In his book: “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined,” cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman refers to a study by Catya von Karolyi, Ellen Winner, Wendy Gray, and Gordon Sherman: “Dyslexia linked to talent: Global visual-spatial ability” in the journal Brain and Language.
The researchers “argue that dyslexic individuals may excel at visual-spatial tasks that rely on the right hemisphere, because the right hemisphere tends to process information holistically.”
They evaluated people viewing “impossible figures”: objects that “seem to be 3-D but could not actually exist in 3-D space. Examples can be found in M. C. Escher’s paintings, such as his famous impossible staircase painting, Ascending and Descending.
[This is a detail - click to view larger.]
“If you scan this painting bit by bit, without integrating the whole, you’ll conclude that the figure is possible, but if you scan the picture holistically, you’ll be able to see that the parts conflict.”
The researchers “found that dyslexic individuals were significantly faster at recognizing impossible figures as impossible, and their faster speed didn’t sacrifice accuracy. This suggests one upside of poor reading skills: rapid and accurate ‘holistic inspection.’”
[Another article that mentions this research quotes the study authors: “The compelling implication of this finding is that dyslexia should not be characterized only by deficit, but also by talent.” From The Upside of Dyslexia by Annie Murphy Paul, The New York Times, Feb 4, 2012.]
[Ellen Winner is author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, in which she notes that children "gifted in drawing have a higher incidence of reading problems such as dyslexia."]
Artists with dyslexia
Kaufman notes, “The truth is that people with dyslexia thrive in many fields. Famous dyslexic artists include Pablo Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Chuck Close, and Andy Warhol.” [He references the book: Living with Dyslexia by Nicola Brunswick.]
“Famous designers include Tommy Hilfiger and Paul Smith. Sculptor John Mishler once wrote, ‘Being dyslexic has given me an enhanced imagination … in my head I see visual images that are often turned into sculptures without any drawings on paper. It took me a long time to realize that being dyslexic was a gift.’”
Kaufman continues, “Also, the written word need not always bar the dyslexic from achieving greatness. Many famous writers have not only compensated for dyslexia, but used their reading difficulty as a driving force.”
One example he gives: “Piers Anthony is one of the most successful science fiction writers of our time, racking up twenty-one New York Times paperback bestsellers in one decade. Xanth, perhaps his most well-known and popular series, has reached levels of success most science fiction writers only dream of achieving.”
In their interview: “Introducing Conversations on Creativity (Starting with Writer Piers Anthony)” (on Kaufman’s Beautiful Minds blog), Piers Anthony comments, “I was not a good student in grade school. In fact it took me three years and five schools to make it through first grade. I had trouble learning to read.
“My elder daughter was diagnosed dyslexic, but in my day dyslexia didn’t exist, merely stupid students. So I may have set a record for stupidity. I did not do well in English, being unable to spell correctly.”
Kaufman notes “Other famous writers with dyslexia include Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford (Independence Day), novelist and screenwriter John Irving (The Cider House Rules), and Edgar Award winner Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect).
“Perhaps instead of labeling dyslexics as learning disabled, we should call them visually gifted.”
From book: Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD.
See video interview with Kaufman and read several reviews of his book in post: Scott Barry Kaufman On Shifting Awareness To Be More Creative.
Actor Channing Tatum comments about the impact of his learning differences, and about the issue of medicating children.
“I read so slow,” he comments in a magazine interview. “If I have a script, I’m going to read it five times slower than any other actor, but I’ll be able to tell you everything in it.
“It kills me that there are standardized tests geared towards just one kind of child.”
Tatum was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia.
“At one time,” he said, “I was in classes with autistic kids and kids with Down syndrome.”
By high school, the article says, “his blood was a cocktail of pharmaceuticals.”
“I truly believe some people need medication. I did not. I did better at school when I was on it, but it made me a zombie. You become obsessive. Dexedrine, Adderall. It’s like any other drug. It’s like coke, or crystal meth. The more you do, the less it works.
“For a time, it would work well. Then it worked less and my pain was more. I would go through wild bouts of depression, horrible comedowns. I understand why kids kill themselves. I absolutely do. You feel terrible. You feel soul-less. I’d never do it to my child.”
A final quote: Erin Brockovich, environmental activist and consumer advocate, talking about her work on the famous Hinkley, California vs PG&E lawsuit (subject of the movie in which Julia Roberts played her):
“I can still go through all 634 plaintiffs. I learned to do that because of my dyslexia. I had no real coping skills; I could not read and comprehend in my brain the way a lot of you do.
“So I learned most of everything in my life by memorization, and it paid off for me.”
[commonwealthclub.org Q & A, February 22, 2001] [Photo from her Facebook page.]
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Last reviewed: 1 Jul 2013