In the opening chapter of Ronald Davis’s book The Gift of Dyslexia he tells of how he was being interviewed:
“… I listed a dozen or so famous dyslexics. The hostess of the show then commented ‘Isn’t it amazaing that all those people could be geniuses in spite of having dyslexia’.
She missed the point. Their genius didn’t occur in spite of their dyslexia, but because of it!”
This is something I both agree and disagree with. In essence I think Ronald Davis is right. Part of what enabled these people to be geniuses is the skills they learnt coping with dyslexia. If you are dyslexic the world is generally a confusing place where you are only picking up a small amount of what is going on around you. To survive in that environment you have to learn coping strategies and one of these strategies is the ability to problem solve. If a dyslexic is told how to do something they may only pick up a fraction of the instructions and in order to do the task on their own they have to work it out for themselves. By the time a dyslexic leaves school they have gained a lifetime of experience in coming up with creative solutions to problems. As all the evidence says that the more you use your brain the smarter you get; as dyslexics are forced by their problem to think harder everyday, they get smarter.
The problem with celebrating this idea that dyslexics are smarter is that it isn’t always true. Some children don’t learn how to problem solve or other coping strategies. These children can end up dysfunctional because the only strategy they learn is that if they misbehave enough the problem will go away. To these children, being told off or sent home from school is far preferable than the feelings of frustration and anger that arise when you struggle to do a simple task that the other children master with ease.
A non-dyslexia related example of how, if you have the right coping strategies, a disability can be a major advantage is a study presented at the 2004 Vision Sciences Society meeting by Margaret Livingstone and Bevil Conway of the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, USA. Their paper, Was Rembrandt Stereoblind? [Abstract, news story from Reuters], looks at at how a vision problem could of helped Rembrandt become a great painter. This does not mean all people with Stereoblindness will become an artist anymore than being dyslexic will turn you into a genius. What it means is that how you cope with a disability and how you take advantage of those coping skills define who you are, not the disability itself.
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