What if dyslexia was thought of as a strength or advantage and not as a disability?
In fact, that dyslexia is a strength is exactly what some researchers are finding. According to “The Upside of Dyslexia,” a New York Times article written by Annie Murphy Paul, researchers have determined that many dyslexics possess skills that are “superior to those of typical readers.” Today’s research is leading people to look at dyslexia in a different way, “not just as an impediment, but as an advantage, especially in certain artistic and scientific fields.”
The Times article reported on one set of experiments in which Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers Gaid Geiger and Jerome Lettvin found that people with dyslexia possess sharper peripheral vision than typical readers. These findings have been replicated by later studies and suggest that the brain processes information from either the central or the peripheral visual field. If you are very good at processing information from the center, you may be a good reader, but you are not as skilled at recognizing information at the periphery. In other words, dyslexics can take in a scene as a whole, something researchers call the “visual gist.”
But what are the implications for the dyslexic in terms of career choices? Folks with dyslexia are found in every profession, from medicine to law to science. However, it has been noted that there are high concentrations of dyslexics in fields like art and design. According to the New York Times article, the Laboratory for Visual Learning (located in the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) is looking at the advantages dyslexics possess in “visually intensive branches of science.” Matthew Schneps, director of the lab, says that “scientists in his line of work must make sense of enormous quantities of visual data and accurately detect patterns that signal the presence of entities such as black holes.” Schneps has done a second study in which dyslexics were able to make use of the information in photographic images while typical readers were not.
Dyslexia is typically referred to as a learning disability, but experiments such as these suggest that “in some situations . . . those with dyslexia are actually the superior learners.” Of course the struggle of dyslexics to read, write, and spell is significant, but it is important to understand the special aptitudes they possess in order to build on their strengths.