Is dyslexia really a gift?

Is dyslexia really a gift?
Peggy Hendrix, Director of Admissions

I have had the pleasure of working with dyslexic students for two decades, and I continue to marvel at how extraordinary they are. They are proficient problem-solvers, out of the box thinkers, creative, often “think in 3D,” have tremendous verbal skills (the proverbial “gift of gab”), are compassionate with high levels of emotional intelligence, can see patterns that others fail to observe, make connections that exhibit great skill in higher order thinking, and have grit and determination to excel despite the obstacles in their paths. I have seen my students go on to college and graduate school, often performing at exemplary levels and winning awards for high academic achievement.

So dyslexia is a gift, right? Easy for me to say since I’m not dyslexic myself. I basically taught myself how to read at age four, spelled easily, wrote beautifully, loved school, and excelled academically, admittedly with very little effort. Standardized test days were among my favorites, because I was eager for the opportunity to demonstrate just how far above grade level I was this time.

But a very good friend of mine who happens to be dyslexic herself helped me see that dyslexics may not view dyslexia as a gift. She certainly possesses all of the strengths that often accompany dyslexia. She is extremely bright, with a steel trap mind that assesses situations and arrives at solutions before most of us have even recognized the problem. She is generous in spirit and has a keen understanding of human interaction. Her ability to do mental math astounds me, and she is quick and accurate in her calculations.

She is tremendously gifted, but she struggled in school. Her memories of standardized testing and long novel assignments are not the same as mine. She very much remembers the pain of being different from traditional learners. School was hard. Yet she had the grit and determination to succeed and overcome.  

If your dyslexic child bristles when he or she hears dyslexia described as a gift, try to understand. As parents, we often want to ease our children’s pain and paint rosy pictures of their futures. Their futures can indeed be rosy, but it is important to know that school probably will be hard for them. Remember to support them when they are struggling, and realize that they really are trying to do their best. Understand when they complete their work more slowly and give them the tools they need to be successful, such as audio books when they are required to read Walden or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

There are many wonderful gifts that accompany dyslexia, but those gifts are not usually related to school tasks such as reading, spelling, and writing. Looking at your child’s dyslexia realistically and proactively and understanding the pitfalls as well as the benefits, may be the greatest gifts you can give them. Be in their corner for the setbacks as well as the celebrations.