Dyslexia Awareness Week: 2 to 8 October 2023
The theme for this year's Dyslexia Awareness Week is #UniquelyYou, and we aim to inspire everyone to value and appreciate individuals with dyslexia.
To celebrate this week, our Dyslexia Peer Support Group have put together some information on Neurodiversity and Dyslexia.
Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the range of different ways in which our brains function and process information. Individuals with dyslexia are neurodiverse and their experience of this is unique to them. In our society this brings many challenges. However, there are also many positives to being neurodivergent.
Dyslexia can be viewed as a specific learning difference. This term refers to the difference and challenges individuals have with a particular aspect of learning. It primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory, and verbal processing speed. Like everyone else, individuals with dyslexia are spread across a range of intellectual abilities.
Dyslexic individuals process information differently when compared to neurotypical people. As a result of this difference, the way that dyslexics can process information gives us many advantages and skills that some like to call our dyslexic superpowers. These superpowers include, creative problem-solving and communication skills (see the section on ‘What dyslexics do well’ for more on this).
In addition to what we do very well, there are also some things that many dyslexic individuals will find challenging:
- reading speed
- memorising facts/ forgetting things
- organisational skills
- maintaining focus
- background noise interrupting thoughts
- mental overload
It is important to note that when thinking about the superpowers and challenges faced by dyslexics, although many dyslexic individuals may share common experiences of dyslexia, we are all unique. As such, one person’s experience with dyslexia can vary greatly from another’s experience of dyslexia. For example, something one dyslexic person finds challenging (such as organisational skills) might be no problem at all for another dyslexic. Quite equally, just because one dyslexic has a particular superpower (such as being able to visualise issues well), it does not mean that another dyslexic individual will share this trait. This is one of the reasons that dyslexia is often hard to diagnose and define.
The key thing to remember is that all dyslexics process information differently in some way to neurotypical people, but how that shows up in any individual’s characteristics will vary from person to person.
Many people, especially when they are young or attending formal education will go through a process of having a formal dyslexia diagnosis. This usually consists of an initial screening questionnaire before proceeding to a full assessment by an educational psychologist.
The assessment tests various abilities including memory and comprehension, reading and writing, spatial awareness, and general knowledge.
The report can be useful in helping to build up an understanding of how your dyslexia most affects you including how it relates to other variants such as dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Meares-Irlen syndrome/visual stress. Although it’s not all bad, sometimes it can highlight strengths as well as weaknesses.
A formal report or diagnosis is often required for requesting reasonable adjustments, particularly for exams in education or professional qualifications. It can also be useful in the workplace or for occupational health.
Not all people may have or want a formal report.
The report identifies the nature of your dyslexia but doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do about it or how to manage it. Though it may provide some suggestions for where to start.
Particularly as people get older they may already have found ways of coping with dyslexia and may not feel there is any value in getting a diagnosis later in life. They may also feel that there is still a stigma around getting a diagnosis and being labelled as a dyslexic.
Unless you have support from your school, university or workplace you may have to pay the full cost of an assessment and report. These can cost hundreds of pounds and so may be inaccessible or undesirable for some people, particularly if there is seen to be little value for them in gaining a report.
Ultimately getting a formal diagnosis is a personal choice. For many people, a report will sit in a drawer or file for years without use. But sometimes the greatest value comes from knowing you’re not stupid, lazy or plain bad at things and gain the affirmation that you’re just wired slightly differently to others.
In 2009 Carol Greider received the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for her groundbreaking health research. Put into remedial classes during her school years, she states that her dyslexia brings an enhanced problem solving ability and has been core to her success as a researcher.
Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson is a British billionaire, business mogul, and entrepreneur who was born on July 18, 1950. He established the Virgin Group in the 1970s, and it now owns more than 400 businesses across a range of industries. Sir Richard Branson is most recognized for being the creator of Virgin Group, which is the owner of the well-known airline Virgin Atlantic. Despite not receiving a dyslexia diagnosis until much later in life, he was nevertheless able to overcome his impairment and become one of the greatest businessmen of all time. He also frequently employs Speechify!
This best-selling author has been translated into over 100 languages. She created the iconic Hercule Poirot, one of the greatest detectives of all time. Christie dictated her books. She was always known as “the slow one” in her family, and accepted it, claiming to be “an extraordinarily bad speller.” Despite dyslexia often causing challenges with writing, Agatha Christie preserved and went on to become one of the best selling authors of all time. Although spelling always remained an issue for her, she was able to find resources which helped her dominate her field.
One of the most well-known artists of all time is Pablo Picasso. Picasso, Pablo Ruiz (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973) was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer who lived in France for most of his adult life. He is regarded as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century and is famous for co-founding the Cubist movement, developing built sculpture, co-inventing collage, as well as for the many different artistic genres he helped explore and develop. He was said to have difficulty seeing letters correctly and could not read. Yet, he also had a keen sense of space, and more advanced visual-spatial ability is often found in dyslexia. He is renowned for creating images that resemble jigsaw puzzles. It is generally accepted that his dyslexia is what causes his pictures to seem as they do. He reads things differently than most people do and paints them accordingly.
Labelled in school: “The Girl Least Likely to Succeed”, Erin Brockovich is dyslexic and struggled in early education, but thanks to some inspiring teaching experiences went on to become an internationally renowned lawyer. She helped win the largest class-action lawsuit in US history, worth $333 million, and had to read through thousands of pages of medical records and legal briefs that she often found difficult to get through. Brockovich maintains that it’s actually dyslexia that helped work as a lawyer and she remains a powerful advocate for people with literacy differences in the workplace and in education.
Cher is an American singer and actress perhaps best known for her iconic appearance. She won an Academy Award for her role in the film Moonstruck and has released many best-selling singles over the years, especially in the partnership Sonny & Cher. Cher dropped out of high school before launching her successful career and wasn't diagnosed as dyslexic until she was 30. The diagnosis came only after she arranged medical tests for her daughter, who was struggling in elementary school. "I'm a terrible reader," Cher said in 1985. "I don't write letters. Numbers and I have absolutely no relationship. I can dial a phone OK, as long as it's not long-distance. I write the first letter of the word, and my mind races to the last letter. I see words and jumble them together. I see great billboards, billboards no one has ever invented."
Einstein was a Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity and the famous E=mc2 equation. Einstein was well known for his brilliance in math and physics but he also struggled with language difficulties, leading some people to suggest he may have had dyslexia. He had extremely delayed speech and didn’t speak fluently until he was 6 years old. Einstein also had problems getting his thoughts down, retrieving language and reading out loud, all characteristic signs of dyslexia. His contributions to his field demonstrated a unique and novel approach to problem solving which is one of the strengths associated with dyslexia.
Washington was the first president of the United States and was also thought to be dyslexic. He was said to have issues with written language, including an inconsistent approach to spelling in his personal papers – in one example he wrote ‘cloathes’ for ‘clothes.’ He also made grammar mistakes and generally had difficulty expressing himself in writing. It’s worth noting that Washington is not the only US president who is suspected of having dyslexia. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and JFK are on the list too!
The best way of supporting anyone is to ask them what support they need. This is no different for those with dyslexia. They may not know that they have dyslexia, even so, focus on starting by asking them what they need. Give them time to think about this too. Remember that this won’t be a one-off conversation.
Dyslexia is often characterised by a set of symptoms, behaviours or activities where dyslexic people struggle, requiring accommodations and support. Like other types of neurodiversity, dyslexic brains actually think differently, which gives them an advantage for certain types of thinking and reasoning.
Dyslexics tend to be ‘big picture’ people, taking an overview of systems and context. We tend to recall facts as a narrative, rather than a list of data items. We are simultaneous thinkers, making connections between ideas at tangents, rather than think sequentially. Dyslexics often find it easy to understand abstract ideas that are not tangible, we are critical thinkers with great logical reasoning. Despite having difficulties with reading, dyslexic people often have strong language comprehension, and are able to analyse stories, keep track of characters and complicated plot twists.
Strong spatial reasoning is also a particular characteristic of dyslexic brains. We can be particularly good at puzzles, manipulating shapes in our brains, and understanding virtual environments. Dyslexics often make great engineers, designers, or architects.
Dyslexic minds can also be highly imaginative and creative, a hive of unorthodox ideas. Our ability to process information differently gives us a unique and valuable world view.
The Dyslexia Peer Support Group meets online monthly for an hour. It's a confidential place where those with dyslexia can share their achievements, challenges and offer support to each other, normalising dyslexia and offering tools and techniques to maximise individual potential.
To join the group, please contact email@example.com who will add you to the Google Group and invite you to ongoing meetings.
If you’d like to find out more about dyslexia and the staff support group feel free to get in touch with one of our members (contact details below).
- Lindsay Coomer People & Organisational Development (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Vicky Wren, Research, Innovation and Knowledge Exchange (RIKE) (email@example.com)
- Leigh Kristensen, Research, Innovation and Knowledge Exchange (RIKE) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- David Rowe, School for Business and Society (email@example.com)