October 7, 2023

Dyslexia is a God-given gift and not a learning disability

I have spoken to audiences of tens of thousands, written 20 books and  been a regular contributor to this newspaper but I  probably can’t spell your name.

I had to resubmit essays at school, I recently paid for an easy-to-remember phone number and it sometimes takes me two hours to write a simple email. If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m dyslexic. Don’t feel sorry for me and don’t you dare tell me I’ve got a learning difficulty. In fact, I believe dyslexia is my superpower, my secret skill and my advantage to thinking and creating differently.

The NHS estimates that one in ten people are dyslexic. It  explains that people with dyslexia may read and write slowly, confuse the order of letters in words, have poor or inconsistent spelling, struggle with written instructions, find it hard to follow a sequence of directions and wrestle with planning and organisation.

People with dyslexia are not disabled and neither is dyslexia a learning disorder. There is nothing “wrong” or remedial about people with dyslexia. We can excel in our chosen profession. Nor is it a learning difficulty: we don’t struggle to learn, we can be some of the fastest learners and most intelligent people. So as we mark Dyslexia Awareness Week, which started on Monday, it’s time to acknowledge and make more of the richness that dyslexic people can bring.

Simply put, myself and millions of dyslexic Britons have a “learning difference”. We are neurologically diverse, hard-wired differently, not wrongly. We just learn and process differently.

“You only do the minimum amount of work in English. You can’t do computer studies because your grasp of the English language isn’t good enough. You are stupid.” That is what my teachers at school  told me.  I had the incredible ability to read a book but could not recollect what it was about. I also struggled to pronounce tricky names and words, wrestled with basic grammar and was completely lost trying to learn a second language. My school did what it thought was best to support me by placing me in “remedial English” classes.

Later in life, I discovered that  I was dyslexic. Then, and only then, did the challenging time I had at school begin to make sense.

People with dyslexia struggle to learn in the singular way that our education systems expect them to learn. Perhaps those in charge of our education system are not as smart as they like to believe. If they were, they would not maintain a “sausage machine” education system that, regardless of the input, requires a uniform measure of success for the output. There is too much tinkering with neurodiversity on the margins of the education system when there needs  to be a genuine push for reform.

There is also significant scope within workplaces to see a change in attitudes and approaches to neurological diversity. There has long  been a higher prevalence  of dyslexics who are entrepreneurs, in the creative arts and social care. A survey by Cass Business School London shows that 35 per cent of entrepreneurs identify as dyslexic. In recent years, the British intelligence service has been making efforts to recruit people with dyslexia. This is just the beginning of a workplace revolution that values cognitive diversity.

There are also opportunities for community groups, schools and religious leaders to champion dyslexia and neurological diversity. The Bible teaches that we are all made in the likeness of God (Genesis i, 31) and that since humanity has rebelled against God, the world has become distorted from its creator’s design (Genesis iii, 13-19). Dyslexia is a reflection of us being created in the image of God, not a result of the broken world we now live in. We  should champion it  as a God-given gift.

Dyslexia endows the holder with a range of stand-out and remarkable capabilities. Those include enhanced speed of thought, creative thinking, problem solving, imagining the future, emotional intelligence and making connections between people and places.

The whole of society would benefit from a transformation in the way we embrace neurological diversity and inclusion. I am thankful for the superpowers of dyslexia. They are what make me who I am and able to do the things I do. That the “remedial” kid has now written  20 books and runs a publishing company that coaches more than 100 people a year to write, publish and promote their books to a global audience is, what I like to call, God’s sense of humour.

Matt Bird, CEO of PublishU

(This article first appeared in The Times newspaper Saturday 7th October 2023).

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