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Success Stories: Celebrities With Dyslexia, ADHD and Dyscalculia

By Amanda Morin

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Some of the biggest names in movies, music and sports are people who struggled in school with learning and attention issues. Here are a number of the celebrities who found their passion and overcame their challenges.

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Whoopie Goldberg
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Whoopi Goldberg (dyslexia)

Long ago, before Whoopi Goldberg was diagnosed with dyslexia and before she knew how common this learning issue is, kids in school called her “dumb.” But her mother told her not to listen to them. Her mom told her she could be anything she wanted to be. Goldberg believed her and grew up to become a comedian and talk-show host—and one of only about a dozen people to have won a Grammy, an Academy Award, an Emmy and a Tony Award.

Daniel Radcliffe
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Daniel Radcliffe (dyspraxia)

As the star of the Harry Potter movies, actor Daniel Radcliffe can be seen zipping around on his broomstick and saving the day during Quidditch matches. In real life, he has dyspraxia, which can make it difficult for him to tie his shoes. Handwriting also continues to be a challenge. He was 9 when his mother encouraged him to audition for a play. “I was having a hard time in school,” he said. His mom thought acting would boost his confidence. She was right!

Steven Spielberg
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Steven Spielberg (dyslexia)

Legendary film director Steven Spielberg wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until he was in his 60s. School administrators thought he was lazy. He was bullied by classmates, and his troubles in school played a part in his career. Not only did making movies give him a place to channel his energies, but feeling like an outsider helped him cowrite The Goonies, a hit movie about a quirky group of friends who didn’t quite fit in at school. He said finding out as an adult that he has dyslexia was like “the last puzzle piece to a great mystery that I’ve kept to myself.”

Justin Timberlake
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Justin Timberlake (ADHD)

Justin Timberlake is many things. He’s a singer-songwriter, actor and entrepreneur. He’s also one of the many adults in the U.S. who have ADHD. Early in his career, Timberlake costarred on Disney’s All New Mickey Mouse Club with Ryan Gosling, who as a child was diagnosed with ADHD and was bullied before he became a Mouseketeer and movie star.

Tim Tebow
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Tim Tebow (dyslexia)

Former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow has dyslexia. His father and brother do, too. Learning issues can run in families. He was diagnosed in elementary school and found ways to work around his reading difficulties. “It has to do with finding out how you learn,” he said. “I’m not somebody that opens a playbook and just turns and reads and reads. So I just made flashcards, I take each one, and then boom, when I’m traveling, I just flip through it. That really helped me. Writing it down, flipping through and quizzing myself, that was a great way for me to do it.”

Michael Phelps
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Michael Phelps (ADHD)

Swimmer Michael Phelps holds the record for winning the most Olympic medals (22 in all, including 18 golds). He has ADHD and was hyperactive as a child. “I was always the kid who was running around,” he said. “I literally couldn’t sit still.” His mother used his love of swimming to help him focus.

Henry Winkler
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Henry Winkler (dyslexia and math issues)

Henry Winkler is an actor, director and author who has dyslexia and difficulty with math. On Happy Days, he played the Fonz, a role so iconic his character’s jacket now hangs in the Smithsonian. But a new generation of fans may know him better for coauthoring the best-selling Hank Zipzer children’s series. Like Winkler, Hank struggles with learning issues but doesn’t let them get in the way of his dreams. Winkler also visits schools to talk about learning issues. To honor his educational work, the Queen of England appointed him an honorary Order of the British Empire in 2011.

Anderson Cooper
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Anderson Cooper (dyslexia)

CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper hasn’t let dyslexia stand in the way of his success. He also won’t allow his reading issues to stand in the way of his love for books and literature. His own book, Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival, was on the New York Times best-seller list.

Kiera Knightly
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Keira Knightley (dyslexia)

After Keira Knightley was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 6, she used her love of acting to help motivate her to read. Knightley struck a deal with her parents that if she worked on her reading every day, they would agree to hire her an agent. The Pirates of the Caribbean star made good on her half of the bargain, using movie scripts to practice reading. She went on to become one of Hollywood’s highest-earning actresses.

Cher
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Cher (dyslexia)

Cher is an Academy Award‒winning actress and Grammy-winning singer. But she struggled in school with undiagnosed learning issues. “I couldn’t read quickly enough to get all my homework done and for me, math was like trying to understand Sanskrit,” she wrote in her autobiography. “The only way I learned was by listening to the teachers in my classroom.” She didn’t find out she was dyslexic until years later when she took her child to get evaluated for learning and attention issues.

Jamie Oliver
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Jamie Oliver (dyslexia)

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has built an empire with his best-selling cookbooks, prime-time TV shows, restaurants and cookware. He also has dyslexia and said he didn’t finish reading his first book until he was 38. “I get bored easily,” he said. But the sci-fi sequel to The Hunger Games managed to keep him engaged. “I read Catching Fire. I loved disappearing into a story.”

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About the Author

Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin

A parent advocate and former teacher, Amanda Morin is the proud mom of kids with learning and attention issues and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

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