Dyslexia, the Media and Tempered Gratitude

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While it is no secret that dyslexia sometimes causes struggles for many people, it is also important to remember that some people believe that dyslexia gives them enviable traits and a competitive edge in the workplace. Luckily, thanks to the mainstream success of plenty of people with dyslexia – and their openness about living with dyslexia – the media is awash with people thriving with it.  In the opinion of some people, they succeed because they have dyslexia not in spite of having it.

The widespread and well-documented success of people like Jamie Oliver, Steven Spielberg and Richard Branson, who also happen to have dyslexia, does a great deal to illustrate the fact that while some people may find the learning difference a hinderance, many find it advantageous to their lives. Furthermore, the prevalence of those who have dyslexia in the public eye supplies people with plenty of role models, which can do wonders for self-esteem.  Perhaps this information can be viewed as nothing more than common sense, but at a time where everyone is keen to promote positivity about dyslexia we would all do well to remember that such positivity is not a luxury that all learning differences, on the same spectrum and otherwise, have.

Firstly, the positive media coverage that dyslexia regularly enjoys is more often than not simply not there for other learning differences. It is doubtless frustrating when people make false assumptions about dyslexia; e.g. it’s just a difficulty with reading and writing, but what would you rather – that someone at least attempts to understand something or has no clue what it even is?  If someone describes dyscalculia as the mathematical version of dyslexia, an understanding of the latter condition is at least assumed.  Granted, it may be a simplistic one, but it’s apparent nonetheless.  In that sense at least, it’s a privileged position to be in, because some people might not have heard of, for instance, dyscalculia or dyspraxia, whereas you can bet that most people understand what dyslexia is, even if it is in the most basic way.

The media unequivocally proves that people who have dyslexia can make a success of their lives. Whether they see it as a gift or a curse, the fact that, for example, Keira Knightly is dyslexic doesn’t in any way affect the success of her career.  The same is true for Will Smith, Anthony Hopkins and Orlando Bloom.  I bet that people with other learning differences, whether or not they are in the public eye, wish they were thought of similarly.

Having said this, just because I’ve stated that there are positives attributed to the fact that dyslexia is widely spoken about in a positive manner doesn’t mean it is all plain sailing for those who have it. I didn’t want to seem biased or ignorant by failing to mention that some people see it as a label used by the middle classes to justify academic under achievement; which is of course wrong and misinformed.  On a related note, while you would be forgiven for thinking that an identification of dyslexia automatically means access to specialist support, this is not always the case, for ever-dwindling resources mean they have to be prioritised.  People are sometimes told that while they have dyslexia, they are borderline and therefore are not entitled to extra support.

Just because some famous people have dyslexia doesn’t mean that struggles don’t occur for many and we have to take care not to minimise those as dyslexia becomes even more publicised; as it has most recently, following the news that Penny Lancaster has been assessed as being dyslexic at the age of 46. It might even be that some problems, such as the oversimplification of dyslexia, occur as a result of the media coverage that dyslexia receives; but that isn’t to say that it shouldn’t still continue.

It’s only as a result of information being in the public domain that myths can be dispelled, coping strategies can be shared, and truths can be discovered; these being just three things that make the media coverage dyslexia gets to be not only worthwhile and vital, but in the main, something that should be much appreciated.

Gemma Bryant, Resource Centre Volunteer

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