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Published:March 26th, 2009 10:31 EST
The Masked Dyslexic

The Masked Dyslexic

By Robert Alexander

A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy? ~Albert Einstein

You have probably heard or read about the venerable dyslexics.  Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Sir Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, Winston Churchill ~ extraordinary people, to name but a few, who overcame obstacles great and small to succeed in life.  They are distinctive individuals who creatively carved a path in life uniquely their own.  They are referred to, here and elsewhere to lift the spirits of the rest of us Masked Dyslexics " ~ the less distinct, ambling, confused, bewildered dyslexics, who are still searching for answers about why we find it so difficult to get through the simple things in life like reading, writing and arithmetic.  They are here to remind us that anything is possible in life.  To assure us that our feelings of inferiority and clumsiness, in relation to our classmates, colleagues and peers, may one day abate.  You see, many of us are not succeeding in life.  Hiding frustrations and camouflaging difficulties, we spend inordinate amounts of energy performing a tight rope act, balancing our hopes of being a whole well functioning individual on the one hand with the diabolical sense of being dumb, on the other.

We cannot seem to get our minds around the fact that someone who cannot spell could possibly have a higher than normal intelligence.  It simply does not make much sense.  Incongruent on its face, smart has a hard time holding hands with dumb.  But dumb may be the wrong choice of words here.  It is more that we feel incapable of feeling smart.  Whether it is a parent, teacher or peer, at some point, our difficulty with letters and numbers becomes apparent, both to us and to those around us.

With two eyes in front of our head, both where they are suppose to be, like all of those around us, and ten digits protruding from our hands with the all-important opposing thumbs, we should " be able to read and write like the rest of humanity.  Yet our minds limp along seemingly crippled at any attempt to ascertain what has been put before us to learn.  We struggle to do the simplest linear things with our non-linear brains.  These are things that our friends, co-workers and colleagues find easy and, well, normal.  That`s just it.  Over time we become the square peg in a round hole.  Out of place in classrooms defined by linear models of teaching and often uncomfortable in the work place performing tasks better suited to the left hemisphere of one`s brain, we stumble and fall.  How can we define ourselves as smart or even normal, in the broader sense of the term, if we struggle with the simplest of tasks?  How can we reconcile that we are in fact smart contrary to what the world is telling us?

Here`s how.  Dyslexia is a term for those of us who think spatially.  It is a circumstance of right brain thinking for people who problem solve conceptually with shapes, colors, images and systems. It is the keen ability to pull unrelated topics together from disparate areas to form entirely new ideas and ways of doing things.  Dyslexics think in images versus data.  We sprout ideas.  We entertain thoughts in combinations rather than in singularities.  While I was studying microbiology in college, with my eye on medical school, I "saw" water moving though plants by osmosis as a moving image, water traveling through the roots to the leaves and evaporating off the surface of the leaf.  It was not the standard understanding of a liquid moving from a high concentration to a low concentration through a semi permeable membrane.  It was a movie.  Dyslexia is image versus definition, visualization versus data. 

"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge." ~Albert Einstein

It was 1977, my first year in college and I did not know about dyslexia but I did come to realize that looking at chemistry equations in my textbook was going to be a huge roadblock to becoming a doctor. Not fully understanding the complexity of my dilemma with words and numbers, chemistry and physics were not my only challenges.  I had to pass standardized multiple-choice tests to get into medical school.  To become a doctor I would have had to ace chemistry and then go on to ace physics and medical school entrance exams.  At the time I was conflicted about my shortcomings.  Either everyone had this same affliction and I lacked the intelligence to get around it or I was the odd man out, somehow deficient in intellectual prowess, missing some key ingredient necessary to understanding this information.  I dropped chemistry and avoided physics and majored in Sociology.  I knew I could write creatively out of my head better than I could grasp numbers and squiggly lines.  Graduate school evaporated from my sites.

SAT and ACT scores do not test for the skill sets associated with dyslexia.  GRE, LSAT and MCAT scores get college graduates, like myself, into post-graduate programs but they do so with vocabulary tests, reading comprehension, math skills and essays.  They test for data recall learned in years prior and they do it in the linear fashion of multiple choice.  The dyslexic in this case is a fish out of water and I am no exception.  I feared even trying to take the GRE for the simple reason that I already felt stupid.  I did not want a test to confirm it.

Ask me to pull together various paradigms to prove a hypothesis and don`t correct for spelling.  Have me create a system to relieve a manufacturing bottleneck or to design a user-friendly interface for a new technological gadget.  Tell me you want a floor plan for a breakthrough manufacturing system or an integration of ideas from various philosophical theorists.  My brain is nourished and excited by imaginative problem solving and literally drained by data, numbers, measurements and statistics.  Two-dimensional processing versus three-dimensional imaging.  Successful dyslexics, I have realized, go with their strengths.

The traditional two-dimensional classroom or non-visual, task oriented corporate setting is a hidden torment for those of us more likely to engage in 3D brainstorming and intellectual cooperation.  It is tormenting because we don`t fit in.  Two-dimensional data eats away at our 3D skill sets and is a bewildering and humiliating impediment.  The two-dimensional task rears its ugly head in almost every traditional learning or working environment, gnawing away at our self-confidence because we live, eat and breath in our own three dimensional world.  

As a modern society espousing the linear thinking model, we have created linear institutions that label, categorize and teach in a numerical and alphabetical fashion.  The dyslexic`s challenge is that our thinking is global, whole and interconnected from the start.  From the point of view of a dyslexic, it would be better to reverse engineer the whole of process of education and begin with the advanced stuff first, creating excitement, enthusiasm and interest.  This defies modern logic and is counter intuitive to the linear thinker, but it would quite literally be a step forward for a three dimensional thinker. The dyslexic`s ability to understand the advanced concept, without the preamble of bewildering details, stirs the imagination and gives us hope and energy to be able to move on to the linear fragments still needed to pull it all together.  In this reversed learning sequence, the details are easier learned because they are no longer two-dimensional but are now seen as a part of some larger 3D picture taught at the beginning. The details, presented in this reverse fashion, are not seen to be the building blocks leading to the bigger picture, typical of most classrooms, but are transformed into exciting integral parts to the already imagined whole. 

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift "Imagination is more important than knowledge." " ~Albert Einstein

We dyslexics are simply built with a different hardwired system of recognition and we approach the learning world accordingly.  It is a learning disability only from the standpoint that the modern classroom and job market are stuck in a linear rut labeling anyone who does not fit in as disabled.  I have often wondered, when I am confronted with these environments "Am I lazy?  Am I stupid or just plain dumb?  Why don`t I understand what so easily comes to my friends and colleagues?  I continue, to this day, against my nature, to adapt to a two dimensional environment always wishing and hoping for a three dimensional world. I am a fish out of water and yet I know I cannot survive on a piece of paper with the word water printed on it. 

 If I just had the courage to create my own world.  But that courage was lost a long time ago, nibbled away, bit by bit by those that defined my intelligence and success.  I was seldom encouraged to concentrate on my strengths.  The artist in me, the creative kid billowing with imagination was supported by my mother and my grandparents but was suffocated by a father whose culture valued the professional life. There was constant reminders everyday of my weaknesses as expounded upon by my father, some teachers and peers and eventually by me.  The cruelest part of this is that I became a culprit in espousing my own shortcomings. For too long I have believed that I am flawed, and worse, dumb and lazy.  That is now changing.

"All our dreams can come true - if we have the courage to pursue them." ~Walt Disney

How many people do you know who are intelligent, engaging and bright and yet not living up the potential that you see in them?  You can talk to them about almost any subject under the sun from politics and cultural norms to socioeconomic policy and philosophy.  You can brainstorm with them and come up with wonderful creative ideas, solving a myriad of problems, and yet they are driving taxicabs and bagging groceries.  Their dreams unfulfilled due to a crushed self-confidence.  You ache just to see them succeed. 

The masked dyslexic is your neighbor, your friend, your co-worker or even your boss who has found a way to adapt and possibly, hopefully ~ thrive.  What you probably do not see or know of, in your relationship to this person, is the often-painful history, and hidden embarrassment that they have suffered to get where they are in an all too often round hole, square peg world. 

If you are dyslexic, there is hope, but unlike the nip and tuck of what is perceived as detraction from ones most beautiful self, it is a surgery of a different kind.  The hope, the freedom, the joy of life is to cut out the self-deprecation, to know deep within yourself that perceiving life around you is a function of your right brain system of recognition and how you choose to judge and utilize these creative powers.  It is not about how others want or need you to see the world. 

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don`t matter and those who matter don`t mind." ~Dr. Seuss

Assemble around you other creative types that admire your gifts and understand your non-linear ways of going about life.  Display in open site your successes, large and small and remind yourself how brilliantly three-dimensional, and creative you are.  Let your strengths shine.  Hope and success is about understanding yourself.  You probably know you prefer to pile papers in stacks on your desk rather than file them, hidden away from site. You may catch grief from the linear types about how messy you are, but you accept that this is you.  It is your desk, your life and you should darn well be able to use it and run with it the way you want to. 

Live and build upon your strengths.  We live in a world where the majority is in the left-brain camp.  There is nothing wrong or inherently bad about being in the minority, or thinking out of the box.  Be proud. When it comes right down to the essence of it, Marianne Williamson says it profoundly. 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won`t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It`s not just in some of us; it`s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. "

Most importantly and I want to stress this.  Find your strengths.  Find your music, your painting, your intuitive ability to design, to problem solve, to create.  Film, photography, writing, architecture, business, acting.  Find your passion and run with it because a dyslexic`s ability is not defined by the box of knowledge but by an imagination, which transcends the box.  It is within your reach to achieve beyond measure if you stop comparing yourself to the world of hard facts and learned knowledge and pursue your goals in your own fashion with your intuitive and imaginative mind. 


Trust yourself.  Surround yourself with friends and family that support you.  Sometimes it feels overwhelming to fight the linear system, to trust your gifts, to image your way through life.  God did not give you anything you cannot handle.  As Mother Theresa humorlessly said, "I know God will not give me anything I can`t handle. I just wish that He didn`t trust me so much."


Above all else, be courageous in you efforts.  Dyslexia is a gift if you treat it with respect.


"Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts." ~Winston Churchill