Most parents’ initial reaction to hearing their child has been diagnosed with dyslexia is fear - fear about what struggles lay ahead and how they can help their child succeed. It is especially difficult when you have to explain to your child what their diagnosis means. You don’t want to be caught off guard when your child asks you questions like, “Is something wrong with me?”. The best response to start with is to explain that having dyslexia simply means that their brains think differently.
If you present dyslexia as an obstacle they must overcome, the hardships will become their main focus. Instead, it may be helpful to learn how to work with dyslexia, not just against it. While dyslexia does present several challenges for education, there is also research being done to explore the learning strengths of students with dyslexia.
Thinking in 3D
One of the most popular observations found in people with dyslexia is their tendency to have greater spatial reasoning abilities than those without dyslexia. This means they may have an easier time thinking about objects in three dimensions and forming conclusions about them.
To learn more about the research being conducted on these abilities, check out The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. For example, in this book, the authors cite research by Dr. Norman Geschwind, a former Harvard neurologist, which showed that children with dyslexia excelled at activities such as solving puzzles, drawing, and building models. Do you notice your child enjoying these types of activities? Spatial reasoning abilities are useful for careers in architecture, graphic design, physics, programming, and many more fields.
Seeing the Bigger Picture
People with dyslexia may also be better at holistic thinking, or processing ideas and images as a whole. In other words, they tend to focus on the bigger picture. This is part of the reason that reading is difficult for kids with dyslexia, because reading requires breaking down parts (sentences, words, letters, etc.) before being able to understand the bigger picture.
Drs. Karolyi, Winner, Gray, and Sherman tested children using a task that involved analyzing two-dimensional figures. They found that the group with dyslexia was faster at their global processing (bigger picture) task than the group without dyslexia.
This being said, more research is needed to understand how this image processing works in brains with dyslexia and what impact it has on learning. Holistic thinking is essential to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. Nonetheless, students with dyslexia benefit from reading interventions to become well-rounded learners.
Creativity to Spare
The link between dyslexia and creativity is one of the most researched topics when it comes to dyslexic strengths. Scientifically, creativity is defined as a person’s ability to make connections between concepts and to create new concepts. One study found that students with dyslexia performed better at memorizing visual-spatial and audio information and also scored higher in creative tasks than students without dyslexia.
Another study tested a sample of art school students vs. students in disciplines other than art and found that the art students showed more signs of dyslexia. Although many studies propose a link between dyslexia and higher creativity, there is not enough evidence to explain why. Some research suggests it has to do with the perceptual abilities (such as better peripheral vision) that have been found in brains with dyslexia.
You know your child best. You know where they struggle, and where they shine. A diagnosis of dyslexia should not limit their dreams. Given the right tools and interventions, students with dyslexia can learn to adapt to their learning abilities and make the most of their unique learning skills.
FUN FACT! According to the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity, the following artists, scientists, writers, and celebrities have/had dyslexia:
Leonardo da Vinci - Renaissance era painter, sculptor, inventor, mathematician
Albert Einstein - One of the most influential physicists in history
Walt Disney - American entrepreneur/pioneer of American animation industry
Whoopi Goldberg - Award-winning comedian, actress, talk show host
John Lennon - Lead singer/songwriter of the Beatles
Steven Spielberg - One of Hollywood's most well-known filmmaker/director
...among many more!