Simple changes can make a world of difference in living with dyslexia. Often this means adjusting the approach and doing things in ways that suit the dyslexic style of thinking better. More on this is detailed below.
Firstly, however, it is useful to look at the bigger picture for dyslexia action. We see New Zealand at a crossroads, with a choice as to whether to proceed with a disability mentality that regards dyslexia as part of a problem, or embrace a solutions perspective which sees dyslexia as key creative driver.
As a problem, incorrectly addressed dyslexia can lead to disruptive classroom behaviour, alienation, anti-social behaviour, truancy, depression, suicide, drug use and crime. Overseas, a wealth of government-funded and private research has proven a high correlation between learning difficulties and behaviour problems, often culminating in crime. British, American and Swedish studies all estimate that 30-50% of prisoners are dyslexic and there is no reason to think that the New Zealand incidence would be any different.
In fact, Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft has identified a ‘route to offending’ which starts with learning difficulties. In June 2009, Judge Becroft said he was “seriously concerned as to the number of young offenders who have slipped through the ‘educational net’ because of undiagnosed learning disabilities, especially dyslexia. Overseas a pathway to eventual offending, originating from undiagnosed and unaddressed dyslexia is well-known”.
His views are in line with those of international dyslexia expert Neil Mackay, who warns many New Zealand schools unwittingly help to ‘create criminals’, starting with putting too much emphasis on reading at the expense of thinking and other core skills. You can read more about these issues in our 4D Edge webspace.
As a solution, properly addressed dyslexia can fuel highly creative thinking and produce the kind of innovation and entrepreneurship needed in an increasingly ICT led world in challenging economic times. Recognising and harnessing the talents and creative strengths of dyslexics thus has the potential to deliver powerful social and economic impacts.
Dyslexia offers the ability to perceive the world from many different perspectives, allowing visual-spatial thinking and special talents and skills to flourish in fields such as the arts, design, leadership, entrepreneurship, engineering, sciences, business and technology. UK research shows that 35% of US entrepreneurs and 20% of UK entrepreneurs are dyslexic – with Sir Richard Branson a famous example.
Entrepreneurs create jobs and wealth, both of which are important to drive economies forward. Dyslexia individuals also contribute to business growth and productivity through thinking outside the square, and enlightened employers around that world are now specifically recruiting dyslexics for the creativity and alternative thinking they bring.
US researcher Tom West, a world-renowned pioneer in the field of dyslexia and business, believes that it is time to learn from the distinctive strengths of dyslexics. He also predicts that computer visualisation technology will radically change the way we all work and think. For thousands of years, writing and reading has tended to promote the dominance of the left hemisphere of the brain, with its linear processing of words and numbers. Graphical computer technologies now permit a return to our visual roots with a balance between the hemispheres and their respective ways of thinking – presenting new opportunities for problem solving and big-picture thinking.
You can read more on Tom West’s research at our 4D Edge webspace .Famous dyslexics who have unlocked their potential include historical figures as diverse as Leonardo Da Vinci, Agatha Christie and John Lennon, and international celebrities such as actors Tom Cruise, Robin Williams, Keira Knightly, Whoopi Goldberg, entrepreneur Richard Branson, supermodel Jerry Hall and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
It’s hard to imagine New Zealand without the achievements of dyslexic innovators like Weta Workshop founder Richard Taylor; late maverick motorcycle designer John Britten; boxing coach and motivational speaker Billy Graham; ‘Mad Butcher’ Peter Leitch, book publisher Geoff Blackwell, tenor and motivational speaker Geoff Knight; hair designer Mike Hamel, NZ Body Art Awards creator Mem Bourke, life coach and TV presenter Sian Jaquet or Davis Dyslexia programme facilitator and former international model Kirsteen Britten, Our Inspiring New Zealanders page has more information on the achievements of these and other dyslexic individuals.