Dyslexia is often seen as an illness; a nuisance at the very least which, when resolved or healed, will make us like normal people.
In the ignorance of my early years, I too saw it as something to be eliminated. Now, after a life of living and working with dyslexics, I take a radically different view. I have come to see it as a deeply entrenched part of someone’s identity, to be embraced in all its uniqueness.
With the wisdom of a nine-year-old, my son was the first to help me open my eyes when, after a successful reading programme, he expressed a niggling concern that he had been left with: “What if I stop being dyslexic”, he said, “I’ll stop being me.”
Seeing the world through creative eyes
And so it was, that I began to see that it was precisely because of his dyslexia that he was the creative and authentic person who had so much to give to the world.
Dyslexic people do not think in words. They do not filter their experience of life through language, but rather through images and feelings in the first place. This holistic process is not steered or predetermined by the linear or sequential constraints of language.
Noticing more than others or seeing things differently than others makes dyslexics unusual, unexpected, off-the-wall at times and always creative.
Their creativity makes them into talented actors, artists, dancers, musicians and so on. They have a remarkable spatial awareness and ability to visualise in three dimensions. This helps them become designers and architects as well as sporting men and women. We know this.
Fact or feeling?
But creativity is also about the ability to be authentic, true to yourself and imaginative in the way that you live your life or add more feeling into your profession or relationships.
Dyslexics do not always separate fact from feeling, they are not easily motivated if they cannot see the point of something and how it relates to the way the world works. This need for things to be meaningful and genuine comes as a great gift of creativity in a time when so much of life is led in a virtual space.
Life is a metaphorical acorn
It is notable too, that the dyslexic mind works metaphorically. Where others see fact, the dyslexic sees a story. An acorn is not just the hard seed of an oak. It tells the story of life itself, in how it encapsulates the full potential of becoming a magnificent tree, if it connects successfully with the world beyond itself.
Because this creative, right-brain way of thinking compromises the ability to access simultaneously the logical linear, language side of the brain, dyslexia can come with a huge price tag. The years at school can be marked by hardship; a sense of isolation and little acknowledgement of one’s genuine worth. The dyslexic identity is therefore shaped equally by its natural creative gift as by the adversity it is faced with, from the first day at school.
Over the years I have come to see, that those dyslexics who manage to transcend the humiliation and adversity of their early lives while keeping the flame of their talent burning, do not just gift us with their creativity - but also with an originality informed and nourished by compassion born from suffering.
I not only feel invigorated by the colour and lustre that dyslexics add to life; I also feel enriched by their search for meaning and truth, and their ability to change me in the process.
Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based at the Elysian Centre in Rye, East Sussex.
Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.