“Learning Disorder or Asset?” An Excerpt From “The Dyslexic Advantage”

Throughout his school career, Doug struggled with reading and writing. He flunked out of community college twice before he finally gained the skills he needed to earn his college degree. Today he’s the president of a highly successful software firm that he founded a decade ago.

When Lindsey was young all her teachers called her slow. Although she worked desperately to learn to read and write, she was one of the last in her school class to master these skills. Recently Lindsey graduated from college earning the top prize in her school’s highly competitive honors program. She’s now enrolled in a prestigious graduate program studying psychology.

Pete’s elementary school teachers told his parents he was borderline mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed. They also told them that they couldn’t teach him to read and write. However, with intensive one-on-one instruction, Pete learned to read and write well enough not only to attend college but also go on to law school. Pete eventually used his legal training to represent another individual with before the Supreme Court, winning her case 9–0 and radically redefining the rights of students with needs.

Doug, Lindsey, and Pete are all dyslexic, and they’re also exceptionally good at what they do…. [T]hese facts are neither contradictory nor coincidental. Instead, Doug, Lindsey, and Pete—and millions of individuals with dyslexia just like them—are good at what they do, not in spite of their dyslexic processing differences, but because of them.

This claim usually provokes surprise and a flurry of questions: “Good because of their dyslexia? Isn’t dyslexia a learning disorder? How could a learning disorder make people good at anything?”

The answer is, a learning disorder couldn’t—if it were only a learning disorder. But that’s just our point, and it’s the key message of this book. Dyslexia, or the dyslexic processing style, isn’t just a barrier to learning how to read and spell; it’s also a reflection of an entirely different pattern of brain organization and information processing—one that predisposes a person to important abilities along with the well-known challenges. This dual nature is what’s so amazing—and confusing—about dyslexia. It’s also why individuals with dyslexia can look so different depending upon the perspective from which we view them.

Look first at individuals with dyslexia when they’re reading or spelling or performing certain other language or learning tasks. From this perspective they appear to have a learning disorder; and with respect to these tasks, they clearly do. Now look at these same individuals when they’re doing almost anything else—particularly the kinds of tasks they excel at and enjoy. From this new perspective they not only cease to look disabled but they often appear remarkably skilled or even specially advantaged.

This apparent advantage isn’t just a trick of perception—as if their strengths seemed large only in contrast with their weaknesses. There’s actually a growing body of evidence supporting the existence of a dyslexic advantage.

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About the author

About the author

Brock and Fernette Eide, Dyslexic Advantage co-founded the organization Dyslexic Advantage and are co-authors of “The Dyslexic Advantage” and “The Mislabeled Child.”