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Celebrating Dyslexia as a Special Way of Thinking

Dyslexia advantage theory challenges treatment of dyslexia as a disorder.

Key points

  • Research provides evidence that dyslexics think differently than non-dyslexics with specific strengths.
  • Disproportionate numbers of dyslexic people exhibit mental functions considered to be cognitive “gifts.”
  • Calls for change support a deeper understanding of dyslexia with more focus on cognitive strengths.

Do you have special mental capacities that likely are not enjoyed by 80% of the people around you? Are you among the one in five who, according to cognitive neuroscience, are neurobiologically wired with cognitive processing gifts? You are if you are dyslexic. Maybe it’s time to celebrate.

A movement based on theory and research with tremors stretching back decades but now shaking up our understanding posits dyslexia as a biological mental advantage benefiting mankind’s past and future (Taylor & Vestergaard, 2024, second edition). It’s a view that can transform a dyslexic individual from feeling inadequacy, failure, and shame to being self-driven, confident, motivated, and successful. The shift can be from feeling stupid and embarrassed to understanding how dyslexia may play tricks on one’s brain but also account for how a different way of thinking from non-dyslexics has cognitive benefits.

For decades, the major thrust of research, treatment, understanding, and education of dyslexic people, especially in schools, has focused on difficulties with reading and spelling, accompanied by problems with visual and auditory processing, working memory, and processing difficulties. It is a deficit-driven theory focused on disorders. Yet today, a seismic shift is upending conventional wisdom and shaking the very foundation of deficit theory by shifting focus to dyslexic advantages.

Rather than focus solely on struggles in school, especially with reading and writing, or the practice of labeling students as learning disabled, this research is positioning dyslexia as a learning predisposition, or way of thinking and reasoning, with advantages to be celebrated. The crux of the shifting message champions focus on a student’s strength. One practical implication is for teachers and interventionists who work with a student who may have symptoms of dyslexia to carry a folder with the student’s strengths and, when working with the student, to start with the strengths.

5 Evidence-based Strengths in Mental Functions of Individuals with Dyslexia

Skillsets posited by proponents of dyslexia advantage theory are overlapping and not hierarchical. No two individuals think exactly alike; the proposed strengths associated with dyslexia may vary and may cluster in different ways. Dyslexia expert Kate Griggs emphasizes that a person with dyslexia may think and learn differently than a neurotypical person, demonstrating strengths in creativity, problem solving, and communication skills, and challenges with spelling, reading, and memorizing facts. She describes the dyslexic cognitive profile as generally being uneven (Griggs, 2022)

Researchers Helen Taylor and Martin Vestergaard postulate the dyslexic brain as a unique cognitive style evolved over millennia to spread genes for cognitive exploration, divergent thinking, and holistic visual processing, which are unexplained by deficit theory but reported in many studies of dyslexia (Taylor & Vestergaard, 2022).

Here’s a list of skillsets frequently reported in the dyslexia advantage literature as “gifts”:

Connecting the dots to solve problems. Making connections in different circumstances and contexts is cited in research as a dyslexic strength. Having developed grit and resilience from their own experience of being dyslexic, dyslexic people may employ grit and resilience in whatever endeavors they pursue and even sometimes lead with strength, influence, and empathy in social situations by connecting to their own experience. Researchers Brock and Fernette Eide report connecting as “possibly the most critical dyslexic advantage" (Eide & Eide, 2024). Entrepreneurs, explorers, inventors, and a host of influential dyslexics in various fields both past and present often attribute “thinking out of the box and making connections” to their success.

Pattern detection. Seeing patterns and logical reasoning are reported as a dyslexic cognitive strength. Dyslexics have strength in employing episodic long-term memory from their own personal experience to help them recall, recollect and remember various types of information or perform various tasks. “Ability to perceive subtle patterns in complex and constantly shifting systems or data…and predict the outcome of complex processes over time” is reported by the Eide research team as a measurable dyslexic strength (Eide & Eide, 2024).

Original thinking. The ability to imagine ways to fix things or circumstances that are not working is often attributed by proponents of dyslexic advantage theory as an evidence-based strength. Researchers of dyslexic advantage theory often report dyslexic people as leaders and instigators of change. The crux and great benefit of this type of original thinking is problem-solving.

Visualizing. The ability to envision the whole from its parts is reported as a dyslexic advantage. For example, dyslexics often self-report being able to see a two-dimensional form in their mind—such as a diagram, blueprint, or topographical map—in three dimensions. This ability may apply to inventing or putting a machine together, solving various puzzles, and may show up in childhood through LEGO building or other precocious activities. Dyslexics may also envision ideas multi-dimensionally. According to researchers, a disproportionate number of people who are dyslexic exhibit the ability to visualize the big picture in various circumstances such as mechanically, in personal relationships, in sports competitions, in music, and in the creative arts.

Exploring. Being curious about the world around them and the impulse to explore is purported to be a driving strength in dyslexic thinking. In both the past and present a host of people reported to have dyslexia have solved problems and made contributions through exploration. Christopher Columbus's detailed documentations in captain’s logs on his four voyages to the Americas reveal aspects characteristic of dyslexic thinking. DNA evidence through genetic markers may eventually reveal if Columbus was indeed dyslexic. (Harmon, 2007). Other celebrated explorers include Richard Branson whose explorations in air travel led to space tourism; Picasso, with his explorations in art through styles including Cubism, collage, and constructed sculpture, is also reported to have had dyslexic thinking, as well as modern-day oceanic explorer Robert Ballard who discovered and explored the wrecks of the Titanic, Bismarck, USS Yorktown, and John Kennedy’s PT-109, among others.

Ballard and Branson's compelling stories of struggles in school with dyslexia are reported in The Dyslexia Advantage (Eide & Eide, 2024, second edition). In the Eides' account both explorers report how they, in Ballard’s words, “embrace failure as the greatest teacher.” Ballard grew to embrace failure as a learning lesson. His mantra is, “I don’t quit.” And while being one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, the list of Branson’s original failures is astounding ranging from failure selling Christmas trees in his youth, a failed magazine, a failed record shop, a failed airline, a failed railway business, a failed electric car, a failed cola, and the original failure of a digital download site for music.

Dyslexics and their supporters should embrace “I don’t quit” along with dyslexia advantage theory and practice. While early detection of dyslexia is important, too often the dark aftermath of a dyslexia diagnosis for parents and a dyslexic child or adult can persist throughout the individual’s life. Focusing on their cognitive strengths offers hope and lights a path forward. These strengths are reasons to celebrate.


Briggs, Kate (2022). This Is Dyslexia. London: Vermillion.

Harmon, Amy. “Seeking Columbus’ Origins with a Swab,” New York Times, 8 Oct. 2007

Eide, Brock and Fernette Eide. (2024) The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain, New York: Plume, Penguin Random House.

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