What should we call dyslexia?

During and after one of the longest, toughest bike rides of my life on the latest Virgin Strive Challenge, I had a very thought-provoking discussion about dyslexia.

I chatted with a group of entrepreneurs about the whole point of the Strive Challenge and how Big Change want to reimagine education to help people thrive in life, not just in exams. I had a really interesting chat with Simon Sinek and we talked about dyslexia and how important perception can be.

I feel the word dyslexia is so demeaning in itself. Why should we characterise a different way of thinking as an illness? It’s actually anything but an illness. It’s been a great asset to me in so many ways. Psychology labels dyslexia as a dysfunction and they study what’s wrong with you – but this is an intrinsically wrong approach - they should be studying what’s right about you and what you can excel at. 

We both reflected on how glad we were that we weren’t given these labels as a child. I feel very fortunate I was never told I was dyslexic when I was young. Likewise, Simon, who has ADD, agreed he was fortunate he was never diagnosed and labelled as a child. We’ve both learned how to cope with our alternative ways of thinking and how to use them to our advantage.

One thing people with ADD and dyslexia have in common is that if they are really interested in a subject, they can get more done in a day than most can get done in a week. The education system is what’s wrong – it puts people in boxes, stifles creativity and individualism and tears down self-confidence by setting alternative thinkers up to fail.

The massive overachievement of dyslexics as entrepreneurs proves this fact (take the invention of the plane, the lightbulb and even your iPad, for instance). Dyslexics hugely overachieve in all sorts of areas, as the wonderful Made by Dyslexia campaign has shown. 

Dyslexics appear unintelligent in the conventional education system. My teachers simply thought I was stupid. But the unique ability to focus in on what matters is one of the most important skills for an entrepreneur. In today’s world of information overload, this is a skill that is becoming more and more desirable.

It’s time to shift the focus from what people can’t do to what they can do. Alternative or creative thinkers should be celebrated and praised in the same way people with high IQs are. Dyslexics are not victims and we should be teaching them and supporting them to bring out their full potential. We should be nurturing children from a young age and teaching the behaviour we want to encourage – initiative, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. We want strong, resilient children that can adapt to whatever challenges life throws at them, not children who can regurgitate a list of facts for an exam. We shouldn’t be telling children they “have something wrong with them” but rather they “have more creativity”. 

If you’re an alternative thinker, I urge you to learn what you excel at, what you love doing, your interests and pursue them with passion.

Every dyslexic knows that the word itself is a bad joke for dyslexics – none of us can spell it! Looking up the root of the word, I learned that ‘dys’ comes from the Greek for ‘bad, abnormal and difficult’. What kind of way to label people is that?

For the last 10 hours of the Strive climb I was trying to come up with an alternative name for dyslexia that doesn’t make it sound like a disability. I use the word alternative thinker - what do you think we should call it? 

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