More Than Dyslexia

Recently we received an email from Bethan Mitchell, who is writing a dissertation on dyslexia for her BA Graphic Design and discovered our Maggot Moon multi-touch iBook, which also deals with this topic. Seeing as it is Dyslexia Awareness Week, we asked Bethan to share the idea for her dissertation with us.

Of the 4,000,000 plus primary school children in the UK today, 10% will be identified as ‘dyslexic’, that’s roughly 400,000 children who will come to assimilate this alien word as a part of their identity: “I am dyslexic”. This quiet process will affect the child profoundly throughout their life.

The word ‘dyslexia’ was coined in 1887 to describe something, which we are still unsure of today. It was derived from two Greek words and literally means ‘difficulty with words’.

On first entering a child’s life the word dyslexia is meaningless but firmly linked to unpleasant, confusing experiences of failure and alienation in school and distressed parents at home.  It will become the name for their difficulties with reading, writing, counting, organising and spelling. Whatever the heights of their artistic, sporting and extra curricular achievements the word will remain irremovably linked to self, meaning different, suggesting less.

Blog dyslexia illustrationOriginal illustration by Bethan Mitchell

The word dyslexia is accepted by society, by adults and children, parents and teachers, those with and without dyslexia, to be negative. When the diagnosis is given a ceiling is placed above the child, capping expectations of their future success both in and out of school. Though these experiences are not universal, they are sadly the norm.

It is for this reason that we are often shocked when presented with the list of famous dyslexics. This list is usually headlined by Albert Einstein, and features the names of some of history’s best inventors, artists, leaders, sportsmen and thinkers, all whose talents and genius cannot be denied. Society believes these people exhibited elements of genius despite their dyslexia but Ron Davis, author of The Gift of Dyslexia states, “Their genius didn’t occur in spite of their dyslexia but because of it”, I have to agree with him.

Recent research suggests that the difficulties commonly associated with dyslexia are only the tip of the iceberg; that over-shadowed by dyslexia the disability lays dyslexia the supreme ability. That if we were viewing dyslexia correctly the list of famous dyslexics would be no oddity and come as no surprise.

Drs Brock and Fernette Eide recount in their book The Dyslexic Advantage instances where those with dyslexia have used their unique processing styles to shape the world we know today, from bestselling novelists to the severely dyslexic inventor of the compact disk. Though it is a truth, slowly becoming widely accepted that those with dyslexia are often highly creative, even this statement doesn’t do justice to the incredible aptitudes of the dyslexic brain as described by The Dyslexic Advantage. According their extensive research, the dyslexic brain is gifted with a heightened ability to reason about the physical mechanics of the world, to spot complex connections where others would see none, to create vivid multisensory personal memories and to convert perceived patterns into simulations of possible future events with astonishing accuracy. These 4 core aptitudes work in different combinations to manifest as the elements of genius, which we recognise in the list of famous dyslexics.

When this is the case, and as we owe so much to these unusual minds, doesn’t ‘difficulty with words’ seem a woefully inadequate description?  And are we not doing these incredible children a great injustice by raising them to believe themselves in any way less than their peers?

It’s time to stop viewing dyslexia as a disability and instead begin to celebrate the unique range of abilities, which come with this alternate processing style, to remove the labels and embrace individuality.

Blog profile picBethan Mitchell is an illustrator and final year student at Central St. Martins, University of the Arts, London studying BA Graphic Design. Originally from the East Midlands she moved to London to study in 2011, and there her life long love of children’s literature has merged with a new love, for social design and design for change.

She was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age and she finds great joy in exploring her brain’s unique strengths, and learning to utilise them in her work, both academic and creative. She is passionate to see other young people find similar joy in their dyslexia, and this has become the basis for her final year dissertation.

You can follow Bethan at

Find out more about Dyslexia Awareness Week here and use #DyslexiaAwarenessWeek to let us know your thoughts on Twitter.