A Tale of Two Books about Dyslexia

“Creative, Successful, Dyslexic” and “Dyslexia and Us”, two books which are very similar and yet very different, begging the question are they rivals, copycats or do they complement each other? They are similar because they are both anthologies of personal stories of what it is like to be dyslexic. But they are different because one is written with a positive message to inspire people with dyslexia to strive for success, whereas the other is written with some raw reality to educate those who do not understand dyslexia.

“Creative, Successful, Dyslexic”, published recently, was compiled by a mother to persuade her dyslexic daughter that dyslexia need not be a hurdle in life and in fact can be a motivator to do great things. It has 23 celebrities describing their personal dyslexic journeys from childhood to adulthood. There is a definite pattern to these stories: difficult times at school, growing determination, triumph, and advice on life with dyslexia. For instance, Zoë Wanamaker tells of difficult days at school, her continuing struggle to learn her lines and yet achieving a successful acting career; Darcy Bussell equally tells of her unhappy school days, turning into a challenging, but also successful career in dance; Theo Paphitis of Dragon’s Den fame, used failure at school to develop problem solving skills which led to the ability to turn around struggling businesses. In line with the pattern of these stories, Ed Baines, TV chef, tells parents “try not to make a big hoo-ha about dyslexia because the child will think there’s something wrong with them. There’s nothing wrong with them”. All these stories have an inspirational message designed to give dyslexic children and their parents reason to be optimistic about their future.

In contrast, four years ago Dyslexia Scotland privately published “Dyslexia and Us” with the purpose of educating those who are ignorant, even cynical, about dyslexia. The format was similar but with over 100 personal stories there is a wide variety of contributors, including celebrities, successful non-celebrities, unsuccessful dyslexics, teachers, parents and children. Consequently, this book describes the highs, the lows, the advantages, the disadvantages, the successes, the failures and the struggles of being dyslexic. The celebrities include Sir Steve Redgrave, who describes a continuing avoidance of reading and writing, and Kenny Logan, a contributor to both books with different stories, tells how he was nearly refused entry into Australia to play rugby for Scotland because he was unable to complete the visa form. Another joint contributor is Sir Jackie Stewart, president of Dyslexia Scotland and an outspoken ambassador for dyslexic people. He describes his dyslexic journey, but also urges action to be taken at governmental level to improve support for dyslexics.

However, the uniqueness of “Dyslexia and Us” is that it has personal stories from ordinary people with dyslexia. There are contributions from non-celebrity dyslexics who have been successful in their lives, for instance a musician, a playwright, a nursery school manager, a designer, a social worker, a vet and more. But there is also a significant number of stories from dyslexic people who are still struggling with their dyslexia in adulthood – in employment, in unemployment and in their personal lives. They speak of bullying at school, bullying at work, failure, feelings of hopelessness, even suicide.

These books are not rivals and any copycatting would have been unintentional. But there should be room on your bookshelf for both of them as they complement each other and read in conjunction will inspire as well as administer a dose of reality. For example, Charley Boorman, motorcycle adventurer, in “Creative, Successful, Dyslexic” talks about his work with probation officers to reduce re-offending. Whereas “Dyslexia and Us” has personal accounts from offenders who blame dyslexia for their pathways in life. The reality is that although it is estimated that 10% of the population are dyslexic, relatively few attain celebrity status. Hence the existence of charities such as Dyslexia Scotland, The British Dyslexia Association and Dyslexia Action which support dyslexic people struggling to reach their potential in life and which campaign for better recognition of dyslexia.

However, dyslexia can have advantages. In general, dyslexic people think differently, think imaginatively, think laterally, tend to be hard working, have excellent verbal abilities, and the list goes on. But the world has a long way to go to fully appreciate the value of people with dyslexia. Meanwhile, “Dyslexia and Us” illustrates the frequent realities of being dyslexic in a non-dyslexic world but “Creative Successful Dyslexic” will inspire you that there can be light at the end of the tunnel.

“Creative, Successful, Dyslexic”, edited by Margaret Rooke, published by Jessica Kingsley, 2015ISBN 978 1 84905 653 3 £15.63 hardcover

“Dyslexia and Us”, edited by Dyslexia Scotland, published by Edinburgh City Libraries, 2011, available from Dyslexia Scotland, http://www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk
ISBN 978-1-906401-36-8 £5.99 paperback; e-book £2.99

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