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Debunking stigmas and breaking barriers during Dyslexia Awareness Month

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

✦ What do Thomas Edison, Stephen Spielberg, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Washington, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and Leonardo Da Vinci all have in common?

“They’re all successful, famous men and they’re all smart!” we hear you say. Well yes, that is very much an undeniable fact although that’s not the connection we are looking for. Add to the list Richard Branson, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise, Muhammad Ali, Cher and JFK; Keira Knightley, John Lennon, Jennifer Aniston, Henry Ford, Agatha Christie, Robin Williams, Walt Disney and Pablo Picasso.

All are undoubtedly super-talented in their respective fields, achieving fame, acclaim and fortune as a result - plus, and something that may come as a surprise to many, all diagnosed as dyslexic.

Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that mainly causes problems with reading, writing and spelling that affects up to 10% of the world’s population.

Surprisingly many famous people were diagnosed as dyslexic, featured in Brilliant-Online
Surprisingly many famous people were diagnosed as dyslexic

Whereas these faculties are ones many of us very much take for granted, sufferers of dyslexia experience great difficulty when viewing a page of text as the words often become incomprehensible, swirling in appearance and merging into one another. Unlike a learning disability, intelligence isn’t affected, although it certainly creates a myriad of challenges.

A Brief History of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a neurological condition caused by a different wiring of the brain. German neurologist Adolf Kussmaul first identified the condition in 1877, which he termed ‘word blindness’. It was coined as the condition dyslexia in 1887 by German ophthalmologist Rudolph Berlin following a series of tests his compatriot Oswald Berkhan, another neurologist, had conducted on a young boy some six years previous. The boy was bright and physically and intellectually sound although suffered from serious challenges with both reading and writing.

Since then, a wealth of physicians from all over the world have been working on variety of different ways to help those suffering from dyslexia manage their condition. The first report on reading difficulties experienced by children in the United States was published by W.E. Bruner in 1905 and the word entered the common lexicon some years later.

Ultimately, however, there is no cure for the condition meaning sufferers must learn to master and implement a range of coping strategies.

It has also generated a raft of social stigmas and misunderstandings that are attached to the condition, all of which are misguided and inaccurate and which can leave sufferers feeling self-conscious, inadequate and alienated.

Dyslexia Awareness Month is an initiative created by The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) which takes place every October with a variety of global events run throughout the month.

The purpose is to draw attention to the problem and raise awareness of the condition and of the challenges those suffering with it face in the hope others can become more understanding and sympathetic to their plight.

Get involved and offer support

So what can be done exactly, we hear you ask? Well, quite simply, and as alluded to above, people can take time to try and understand the challenges and frustrations that those diagnosed with dyslexia experience on a day-to-day basis. Put simply, open yourself up to learning more about the condition and how it works. Put yourself in the shoes of a dyslexic person, try and imagine how alien a notion it would be not to be able to easily read the daily news headlines or check a message on your phone.

Adopting some patience and empathy in trying to understand is a great starting point and contributes significantly to building a more positive and inclusive environment for sufferers. It goes without saying of course, this approach shouldn’t be limited to just one month a year but the whole year round!

Those who suffer from the condition are actually encouraged to tell their stories to a broader audience, to share the challenges and frustrations, likewise remedies and systematic approaches that help cope. The IDA has several such examples and personal success stories on their website. Storytelling and sharing from a first-hand perspective is an extremely effective approach to raising awareness and fostering a notion of understanding and inclusivity.

Throughout October there are a range of events organised all over the world that highlight the plight of those suffering with dyslexia while promoting support.

Simply go online to find out what may be happening in your local area, as the chances are there will be something that you can get involved with and support.

Alternatively, the IDA wesbite is an excellent resource to access global events, workshops and conferences run by them and their international network of support partners. Similarly, the Eventbrite website is a fantastic resource that highlights a wide range of initiatives and live events globally that support dyslexia awareness. There is social stigma attached to dyslexia which, unfortunately, adds yet another challenge for those that suffer from the condition.

The importance of dyslexia awareness month is breaking through such barriers and overcoming such misguided stigmas. Dyslexia is not a learning difficulty and those that suffer from it are not in anyway mentally impaired. Just look back to that impressive list of high achievers mentioned at the outset to see first-hand how people can rise above their condition and excel in their respective fields.

In conclusion, we turn to the words of one such person, Steven Spielberg. Arguably one of the greatest story tellers of all time, whose movies have wowed and moved audiences in equal measure over the years, he offers support and hope with his simple words:

“It [dyslexia] is more common than you can imagine. You are not alone.”


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