Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Missing Link: Dsylexia and Creativity

October was Dyslexia Awareness Month and HBO featured the documentary, THE BIG PICTURE: RETHINKING DYSLEXIA, on the much misunderstood learning disability.

The film was directed and  produced by the son of Robert Redford, James Redford, and features the journey from high school into college of his son, Dylan, along with the journeys of many others now excelling in their lives and fields, despite their early struggles with the learning disability, including Charles Schwab, the investor, who has set up a foundation for kids with dyslexia  and Richard Branson...

creator of Virgin Records and a few other enterprises

THE BIG PICTURE: RETHINKING DSYLEXIA, screened at the 2012 Sundance Film Fest, not only features the struggles of Dyslexics and their families, it also gets into the science of this different learning style with interviews by Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, co-directors of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, who discuss how advancements in brain imagery has brought to light  the " hidden disability" and illuminated  the other side of the coin- Dsylexics also have strentghs such as  "higher critical thinking and creativity".

Having the disability myself, I know the battle of starting out in the "parking lot" of dyslexia and having to run to catch up with my peers who were already on the track when it came to learning and reading.

I survived school solely  by finding creative ways to learn and finding  refuge in the Arts- Visual Art, Music and Theater are not filler activities, they are much needed for the 1 in 5 students, according to the documentary, who has some degree of dyslexia- it can be moderate to severe.

Like many in the film, it was not my school who gave me the diagnosis. I was just told I had a learning disability and made to walk on a balance beam, in the Resource Room, apparently I am not the only one subjected to such things as a kid.
I diagnosed myself, in college, while studying for my Art emphasis of  Child Development and Education Psychology, but I didn't find that answer in my textbooks, nope, I read an article in a gossip magazine, on...
Tom Cruise.
And guessing on the years I was in college, it probably was this movie...
COCKTAIL (1988), that was being prompted...
I could probably show you where I was sitting in the college library, dyslexics have a strong memory recall of such things, but instead of studying I was reading People Magazine when I found out Tom Cruise was dyslexic and read quite a detailed paragraph on how he mixed up his letters, didn't know right from left, had a hard time reading. There was enough there that the bell went off and I then went looking for some info in the books surrounding me, but back in the late 80's, there wasn't much even in the Education Department. 
I brought the idea up to my Educational Psychology professor, who cut me off, declaring that Dyslexia was only a difficulty in reading, nothing more, emphasizing his point by writing the word on the board with his chalk.
Twenty years later, researchers like the Shaywitzs are now declaring  something different and new technology in brain scanning is proving the new ideas have some validity- that dyslexics learn and process information differently and that while dyslexia is most certainly a disability to overcome, there is some pluses to the negatives like being able to think 3 dimensionally, ability to notice patterns and commonalities  and having a strong internal narrative that sends those with dyslexia to fields in the Arts, but there are also many a lawyer and writer that has dyslexia.
And now today, there are many, who had to deal with the stigma of being lazy or deficient as kids while they literally reinventing the wheel to learn, who are standing up and sharing their stories- I am glad to do the same if it brings some light and helps a kid, today, not have to walk a balance beam or get a big R and L written in marker on their hands and drilled, thinking that more practice is all we, dyslexic need to learn.   

And you are "defiantly....defiantly"...
to quote from another of Tom Cruise's movies...
 reading this blog- ON POPCORN AND MOVIES: THE CONNECTION BETWEEN CINEMA AND CULTURE.....because I have dyslexia and have weirdly noticed  patterns and commonalites in T.V. , in film and cinema's connection to our culture for years and have been entertaining my friends and family... or annoying them. I was an Internet Movie Data Base, ( before there was one.
Interestingly, one theory and there are many, discussed in the book, The Dyslexic Advantage...
Is that Dyslexia is the opposite of Autism...
An Autistic brain, with its own interesting sets of talents, like counting all the toothpicks on the floor or raking it up in Las Vegas, has tightly packed mini columns of sensors, where dyslexics have loose min columns of sensors, with the ability to make long connections across the brain. Autistics focus on each tree, Dyslexics see the big picture, the forests, the other side of the planet but have a hard time finding the tree.
if you are interested...
( which airs again in December and the page has links to other resources)
and you can rent or buy THE BIG PICTURE: RETHINKING DYSLEXIA on


  1. This was fascinating, Kelly. I came over here because you commented on my blog last week that you wanted to read some excerpts of my novel, and I thought I'd let you know that I've posted two. Then I started reading this post. I really wish people weren't so dismissive of others who have different abilities. I've believed that ever since learning about Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. (If you don't know about that, I think you'd be interested.) I'm wondering now if the same mechanism that gives dyslexics a better 3-D sense makes it hard fro them to deal with such a 2-D medium as print. I hope they do more research about the functionality of all this.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. And if you're still interested in seeing excerpts of my novel, they're on my website.

    1. Thanks Ruth- yes, definitely if you see all sides of things- metaphorically- it can be great in the Arts- but kind of make it hard to read and write.