How "workarounds" cause people with dyslexia to be more creative

"Mounting evidence shows that many people with dyslexia are highly creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, and neuroimaging studies demonstrate that their brains really do think differently." An interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal on adaptive responses to a "neurodifference" that affects as many as one in five Americans.


  1. I’d imagine the brain, being free from the organisation imprinted upon it by having to learn large sets of associations between scratchy marks on flat surfaces and sounds in the world – as well as those between sounds in the world and mental constructs in the head – has a fair few degrees of freedom left to roam around with.

  2. One in five? Huh. I’ve always had a problem transposing numbers, and writing 5 for 2 and vice versa. But this is only an issue when copying digits, never writing them from memory. I also confuse orange for yellow, though it is never as if I think I’m seeing orange instead of yellow, only that the word association seems to short circuit sometimes. It’s like my brain considers yellow a special case of orange, but stops searching at the first bucket. Is that dyslexia? I never had an issue reading.

  3. ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, Aspergers Syndrome, mild autism, childhood PTSD….

    What AREN’T we suffering from?  Oh… a surplus of a society that genuinely cares about the youth of this country.

  4. I’ve never really understood surprise when different people have different brain functions. Of course people with dyslexia have minds that work a little bit differently, because they show the symptoms we call dyslexia. Was that not supposed to come from the brain?

    By the way, I couldn’t actually tell – creative in what way? Is this article saying dyslexia gives you some inherent advantages, that learning to overcome it is good creativity training, or just that people with dyslexia are as capable as anyone else and people should stop thinking of them as handicapped?

    (That last really ought to be a given, but I understand it isn’t taken that way.)

    Reading is just one way of communicating—and in the future, I think it won’t be as important as in the past.

    Yeah, maybe not. There’s already a lot of things only being presented through video that could just as easily be text. I’m glad some people benefit from it, but as a good reader it usually frustrates me how much slower it is, and I wonder how deaf people make out with it.

  5. I have dyslexia and its mathematical cousin dyscalculia. I became a college instructor in part because I wanted to be able to help students who have similar issues do well in alternate learning formats. I also tutor middle school and high school students in a variety of subjects, including math. 

    So far, I’ve found four students in the last year with undiagnosed dyscalculia or disgraphia. I recognized the mistakes, or problems, they were having, and began showing them how I get around such issues in my head when doing math or writing or what have you. Three of those students have since received an official diagnosis, and I’ve become a bit of the alternate neurology whisperer around my tutoring center. Students who are suspected are given to me, and I can generally tell within one two hour session if dyscalculia, dyslexia, or other LDs of that type are involved in their issues. 

    1. I wanted just to say, thank you!!! Dyscalculia is still incredibly unknown.

      I grew up thinking I was just lazy and miscopied a lot of my math work. I learned (and still do) to calculate everything until I got two or three times the same number, and then go with that one. But never ever did I even think that it was anything else than me just not copying it properly (well, true)… until I in college used a Usenet reader where you had to write the number of the post you wanted to read, and I constantly got the wrong posting where the last two numbers were switched. Slowly it dawned on me that I wasn’t copying wrong, I was reading the numbers wrong! Oh… all those wrong math test answers through the years!!!

  6. True story: dyslexia is why I cannot spell worth a darn. AND it’s also why I have a larger than average vocabulary. See, back in the day, when we docked points for misspelled words on writing assignments (like in class essays), you were motivated to be orthographically correct. Occasionally, I’d go to write a word and the spelling would just not be there. (I couldn’t spell “stop” once). So, to compensate, I learned a lot of alternative words that could be deployed in those situations.  

    1. When I was in middle school, our German ability was based on weekly vocabulary tests. My teacher would then rank us according to our scores, with the good students on one side of the classroom, average students in the middle and poor students at the end. For a while I was the only student in the “poor” section (gotta love those teaching methods, right?). When I wanted to study languages in high school, I was told that I should choose something easier, and ended up taking more science-based subjects. After leaving school I returned to language learning and eventually took a degree in Spanish, with German, Chinese and Catalan as for-credit modules. I passed and now translate German and Spanish to English, which includes some work for the EC. I’m sure my dyslexia is very mild compared with some, but focusing on your strengths (such as memory, oral comprehension etc.), looking at language learning as a problem solving activity and the use of different online tools made a huge difference in my case.

      One of the things I’ve found (which is connected with my ADHD) is that my ability will vary a lot depending on my mental state. If I’m tired or stressed out I’ll usually avoid language learning and translation, as I’m unlikely to remember anything and the quality of my work will go down significantly. I’m really not sure how other dyslexic people approach language learning, but I do know that I’m not the only one of my friends who is dyslexic and has learned foreign languages to a fairly advanced level.

  7. In the case of my dyslexic child, it seems that her exceptional memory is her workaround. Even when she was too young to learn to read, she had memorized most of the books I read to her and could recite them by heart. When she started school, her teachers noticed that she struggled to read unfamiliar text, but after she had read the same text a few times she could read it much more fluently. Of course, what she was doing wasn’t reading, it was reciting. She could have “read” the text with her eyes closed.

  8. Let’s not forget Tourette’s Syndrome. A slew of studies now show TS brains to have greater plasticity, children with TS exhibit better internal monitoring (basically, self-control – if it sounds counter-intuitive, think it through). I have TS, and I’ve always connected that aspect of my self with my “extra capacity” for creative thinking. The key may be metacognition – people who grow up with these things have to think about how they think. The medical model of psychology wants to render such variations either good or bad, but it’s often more nuanced – all these conditions have their drawbacks, and are not super-powers – anyone who has lived with them knows they can be intrusive and limiting. But many have distinct, objective advantages as well. 

  9. a friend of mine who is more than a little dyslexic told me once that he loved watching subbed movies on tv. 

    i looked at him in disbelief, only to be told that in german, it would be better to read the second line of subtitles first. “there is more meaning in the second one than in the first” he told me. “if it stays on the screen long enough, you can read the first line, too. but mostly, you won’t need it to understand the dialogue”. 

    his observation really made me think about my concept of his abilities.

  10. Well this is a well Duh moment.
    I do things in ways that don’t make sense to the people around me, yet often work better than how they suggest I do it.  It might take me a little longer or be a bit messier but often I accomplish more doing it the way my brain wants me to do it.

  11. I have one son with dyslexia.  He is very bright, extremely fast, and funny as all hell.  He has charisma flowing from him like the Mississippi river.  His teachers shuffled him off to the school for poor learners.

    I’ve gotten him to search for things on youtube, and he learns all kinds of stuff quickly on the “Youniversity of Tube”.

    Worth a try if your kids have this problem.

    Teachers tend to not be very good at detecting kids with problems, instead just attributing it to stupidity.

    My 2nd grade teacher told my parents I was retarded (1950’s).  When she’d ask for the answer to a question on the blackboard, I’d just stare at her.  Turns out I needed glasses.  I was so nearsighted that I couldn’t see that she had written anything on the board, and thought she was just messing with me.

    When I came back to school with my new glasses, she introduced me as a “new student”, and more or less lead the class in making fun of “four eyes”.  It made for a very long year, and I still hate that bitch.  Not that you’d notice….

  12. I’ve always been glad to be dyslexic, but I wouldn’t say I was creative in the original sense of the word.  If I’m give a blank sheet of paper and asked to come up with something I’m stuck.
    However, if I’ve given something that already exists, and I’m asked to edit/remix/fix/alter it then I’m in my element.
    Mind you, I somehow learnt to read faster than other kids my age, so the only downsides to dyslexia for me are spelling and handwriting, neither of which is an issue on a computer.

    *edit as I then manage to mis-spell ‘and’ DOH!

  13. It’s always interesting how these things affect people in different ways.

    Personally, i have little problem spelling/typing, but strings of numbers trip me up frequently. Anything longer than 5 digits and i’ll need to write it down in sections as it all jumbles in my head.

    Luckily i also seem to have the ability to notice if something dyslexic has happened in my head 95% of the time.
    so the only real noticeable effects of it that other people have noticed is my complete inability to do mental arithmetic involving long numbers or remember telephone numbers :)

    1. Look into dyscalculia:
      It’s a lot like dyslexia, but with numbers and number concepts.

      Edit: Heh, reading the symptom list in the Wikipedia article above (a lot of yes, some no, for me) I come to “Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. May substitute names beginning with same letter.” Oh, yes, this is so me (but I’m really good at recognizing people’s voices!), but I sometimes do the substitution thing with just any words, blurting out the wrong word but it starts with the same letter as the word I was actually going for. Apparently I order words in my head as a hashed list with the first letter as the hash key. :)

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