Dyslexia and Spatial Awareness

Dyslexics think spatially

One of the most interesting observations we often make when assessing Dyslexics is their exceptional ability to be spatially aware. Right-brained and Dyslexic individuals think primarily in images , not words and some Dyslexics find thinking in words almost impossible. This ability to think in images can make a right-brained person very strong spatially.

People who are more left-brain dominant tend to be focused on what is in front of them at that moment but a right-brain person can be aware of the whole room, outside the room, outside the building, the city, etc. at any given moment. This is one of the reasons right-brain people lose focus, go off on tangents and sometimes have difficulty following conversations.

Let’s try a visualization exercise.  Hold a coffee cup up and try to imagine looking in the cup from above like you were floating on the ceiling looking down into the cup.  Then  visualize seeing it while lying on the ground looking up at the bottom of it. Lastly  from the opposite side you are holding the cup. When we do this exercise with someone who is more left brain dominant in their thinking style they will look at us like we are crazy and say I don’t know what you mean and “no, I can’t do that. What are you talking about?” If we ask the same question of a right-brained dominant or Dyslexic person they will answer, “Of course, can’t everybody?”

We had one child that we assessed who in another exercise, could not only visualize walking up to her bedroom and describing her room while sitting in the kitchen, she pointed to the ceiling in the kitchen and told us approximately where her room was located. She had been very curious about this and had her dad help her determine where it was.

Another fun one with children is having them imagine they have shrunk to a very small size and crawled through the ear of an elephant, behind it’s eyes and down its trunk and as they are imaging it we ask them to describe their travels and what they see moving through the elephant’s head. “Righties” find this fun and can get very detailed in their description of their route. “Lefties” are often confused and don’t have any idea how to do this.

Correctly knowing their right from their left is another Dyslexic issue. One way for us to test a person in an assessment for this directionality problem is to ask them to point to our right hand with their left hand while they are sitting across from us with both of us having our hands on the table. If they point straight to it correctly without hesitating they have either mastered this skill or they might be more left-brained dominant. Otherwise we can watch their eyes and see them imagine standing up, walking around behind us and then determining the correct hand. They do this because they can be mentally everywhere in the room at the same time and consequently can get confused with verbal information, orders, tasks, directions or instructions. This is one reason it can be very difficult for some Dyslexics to follow instructions going somewhere or use a map because they can have serious directionality problems.

Other Dyslexics can have incredible visual memories finding their way by mentally seeing where they are going in their minds. And at the same time they still may have difficulty with left and right. My daughter, Gen is very Dyslexic, has difficulty with left and right but she also has one of the most amazing visual memories I have ever observed.  We got a puppy when Gen was two from a part of a town we had never been to before.  We didn’t return to this area until  she was six when we were visiting another house in this area. Gen started to comment on the route and what was coming up and then pointed to the house we bought the puppy at. We were astounded. She was two and in a child safety seat.

We have a family business that requires appointments at people’s houses.  Gen works in our business and we would often go to these meetings together. Some of the routes to these houses were very complicated requiring many turns onto other streets. Gen would drive and I would tell her the directions from the map we brought. When we would leave the appointment Gen never missed or hesitated making turns on the trip back to main roads.  I asked her once how she did it and she said it was like a movie in her head and she would play it backwards.

We know one “left-brained” supervisor who ran a survey crew having tremendous difficulty working with one member of his crew. When this employee was holding the survey pole he would be asked to move “3 cents to the left”. The word “cents” which was short for “centimetres” confused the employee because in his mind it could mean coins, the word “sense”, “scents”, etc. Secondly, the word “left” – did his supervisor mean his left or the supervisor’s left?  We suggested he might be Dyslexic. We  were told later that it turns out he was Dyslexic.

Dyslexic children will get confused in the classroom not fully understanding instructions or explanations by their teacher and either not be able to do their school work properly or to do it all. They can be delayed learning to tie their shoelaces, be uncertain about left and right, physically uncoordinated, clumsy or accident prone.

The benefit of being spatial and thinking about everything three dimensionally is the wonderful ability to see everything in one’s mind from many different directions. This becomes an amazing tool for problem solving, thinking outside the box and inventive ideas. There are many professions that can be a good fit for Dyslexics with this special kind of processing: construction, architects, engineers, athletes, scientists, mathematicians, inventors, interior or exterior design, teaching, marketing and sales, culinary arts, woodworking, carpentry, performing arts, computers, electronics, mechanics, graphic arts and photography.

So we Dyslexics that get lost all the time, have a tendency to knock things over, turn right instead of left ending up in the wrong place and get instructions wrong embarrassingly too often should not despair. The advantages of being spatial can substantially outweigh the disadvantages. Famous people such as Thomas Edison, Magic Johnson, Walt Disney, Einstein, Churchill, Wayne Gretzky, Richard Branson and Bill Gates would probably agree.

Karey Hope
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

21 thoughts on “Dyslexia and Spatial Awareness

  1. I was never aware of spatial dyslexia as a disability or disadvantage, I knew It was very hard for me to read maps, I was the one dropping and hitting everything with my hands, getting lost and going the wrong way when everyone else will go the right way, I will be the one breaking all the glasses at home. It took me almost 2 months driving every day from home to work 5 days a week to remember the route to drive without GPS.
    At the gym is hard for me to understand the pictures on the machine that shows how to use it (when are drawings from the top view). My brain is special and because I didn’t know it is a limitation, I never limited my self to do anything I just created my own strategies to compensate my disadvantage and become stronger and normal, I would say I work harder than anyone else but I finally get the same outcome as anyone else, it just takes me more time. Saying that I am also numerical dyslexic, so I need to review everything 3 or 4 times because I work with numbers, no one knows or have complained about it because I make sure I review what I do and I am very careful. I am just this way and I learned how to live with my special brain.

    I have other skills that compensate that part of me, like social skills, organization, order, thinking strategically, good at teaching or transmitting information, focus in results and persistency all has helped me to over come a hell of a funny life.

  2. I agree, my dyslexia has messed with my life big time ..but it hasn’t killed me. Im pretty determined & im pretty stubborn as a result of dyslexia / failing everything. Some people whi dont have spld would probably quit if they failed something three or four times. I would propably try 8 to 10 times before i quit . So i’d try twice as hard & im probably twice as determined re, alot of stuff. There probably is no end to how hard i would try. Its indefinite & i should admire that.

    Your right, there is something positive.


    • I’m glad to see you look at it as positively as possible. When I think of all the issues I have personally experienced with Dyslexia I realize it’s been difficult but it has also made me very stubborn and determined. This has helped with many aspects of my life including not giving up on my 3 children who are all Dyslexic.

  3. True story! When I was a child I always flunk multiple choice test confusing the (b,d) and sometimes (p,q) I could never tell straight away LEFT to RIGHT, my biggest problem. I’m in my mid 30’s and still can’t tell Left from Right and have to stop and think when writing a word that has b/d. Driving to new places puts a lot of stress on me since I am always getting LOST and people find it weird. I do have a very UNIQUE SPATIAL ABILITY. I remember in images and solve by everything visually in 3rd person. I am also very talented in sculpture, painting and building things without even measuring them. So It’s not all bad😉

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