Dyslexia and Creativity
By Dr. John Russell
Dr. John Russell
The renowned scientist Dr. Norman Geschwind (1982) posited that dyslexia’s advantages may outweigh its disadvantages, stating, “One of the most important lessons to be learned from the genetic study of many diseases in recent years has been that the paradoxically high frequency of certain conditions is explained by the fact that the important advantages conferred on those who carry the predisposition to these conditions may outweigh the obvious dramatic disadvantages.” Does the high frequency of dyslexia (at least 10 percent of the population is dyslexic) mean that there must be advantages associated with it?
In their trailblazing book, The Dyslexic Advantage (2012), Brock and Fernette Eide maintain that individuals with dyslexia share a unique learning difference that can create advantages in the classroom, on the job, or at home. They argue that “cutting-edge research” shows that dyslexics perceive the written word differently but also excel at spatial reasoning and interconnected thinking and often display amazing creativity. Following this same line of thinking Sir Richard Branson wrote in The Sunday Times (April 3, 2017), “We should see young people with dyslexia as being full of potential, not as having a disadvantage.” He went on to say, “Out in the real world, my dyslexia became my massive advantage: It helped me to think creatively and laterally, and see solutions where others saw problems.”?In May of 2017, Sir Richard launched a charity, Made by Dyslexia, to help diagnose dyslexics and change the perception of dyslexia. Both are praiseworthy goals, and the research base supporting these goals is increasing. For example, there is a large body of research confirming that dyslexics have the same range of cognitive abilities as non-dyslexics (Shaywitz, 2000), and the research supporting the proposition that dyslexia conveys with it certain gifts continues to emerge (Hoeft, 2016).
Annie Murphy Paul published an opinion piece in the New York Times (February 4, 2012) entitled The Upside of Dyslexia. In it, she posits that in recent years dyslexia research has begun to focus on identifying the ways in which people with dyslexia have skills that are superior to those of typical readers. According to Paul, the latest findings (circa 2012) on dyslexia are leading to the realization that dyslexia is not just an impediment, but also an advantage, especially in certain artistic and scientific fields.
While some evidence suggests that there is a positive association between dyslexia and creativity, some research suggests that such associations emerge in adulthood rather than in childhood and possibly as the result of adverse life experiences rather than as a direct causal result of dyslexia itself. Malcolm Gladwell, in David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013) more optimistically (and rather cavalierly as evidenced by the life-shattering experiences of many un-remediated dyslexics) called these problematic life experiences “desirable difficulties” in that they cause many dyslexics to develop strategies to overcome the challenges presented by their dyslexia. There is, however, an abundance of anecdotal evidence suggesting a causal link between dyslexia and creativity. In Dyslexia: Profiles of Success (2016), Sally Shaywitz states, “We enthusiastically invite you to meet a group of dyslexics…who are inspiring and give truth to the fact that in case of dyslexia, slow readers can be, and indeed are, fast and creative thinkers.”
Additional research will be required to definitively determine if the creativity that dyslexics display is caused by their dyslexia or is a response to it. What is not in question are the disadvantages that dyslexics must overcome and the creativity, persistence and resilience that dyslexics so consistently display. #