Dyslexia, how to deal with it and why it shouldn’t hold you back

Winston Churchill, Jamie Oliver, David Bailey, Will Smith and Steve Jobs have at least one thing in common (besides being outstanding high achievers): dyslexia.

A neurodiversity that primarily affects reading and writing skills - often making literacy hard to grasp in childhood – it is thought at least 1 in 10 people have dyslexia. Along with difficulties in spelling, phonics and writing, comes the flipside of that, namely a vivid imagination (Agatha Christie and Roald Dahl are two shining examples) and the ability to think outside the box – to think creatively.

As one of the most famous architects in the world, Sir Richard Rogers known for iconic constructions such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Millennium Dome in London, has benefited from his innate gift of being able to see the big picture, his lateral thinking style and strong visualisation skills. In fact, architecture is one of the creative careers where having dyslexia can be helpful when it gives you the ability to see things from a greater perspective.

But it wasn’t always plain sailing for Rogers, “In my youth I was called stupid. Not only could I not read but I couldn’t memorize my schoolwork. I was always at the bottom of the class”.

Those who called him stupid must be feeling rather stupid themselves now as Rogers (who recently retired at 87) is one of a handful of architects credited with shaping modern cities, has won numerous prestigious prizes and has earned a fortune.

Another world-renowned architect, Sir Norman Foster, who is known for designing the likes of ‘The Gherkin’ in the City of London, the Apple headquarters in California and the stunning courtyard at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, is also dyslexic. It is likely that his ability to be highly creative, intuitive and excellent at problem-solving – especially when it comes to three-dimensional situations – has enabled his career.

Although some cases are being overlooked, overall, schools are increasingly improving their recognition of dyslexia and support of any pupils who need it. There is also extra time available in exams for those who qualify after being formally assessed; as one parent put it, “My dyslexic daughter not getting the extra time she needs is the equivalent of a non-dyslexic child having her paper snatched away 20 minutes before the end of the exam”.

Advances in technology are also helpful. The ability to change font style, spacing and size for instance, can help with reading. There’s spellcheck and grammar help as well as audio-assisted reading and note-taking – all of which can make life a great deal easier for someone with dyslexic tendencies. And as a pupil progresses through school, it is often the case that the initial, literacy focused curriculum, turns into lessons based around problem-solving, analysis and lateral-thinking – areas where the neuro-diverse, dyslexic brain may well naturally have the upper hand.

Perhaps the most important advice given by dyslexic associations is to get a diagnosis, because along with that comes the support needed which can often improve grades. Once a diagnosis is made, “people find it reassuring” as it helps them not only to “understand the reason behind their difficulties” but also to see in the final report “details of their strengths”, which can frequently be underestimated and under-used and may turn out to be just the asset needed in a learning profile.

Recommended links

Ten famous people with dyslexia | The Week UK

The upside to dyslexia, even as a journalist - CNN

British Dyslexia Association (bdadyslexia.org.uk)

Dyslexia, the Gift. Information and Help for Dyslexia.

Richard Rogers, Architect - Yale Dyslexia

Norman Foster | Biography, Architecture, Buildings, & Facts | Britannica

Richard Rogers retires: Pompidou and Dome architect helped shape our cities - BBC News