Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in the U.S.; it’s estimated that one in five Americans are affected by it. While 20 years ago educational provisions for the reading disorder were virtually nonexistent, the government now spends around $11 billion annually to help support school children with dyslexia (and other disorders).
Despite this, there’s still a disturbing lack of knowledge about the condition. For example, there are 14,000 online searches for “what is dyslexia” and an additional 18,100 for “dyslexia test” every month in the U.S. While organizations like the Michigan Dyslexia Institute (MDI) aim to improve national awareness, unfortunately for people with dyslexia, this lack of knowledge means they still have to deal with offensive perceptions from colleagues and peers on a daily basis.
To get some insight into what it’s like to live with the disorder, we turned to Reddit’s dyslexia forum and asked dyslexic users to share some of the comments and questions they commonly hear. See their responses below in our specially created dyslexia simulation GIFs including comments from Susan Medendorp, a dyslexia therapist at the MDI who works exclusively with dyslexic children in schools around Michigan.
Aside from the symptoms, the stigma around dyslexia means many people with the condition have to deal with offensive stereotypes on a regular basis. One of the most common comments that cropped up from our research was, “But you seem so intelligent.” Susan Medendorp agrees that “probably the most harmful misconception is that a person with dyslexia has low intelligence.”
In reality, the opposite can often be true, as Susan elaborates, “Dyslexics are often very gifted, very intelligent individuals. Many books and articles have been written about successful dyslexics who have lived very productive lives despite their dyslexia (some would even argue because of it!).” From Steven Spielberg to Richard Branson, there are countless examples of hugely successful people with the condition, especially in the creative industries.
While there are obvious obstacles in learning development for people with the condition, dyslexia is no reflection of IQ or intelligence. And, the difficulties it does pose, can be, and often are, overcome. “A person with dyslexia will always struggle with reading when compared to non-dyslexic peers”, says Susan, “but they can learn to use strategies that help them function well and be successful members of society. They can learn to read, and they can even learn to enjoy reading.”
Dyslexia in the workplace
Today, schools and support organizations do more than ever to ensure dyslexic children are supported from an early age. But Susan believes they can always do more. “Teachers can have a tremendous impact by helping these students be successful in reading by allowing them to ‘read’ audiobooks and ‘write’ reports through other media, such as making a video or 3-D project.” Tactics like these can help guarantee that by the time they’re adults and entering the workforce, they’ve already developed coping mechanisms to overcome typical obstacles.
Despite perceptions, there are many advantages to the condition as well, as Susan puts it, “The dyslexic mind processes information differently, and while this can make reading difficult, it can also make some thought processes much easier. For example, they approach problems differently and can often see the big picture differently from non-dyslexics.”
Susan goes on to explain some of the difficulties the condition can cause though. “A person with dyslexia can often face frustration at work if they are expected to fit into a mold rather than being allowed to use their creativity to approach problems and find solutions. For many, their inability to master the written word keeps them in jobs that fail to allow them to flourish.”
So, what can employers do? “Recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of a person with dyslexia” is vital, says Susan, “and can go a long way toward feelings of support. Employers who listen and attempt to find projects and tasks that align with the strengths of a person can help them flourish in the workplace.”
A complex condition
While difficulty with reading is a major symptom of the disorder, Susan stresses there’s a lot more to it. “Dyslexia is a reading disorder that goes well beyond writing letters backward or flipping words in a sentence. These can be symptoms, but the condition itself is much more complex.”
It can, for example, affect other things, such as memory. While someone with dyslexia may have trouble remembering sequences and numbers, they often have a fantastic long-term memory for experiences and faces.
Dyslexia manifests itself in different ways from person to person, which is part of the reason why so many people still do not understand it. Tera Tuten from ProCare Therapy explains the importance of education, “Working with school nurses and therapists every day, we see how important it is to teach staff about the intricacies of conditions like dyslexia. A comprehensive education strategy from workplaces, but also just a little common sense and compassion will ensure that those with dyslexia don’t have to deal with misinformed stereotypes, and their colleagues, friends, and family get a better insight into what it’s like to live with it.”