Strong, Able, and Dyslexic

If you’re dyslexic, this is what you need to know about your self. And if you don’t live with dyslexia, here’s how you may be limited without it.

In “The Upside of Dyslexia,” an opinion piece recently published in the New York Times, writer Annie Murphy Paul outlines the ways that dyslexia confers advantages on workers, especially those related to the arts and sciences. She writes:

People with dyslexia possess distinctive perceptual abilities. For example, scientists have produced a growing body of evidence that people with the condition have sharper peripheral vision than others.

How does this work? Paul explains:

The brain separately processes information that streams from the central and the peripheral areas of the visual field. Moreover, these capacities appear to trade off: if you’re adept at focusing on details located in the center of the visual field, which is key to reading, you’re likely to be less proficient at recognizing features and patterns in the broad regions of the periphery.

The opposite is also the case. People with dyslexia, who have a bias in favor of the visual periphery, can rapidly take in a scene as a whole — what researchers call absorbing the “visual gist.”

If you’re dyslexic, yes, focused reading can be hard. Yet perceiving data on the periphery of your view comes naturally.

Indeed, whole research centers have been founded to study the positive attributes of dyslexia. Consider the recent creation of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, as well as the Laboratory for Visual Learning within the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

So the evidence continues to add up: dyslexia is less of a disability, and more of a different style of taking in information.  If you struggle with reading, knowing the current discoveries about dyslexia can help you find words to describe the strengths you possess along with your struggles.

And if you don’t experience what was once known as “word blindness,” you might seek the help of your dyslexic peers at work.

Especially if you’re striving to see the whole picture.

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Come Out at Work: With Dyslexia

We’re feeling momentum as we continue to feature parts of our selves which at first blush are easy to disparage. Then upon closer examination, we see the value of bringing the full spectrum of who we are to the workplace, with glorious results.  Next up: the senior vice president and chief brand officer for media company The Elle Group.

Robin Domeniconi is a well-regarded executive of ELLE, ELLE Decor and Ellegirl, and oversees content, strategy, sales and marketing for all three publications. She’s held prominent roles in other prestigious organizations, serving as vice president of U.S. advertising at Microsoft, and president of Time Inc. where she launched Real Simple magazine.

And she’s dyslexic. In an interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times, she spoke about being the boss in a corner office, and what she looks for in hiring new employees. Job seekers take note! She described the influence of her dyslexia on building relationships:

I also have dyslexia. A lot of times, people will say things that I don’t understand. I am never embarrassed to ask them to repeat what they’ve said. It’s a vulnerability that you show. I once had an editor say to me, “You’re the best publisher I’ve ever had because you’re not afraid to show your vulnerability.” … I have enough confidence to do that. I would like you to have enough confidence, too.

By exposing her dyslexic self to her employees, she authorizes her staff to bring their whole selves to work, breeding increased self-confidence, and she leads by example.  How invigorating to see a chief executive admit that there are things she doesn’t understand, and freely ask her colleagues to repeat themselves so she’s sure to comprehend everything. This attribute can be rare to find in a manager; must one have a learning disability to be this transparent at work?

In another segment of the interview, she described how she promotes an open work environment, enumerating the qualifications she seeks in interviewees:

I want someone who’s candid, who’s very willing to be open. To me, the willingness to be open takes a lot of courage, because you’re displaying your vulnerability. I find that if you’re willing to be open, to expose your vulnerability, you’re going to succeed with me. Because I don’t have all the answers, and you shouldn’t think that you have all the answers. So we need to be open with each other.

Is her openness a function of being a woman in the executive suite? It’s hard to know for sure. What is certain is the amount of love she has within her. Love for herself, in the most productive way, and love for the world around her.

Her invisible disability translates to amazing ability, wouldn’t you say? In the comments below:

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