Dyslexia is a Learning Difference, not a Learning Disability

In our Dyslexia Awareness workshops we talk extensively about how we look at Dyslexia as a learning difference or style, not a learning disability.  However for the last twenty-five years “Dyslexia” has been used incorrectly as a common term for a wide range of learning disabilities.  I heard one teacher refer to it as an “umbrella” for any type of reading, spelling or writing problem.  If a person can’t learn to spell or read they must be dyslexic.

Another common perception of Dyslexia that irks us is the medical opinion that Dyslexics are broken.  Their brains are wired wrong.  Without this particular wiring we would not have Einstein, Churchill, Leonardo Da Vinci, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, many of the actors in Hollywood, Edison, Jackie Stewart and Jay Leno to name a few. Their “faulty” wiring was part of why they became who they are.

Albert Einstein

Churchill - dyslexic

Leonardo DaVinci - dyslexic

Bill Gates - dyslexic

Richard Branson - famous Dyslexic

Edison - famous Dyslexic

Jackie Stewart - famous Dyslexic

Jay Leno - famous Dyslexic

So when we talk about a different learning style what do we mean?  Let me explain by asking a question.  Do you have a particular innate talent such as being an artist (painter, sculptor, writer, poet, etc.), musician, exceptional athlete, gifted mathematician or scientist, intuitive mechanic that can always figure out what’s wrong, star race car driver, a comedian or maybe a natural orator?

But if you do not consider yourself an artist for example and can’t draw anything more detailed than a stick figure because your brain does not provide you with the ability to draw does that make you broken?  If the highest level of math you ever managed was fractions and percentages, forget algebra, geometry or trigonometry, are you wired wrong?

If you are not proficient with these types of abilities no one realizes or cares.  No one points at you and says you have no ear for music and your singing is like listening to a cat screeching (unless you feel the need to demonstrate to everyone that you can’t sing). But if you are Dyslexic everyone notices that spelling is really difficult for you and that you can barely read or write.  You ask a lot of questions all the time before you get on with a task.  You can’t tell time or read a clock so you have difficulty with arriving somewhere on time.  You misunderstand questions unless they are really specific because you think about everything from many different directions and levels.  You have difficulty communicating because you think in images, not words and sometimes can’t find your words when you are talking so you stumble or say the wrong thing.  People might think you are stupid, lazy or annoying. These issues are hard to hide.  However nobody notices that you are not a gifted race car driver unless you are in a race.

Spelling, reading, writing and number systems were created about 3000 to 5000 years ago (depending on the authority quoted) and learning and working with them are not natural abilities we are born with like talking.  Children are trained to spell and read from a young age by using parts of the brain that have made new connections with each other to accomplish these cognitive tasks.  In Dyslexics these connections are not made the same way as they are in left-brained people who read and spell easily and well.  A Dyslexic brain processes information differently with other areas of the brain and does not respond well to left-brain teaching methods. This can result in problems with spelling, reading, identifying and understanding numbers and other tasks that are related to them.  So if reading,  spelling and numbers are not naturally hardwired into our brains why do we say a Dyslexic brain is broken if it has difficulty performing these skills?

With more and more new information coming from medical and scientific research maybe Dyslexia will finally come to be considered what we believe it is – a learning difference.  Then teaching skills for spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic can be taught in a way a Dyslexic does understand rather than forcing us to use methods appropriate for a left-brained person.

Karey Hope
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

Karey Hope - Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

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32 thoughts on “Dyslexia is a Learning Difference, not a Learning Disability

  1. At last…a dyslexia organisation who knows what they are talking about!! I have been a practitioner in this field for many years and from the exact same school of thought. Why do we continue to allow the uninformed charlatans (many dyslexia organisations) to pedal their rhetoric and misinform the public?

  2. Actually I do understand what if feels to be Dyslexic. My 3 grown children are Dyslexic, my ex-husband is severely, my sister, brother, father, many others in my family on both sides and myself. Life was hell trying to get my 3 children through the school system successfully. I was often treated like an idiot and pain in the neck by the teachers and school administration.

    When I found out I was Dyslexic even though I did well in school through a lot of extra effort my life started to make sense. I am still embarrassed when I do workshops on Dyslexia because I lose my train of thought easily and the typical Dyslexia issue of not finding my words.I will tell the attendees they are going to witness Dyslexia in action. I ask them to help me with words I can’t remember and to get me back on track when I lose my thought.

    I sometimes thought maybe I had dementia because of my mental confusion.

    But despite the problems and antiquated school system, I believe change is happening. I also take responsibility for my attitude toward the insanity. I have to stay positive. Without that conviction I wouldn’t have been able to advocate for my children and relentlessly fight for them. I had a school psychologist who was giving my daughter a battery of psycho-educational tests tell me my daughter was pretty and outgoing. She only needed to marry a rich husband. She didn’t need to read, spell or do basic arithmetic!! I wanted to my hands around her neck. This was typical of the hell we went through as a family.

    All the parents and adults I work with also have horror stories. But I had to believe I could make a difference. I will not let those in the school system make me despair. I will fight on for understanding. My workshops are helping to wake up teachers one at a time which gives me hope.

  3. Pingback: Research: dyslexia | The Animation Blog

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