Try pointing out to a dyslexic young person who, after two hours spent learning some spellings has just got two correct out of 20, that there are benefits that accrue from being dyslexic, and you may well find yourself treated with a certain level of scorn.

And yet it is a fact that many – perhaps most – people who are dyslexic do see the world in a different way from the majority, and that “different way” can often bring with it a range of benefits.

The problem is, however, that these benefits can vary from person to person and so are not always easy to spot – especially when trying to help a child learn the set spellings of the week for a test at school.

But they are worth looking for, because if you can spot one of these benefit attributes in a child you are working with, and you can help the child appreciate this benefit too, then you can be doing a lot for the child’s wellbeing.

Likewise adults often report having “felt stupid” throughout much of their adult life by not being able to spell, and have perhaps taken years and years to realise that certain things they can do particularly well have arisen as part of the way their brains work.  Yes they have great problems with spelling, but they find other subject areas much easier than most.

Seeing the details, seeing the whole

We all of us need to be to able to move between seeing individual items and a whole, complex picture.

But as our world has become more and more complex so it seems we have started to focus more and more on individual issues, often forgetting that there can be a bigger picture out there and that understanding that bigger picture can also be of great help. 

In part this is due to the fact that those of us without dyslexia do see details more readily than those with dyslexia – and the dyslexics are in the minority – but we are increasingly realising that they are a very valuable minority, with a key part to play in our society’s future.

For it turns out that many dyslexics are excellent at grasping the overall picture very quickly.  The comment, “Yes you are solving this, but that is creating a bigger issue here…” is a typical reply from a dyslexic person in a problem-solving scenario.  And unfortunately it can often be put down with the response, “We’ll deal with that later – let’s focus on the problem at hand for now.”

To overcome this, many organisations now try to bring into their problem-solving teams people who seem to have the ability to spot potential the unintended consequences of actions, and it is only recently that it has been realised that a higher percentage of such people than might be expected from the population at large, are also dyslexic.

We can also now see that increasingly society and technology are so complex that most consequences of change are often unintended, and people with very particular attributes are needed to spot these consequences before they make things far, far, worse.

What’s more, linked to this ability to spot unintended consequences is the ability to spot something that is out of place. 

Part of this ability to see things that are out of place and to spot unintended consequences before they get out of hand, is the issue of pattern recognition, and here again dyslexics seem, on occasion, to be able to see patterns which others (even when aided by computers) find harder to spot.

The problem with pattern recognition is that of removing the background noise that obscures the pattern – and this is as true in studying the night sky as it is in studying the pattern of crimes in a city.

It is also a fact that many people with dyslexia are particularly adept at thinking in three dimensions, whereas many people find it easiest to imagine objects and situations in two dimensions.

Aligned with this, dyslexic people do often think in pictures rather than words – which is perhaps not so surprising given that spelling, the very essence of written words, is what dyslexic people particularly struggle with.

This combination of attributes is thought by many writers to explain why so many creative people are also dyslexic – it is simply that their approach to thinking has taken on another direction which leads to different conclusions.  They are not so much thinking outside the box, but utilising a totally different box when they think.

As such, time spent getting to understand the way a dyslexic person perceives the world is rarely wasted, and can have huge benefits for that individual both at school and thereafter.