I remember my dad making me do a lot of random house projects with him that bored me to death, if he would of explained why we were doing it, then i probably would have been more engaging.

    I’m about to get another audio book called “revise and remember”. If it helps me with my ability to focus, I’ll make another post.


    Oh, and in response to “Dyslexia”, or as i would like to call us the non-passionate people, going to jail. I can see that. I’ve been in trouble a few times and wound up going to jail 2 times. But i’m a quick learner by way that i can only really learn through my life experiences.
    “The first step in life is to first care, then apply. Not vice-a-versa. You can’t apply what you don’t care about. ”
    Matt Buckbinder

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