Not quite the Dyslexia Superpower (3/52) but getting closer … In fact, Dr Gail Saltz makes a compelling case for linking ‘disorder’ (including dyslexia) with ‘genius’ in her recent book – “The Power of Different” (2017).
In a recent TV interview, Dr Saltz talks about the need to highlight the positive as well as the negative aspects of learning “disorders”.
The first chapter (pages 17 to 46) focuses specifically on dyslexia and, through examples drawn from “brilliantly” successful dyslexics, highlights four categories which together with “grit and resilience” could account for this “Power”. Firstly, experiencing significant trauma in school. Secondly, developing “work-arounds”. Thirdly, creativity and insight linking to brain differences and finally, “tremendous” drive and determination.
Looking at each in more detail, we can begin to see how dyslexia can indeed be an advantage or superpower. However, the challenge of recognising the positive aspects of dyslexia appears to start in school and probably continues into college and university.
- Living with learning differences: Many dyslexics, myself included, can recall the trauma of school. Dr Beryl Benacerraf (renowned Radiologist at Harvard Medical School) compensated for her dyslexia, “she would count the number of students in front of her and find the paragraph she would be asked to read, and then practice that paragraph over and over until it was her turn” – sounds familiar! Prof Carol Greider (Nobel Prize winning Microbiologist) “had a lot of trouble in school and was put into remedial classes. I thought that I was stupid.”
- Developing work-arounds: To overcome these challenges dyslexics use their learning difference to create work-arounds. Reading can not only take longer it consumes more mental processing power, these work-arounds are vital to progressing. These can include the simple technique of avoiding problematic words (doubt), more sophisticated learning tools and, of course, big picture thinking!
- Seeing dyslexia as a gift: If we assume that human evolution accentuates the positive, eliminates the negative, dyslexia could be an important feature of the survival of the human species. What has been, and continues to be, the role of big picture thinking that is characterised by seeing patterns, objects and shapes? The challenges of focusing on the written word, might actually be the advantage of not focusing on one thing in the centre of our vision but rather registering multiple incidents in our peripheral vision. Prof John Stein puts it rather well …
- Flourishing as a dyslexic: So, having experienced the trauma of school, developed the work-arounds and having a host of life enhancing gifts, dyslexics can flourish in later life. But, what about taking a totally different approach to schooling? An approach which recognises the value of creativity and big picture thinking as well as spelling and grammar. I’m back to my emerging hobby-horse – Developing Your Superpower Institute (DYS Institute)!
And finally, Dr Gail Saltz (2017: 37) highlights that whilst dyslexics have many differences, they seem to have a propensity to develop empathy. Perhaps born from the very knocks life has delivered to them.