In this DIMW column, Wayne looks at how dyslexia can be a hidden problem for many creative people.
Why am I going to talk about dyslexia on a website that is mainly about digital art, photography and technology? Because despite many advances, dyslexia can still be an undiagnosed issue for many people in creative areas. Plus, since a lot of us teach in the creative areas, you are very likely to have one or more people with dyslexia in your class, even if they do not know it themselves.
About six weeks ago we discovered that my wife, who is 47 and an artist, suffers from dyslexia. For her entire life she had thought of herself as stupid, dumb and just not able to do certain things. It was only through us doing work on removing these negative self-image ideas and replacing them with a more positive self-view that we figured out what was going on. As a result we also got a clue as to what might be causing our eight-year old daughter to have some reading issues, since dyslexia can be hereditary. We are now getting testing done.
Wayne and his daughter
The above is unfortunately such a common story for people with dyslexia. Hard to diagnose when very young, and often missed, as a child grows older because they learn ways to hide, avoid and compensate, it sits in the background and affects their whole life. So just what is dyslexia? Dyslexia is not fully understood but it can be viewed as a learning disability that affects people in many different ways. People with dyslexia seem to have parts of their brain wired in a different way that causes both some disadvantages and advantages. Yes, that’s right, there are advantages.
At its core, dyslexia is a trouble with words. This can manifest as issues with reading, writing or spelling. Writing can be illegible or certain letters can be written backwards. There can be issues with phonics, understanding the sounding of works. Spelling may continue to be phonically based beyond when the rules of spelling should have been grasped. People with dyslexia may get very tired when reading, complain of headaches or eye strain. There can be memory issues, with things like remembering more than a certain number of steps. Issues with math can surface, from seeing the wrong numbers to issues with counting accurately or remembering math facts and principles. In reality it is a complex and multifaceted disorder. Another very important aspect of dyslexia is that the symptoms can vary constantly. People can have good and bad days, symptoms seem to get worse with tiredness and what can be done one moment may be hard the next.
Now of course dyslexia is only seen as a disorder compared to what is considered the norm in a literate and numerate society. Estimates vary but it has been stated that up to one in seven people have some aspect of dyslexia. Of course there are also varying degrees of dyslexia, from the very mild to the severe.
The positive sides of dyslexia are that people with dyslexia tend to be quite smart (even though they have often thought of themselves as dumb), are very creative, have strong visual skills, are great at art, have vivid imaginations, strong practical skills and, because they think differently, can be great at inventing. Many famous and high achieving people have dyslexia. Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Charles Schwab, Leonardo da Vinci and Picasso, John Lennon and Steven Spielberg and even writers like Lewis Carroll and Ernest Hemingway. Many university professors and researchers have dyslexia, they have just developed ways to compensate.
So if any of the above, both the negatives and the positives, sound like you then you may have dyslexia to some degree. Knowing this can be a very important thing. It can help to neutralize a feeling of being dumb, it helps you to understand yourself and may lead to strategies that can help. For example, my wife has always found reading and retaining information hard and gets tired quickly when reading. So I have taught her what I call active reading, which involves physically interacting with the book by underlining words, writing notes in the margins and sounding parts of it, so that it becomes multi-sensory. This has helped enormously. Also, since dyslexia can run in families, it may allow you to watch for it in younger family members and warn parents what to look for. Plus of course more awareness of dyslexia, what it is and what it is not aids all those with dyslexia and those who are parents of such children.
There are many ways to compensate for the day-to-day issues that dyslexia can cause. Things like using lists and checklists in particular, active reading, using colored glasses to aid with reading (many dyslexics benefit from changing the contrast between the white page and text), using computers and OCR (optical character recognition) software to read books to you and buying talking books rather than the printed kind.
So where to if you need more information? Well, a Google search will turn up dyslexia associations and organizations in your local area. From there you can find out more about diagnostic services, support groups, coaching services and teacher assistance.
There are also some great books around. A few of the ones I have found very helpful are:
Overcoming Dyslexia for Dummies by Tracy Wood
This book gives a great coverage of what dyslexia is and is not, testing approach choices, handling things with teachers and strategies and teaching methods for self-help and to help someone else, such as your child, with reading issues, etc. A great book.
The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis
Another great book that covers both what dyslexia is and also a full program of assistance. I am still working through this one but it is looking like it will be a great help.
Wayne J. Cosshall