People with dyslexia possess many strengths thanks to the unique way in which their brains process stimuli, including language.
Many individuals with dyslexia are right-brain dominant.
The right and left hemispheres of the brain are organized in a slightly different way. On the right, cells are more evenly distributed (vs. in clusters).
This means connections have to cross larger distances, which helps dyslexics with big-picture thinking, spotting patterns, and taking a more open and creative approach to problem-solving.
Dyslexics are often holistic rather than linear thinkers.
While memorizing facts may not be their strong suit, children and adults with dyslexia often have the ability to integrate personal experiences with acquired knowledge to generate new ideas.
They can make great team players and be extremely creative students who are artistically gifted and have an intuitive sense of spatial organization.
That's because visual thinking and spatial reasoning are both associated with right-brain thinking.
No two individuals with dyslexia are alike
Keep in mind though that no two individuals with dyslexia are the same. Dyslexia can be mild or severe. Reading could be more of a problem than spelling. The same is true of dyslexia strengths, which may vary significantly from one person to the next.
TIP: Did you know that many groups today advocate for more neutral language to describe dyslexia, such as calling it a specific learning difficulty or difference instead of a disability?
Dyslexics are sometimes thought of as being at a disadvantage in the classroom or workplace because of the way in which they make sense of written language. Yet the notion that individuals with dyslexia should all go to art school or work in a trade is a thing of the past.
When dyslexia is undiagnosed
This is not necessarily the case when dyslexia goes undiagnosed.
If they are struggling with reading, dyslexic kids can quickly fall behind their peers at school.
Over time, poor performance and frustration can lead to a negative attitude toward learning and activities involving reading and writing.
It can also cause people to lose confidence in their abilities and develop an unhealthy sense of self-worth.
Many students with dyslexia focus on their literacy skills deficits, without celebrating or even acknowledging the strengths they possess.
But having teachers or instructors who are dyslexia aware and can incorporate and promote dyslexia friendly-teaching and learning strategies, can make a big difference.
Read more about helping dyslexic students in the classroom.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that impacts on reading and spelling skills. Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence; it simply describes a different kind of cognitive processing.
There are different types of dyslexia, but most people struggle with phonological dyslexia which makes it difficult to split words into their component sounds. This interrupts the decoding process in reading and is why many dyslexics also struggle with spelling.
Strategies for dyslexic learners
It's not uncommon to find a dyslexic student relies primarliy on sight reading, which is a form of whole word recognition that doesn't involve sounding words out.
Many students with dyslexia also use spelling strategies, including creating mnemonics devices to remember hard-to-learn words.
Mastering touch-typing is another strategy that can help as typing transforms a word's spelling into a sequence of key-strokes and muscle movements, which may be easier for someone with dyslexia to remember.
3 Dyslexia strengths
The dyslexic brain is often said to be ‘wired in a different way’ and while its approach to cognitive processing may hinder reading or mathematical abilities, it also has its advantages.
Dyslexics can be extremely creative individuals who excel in music and the arts. Cher, John Lennon and Carly Simon are examples of dyslexic people with celebrated musical talent. There’s also evidence that dyslexics are more likely to think in images and that the dyslexic brain is skilled in visual processing and can consider objects from a greater number of angles. The painters Picasso and Pollock were both dyslexics. So was the author Roald Dahl!
When you get bogged down in details it can sometimes be hard to make sense of the whole of what you are reading or learning. The average person with dyslexia doesn’t do so well with details but has an ability to appreciate the big picture. This strength can make it easier to spot patterns and see trends in data.
Thinking outside of the box
Problem solving requires a combination of creativity and reasoning skills that many dyslexics excel at. They are more apt to take new approaches to an issue and may discover connections that others have missed. They are especially good at bringing together information and resources from different disciplines and can be skilled inventors and original thinkers. Richard Branson is one universally known example of someone who thinks outside of the box. In fact, he says his dyslexia is his greatest strength!
Encouragement, confidence and self-esteem
Dyslexics can be excellent problem-solvers. This may be why so many CEOs who struggled in high school due to their dyslexia have found success in the business world.
Some people suggest it is a requirement that a dyslexic student be hardworking and persistent from an early age, and that this is what gives dyslexic kids the drive they need to carry them forward.
When you overcome challenges, it makes you stronger.
But there are also plenty of successful dyslexics, from Steven Spielberg to Tom Cruise, who talk about their childhood with mixed emotions.
They may have struggled at school and felt they needed to hide their dyslexia from their parents or teachers. Worse, they were sometimes labelled ‘stupid’ and ‘lazy’ or told they weren’t ‘trying hard enough.’
It is crucial for teachers and parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms of dyslexia.
Even after it has been diagnosed, dyslexia can still make reading a daily struggle for people who don’t have the proper coping strategies.
It can undermine confidence, no matter how talented an individual is, and lead to feelings of low self-worth.
Strength finding activities for dyslexic individuals
In addition to teaching strategies, a great way to encourage people with dyslexia is to help them recognize and celebrate their strengths.
- Make a list.
To start with, have the child, teen or adult list out their strengths. This could be verbally or in writing. If they are struggling, talk them through it. Ask them to recall memories in which they felt proud and try to identify the qualities, or actions that underpinned these emotions. Sometimes the hardest part is finding a name to give the strength that helped them achieve success.
- Paint a picture.
Someone who is dyslexic may be a gifted visual thinker, so start with images. Ask them to draw a few sketches that represent moments when they've felt successful. For each image, try to label it with a strength. Having the person explain the image to you gives them a chance to put their thoughts into language so they can find an appropriate way of talking about their strengths.
- Fill out a survey.
A dyslexic student may need some help reading a small-print or text-heavy survey, but going through a list of strengths and choosing the ones that apply can be an excellent way to compensate for a short list. It's easy to miss out on strengths if you've never considered them as skills to begin with!
- Choose a role model.
Look at someone else who is dyslexic, such as a famous celebrity, to see what has helped them achieve success. Discuss any traits or abilities that most stand out and try to identify strengths that are held in common.
- Get specific.
If you find someone has listed very general strengths, such as 'good at sports' try to get them to be more specific. Which aspects of their game make them so good? Is it just their speed and fitness or also their visual reasoning skills and ability to asses the basketball court and expertly judge distances. If they say 'I'm good at talking to people' this could break down into more than one strength such as emotional reasoning, verbal communication skills, and the ability to empathize. Once you flush out a few more strengths, the list will get longer, which is great for self-esteem and confidence building.
- Make connections.
In the same way that some learners list strengths that are general, other dyslexic individuals start off with very specific strengths. Help them see how their skills can cluster together and lead to new talents which they have yet to discover. This is an especially helpful activity for dyslexic individuals who are looking for guidance for future academic and career pursuits.
Next, try some of these confidence building tips!
Coping strategies for dyslexic adults
Many adults, particularly those whose dyslexia was recognized early in life, say that if they had a choice, they would choose to keep their dyslexia because they see the advantages it gives them.
For those whose dyslexia was acknowledged later on, there are plenty of workarounds to reduce the frustrations it causes.
The first and most obvious is using a computer for reading and writing.
Certain fonts and screen settings can make reading easier for dyslexics. Try the accessibility tab on the top right corner of this blog for example. It will show you how you might change the settings of this website to optimize your online reading experience.
When it comes to writing, touch-typing makes it much easier for the dyslexic individual to translate ideas into text. Using a computer opens up access to spell-checkers, but touch-typing also harnesses muscle memory in the fingers to automatize spelling patterns.
The process of learning to type with Touch-type Read and Spell, a program designed specifically for dyslexic learners, additionally aims to strengthen phonological awareness through multi-sensory, whole-word, and phonics driven lessons.
It develops reading fluency as a student learns to type.
Interested in reading more? Have a look at this list of helpful strategies for dyslexics in the workplace.
Do you have any strengths to add? Send us your feedback and join the discussion!