Writing: the emotional flashpoint of dyslexia

It was as if I had slapped her across the face in front of this room full of people.

Writing: the emotional flashpoint of dyslexia

Why is there still so much ignorance, and pain, attached to dyslexia?

Being a Grammar Fascist and a pain in the *ss about spelling, I had taken a copy of the handout sheet she prepared to go with her talk and quietly marked corrections to three spelling mistakes in the content. I wrote “#justsayin'” on the bottom, waited until no-one was looking and she had finished her talk, and slid the sheet over to her.

“I couldn’t care less about people who might object to some silly little typo,” she snarled, and sat down, deliberately turning as much of her back towards me as possible given that she was sitting next to me.

Now this is a lady I have known for some years, who runs an extremely successful business. And despite the huffy, childish response, she and I are both the wrong side of 50.

I waited until the end of the meeting, went up to her, and apologised. Profusely, and sincerely.

“Sorry I over-reacted, but I’m dyslexic…”

…she said, as we hugged and rectified the misunderstanding. We talked about it for a while and agreed to meet for coffee soon. I hope she knew I was just trying to be helpful, but her brutal, knee-jerk reaction made me feel very sad.

Not really because it was hurtful – I know I should shut up about my grammar/spelling/punctuation obsessions. No: this was because I was sad for her.

Why should a perfectly acceptable and explicable crossed wire between brain and hand cause so much pain?

In a highly intelligent, verbally articulate and very successful business woman? I would put money on the fact that somewhere in that lady’s past, she has been made to suffer humiliation and discrimination just because spellcheckers hadn’t been invented when she was in junior school.

And that has left her with a vicious pain in her Achilles Heel ever since. Arrrgh! That’s just so WRONG.

Why is there still so much ignorance, and pain, attached to dyslexia?

You can explain away ignorance about dyslexia in the past when we were ignorant about most things that hadn’t heard of Jung and Freud and the human brain was still considered a bowlful of grey sludge.

But even when the lady in question, here, would have been a school child, dyslexia was already recognised and viewed as – to quote Wikipedia –

Dyslexia, also known as reading disorder, is characterized by trouble with reading despite normal intelligence.[2][7]  … (It) is thought to have two types of cause, one related to language processing and another to visual processing.[15] It is considered a cognitive disorder, not a problem with intelligence. However, emotional problems often arise because of it.[15] 

Yes, emotional problems DO arise because of dyslexia

It is not for me to theorise about the ways in which dyslexia plays a role in and/or b*ggers up people’s lives. I am not a psychologist.

However in my own experience of working with people with dyslexia – and many other friends who deal with it – the “emotional problems” are more about the humiliation these poor folks feel when people put them down for it … make idiotic jokes about it … and, yes, when snotty-nosed Grammar Fascists like me offer to help, even discreetly, but without invitation.

I remember how it feels to be laughed at for a ridiculous “failing” in my social repertoire.

Throughout my youth I was laughed at because I couldn’t swim.

That rollercoasted until by the time I was 30 I was so paranoid about water I had to force myself to go take a shower. (Close friends will be glad to know that I’m still managing to do it, however.)

But does the fact that I can’t swim make me a lesser person? Does the fact that someone needs to use a spell checker to get their words right make them a lesser person?

Some dyslexic people who haven’t exactly suffered as a consequence

Cynics could say that the dyslexic issues of the following people have been overcome because they are rich and famous. But it’s worth remembering that although they may have people or apps or other software around to correct their spelling … their intelligence, creativity and sheer genius are entirely their own. Let’s celebrate just a few of them…

Top dyslexic geniuses according to Wikipedia

  • Anthony Andrews, English actor
  • Jennifer Aniston, actor
  • Alexander Graham Bell, inventor and scientist
  • Orlando Bloom, actor
  • Richard Branson, entrepreneur
  • Erin Brockovich, legal clerk, socio-environmental activist
  • Lewis Carroll, author and mathematician
  • Tom Cruise, actor
  • Leonardo da Vinci, painter and polymath
  • Thomas Edison, inventor
  • Albert Einstein, scientist
  • Susan Hampshire, actress
  • Salma Hayek, actress
  • Anthony Hopkins, Welsh actor
  • Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc.
  • Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer for Apple Inc.
  • Ingvar Kamprad, industrialist, founder of IKEA
  • Jay Leno, talk show host and comedian
  • Steve McQueen, artist and film director
  • Dorrit Moussaieff, First Lady of Iceland
  • Don Mullan, Irish author, producer and humanitarian
  • Jamie Oliver, chef and television host
  • Ozzy Osbourne, musician
  • Brendan O’Carroll, Irish actor
  • Pablo Picasso, Spanish artist, sculptor
  • Keanu Reeves, actor
  • Guy Ritchie, film director
  • David Rockefeller, American business executive and philanthropist
  • Louis Rosenberg, American Entrepreneur, author, screenwriter, inventor, and professor
  • Lee Ryan, singer and songwriter
  • John Skoyles, neuroscientist and evolutionary psychologist
  • Jackie Stewart, Scottish racing driver
  • David Stirling – founder of the Special Air Service
  • Helen B. Taussig cardiologist
  • Nikola Tesla, scientist and engineer
  • Jules Verne, French author
  • Roger Ross Williams, Oscar-winning director and producer
  • Henry Winkler, actor, spokesman for the Dyslexia Foundation
  • Joshua Wong Chi-fung, an activist and a protester from Hong Kong
  • Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore

So. How can anyone possibly denigrate people with dyslexia?

You tell me! Please…





  1. Claire warren says

    Thank you Susan . You have just written my life story, only yesterday I messed up my passport application form & have got to go through the whole process all over again, dyslexia is an every day thing, I hit 60 in September & I thank god dyslexic ‘s have far more more support than I did in the 70’s, for me I was put into the remedial class. My spelling is good in this because I have a marvellous app on my I pad for dyslexic ‘s

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Claire – this is a true story and although I know lots of people who are dyslexic this was the first time it really hit me how unfairly treated many of you have been. At least now dyslexia and similar issues are recognised for what they are and our children and grandchildren don’t have to go through such tacky, jeering ignorance as our generation did. Sz xx

  2. Hi Suze! I have this mantra in my head, that whenever we say something, we are also doing something. People don’t often recall the exact words we use (or maybe spelling – ooh, fight, fight) but when we are thoughtful, kind and as open as you are in this article, and in other things that you do, then that shines through and that’s what people remember. My sister is dyslexic and has been through all the emotions, thankfully, it is not stopping her. Thanks for writing this.

    • Awww, thanks for that, Matt. So pleased that your sister hasn’t been affected by her dyslexia. In the main I think younger people benefit from the fact that the world, and particularly schools, know about dyslexia and know how to work around it. But middle-aged/older people – like Claire who has commented on this already – were badly misjudged as school children, and that can leave permanent scars. 🙁

  3. David Loring says

    The human brain is quite capable of understanding words that are spelt incorrectly and reading them fluently. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. I swear blind my computer is dyslexic because so many many times when I type something the letters are jumbled up in a word. It’s not me, honest Guv’nr, it’s the machine. I also firmly believe that some, if not all, dyslexia is caused because the brain is moving so much faster than the words or writing are coming out and in the attempt to overcome the lag things get put down in any order simply to catch up.

    • Hi Dave! I know exactly what you mean, but I blame the keyboard, not the desktop…it just can’t keep up with my fertile brain! It’s interesting what you say about the brain moving faster than the writing process … I’m hardly a scientist as you know, but many experts say that writing things out by hand is a much better way of learning something – all to do with hand-to-eye co-ordination and, I assume, the way it forces you to slow your thoughts down so they may well be more rational and appropriate.
      Dyslexia, though, is a different ballgame entirely; there is a good explanation of how it works here https://www.dyslexic.com/blog/what-is-dyslexia/.
      As you will have seen in this article, being dyslexic has hardly held literally hundreds of hugely successful people back. And one of the other commenters has pointed out that a number of people on my list also suffer/suffered from autism and other related issues, just to complicate things further.
      Great to hear from you and hope to see you over this side of the Irish Sea sometime this year? Sz xx