“Dyslexia is a learning difference which primarily affects reading and writing skills. However, it does not only affect these skills. Dyslexia is actually about information processing. Dyslexic people may have difficulty processing and remembering information they see and hear, which can affect learning and the acquisition of literacy skills. Dyslexia can also impact on other areas such as organisational skills.”
Sir Jim Rose’s report, Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties, delves deeper, contributing the following definition: “Co-occurring difficulties may be seeing aspects of language, motor coordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.”
But is there a link between dyslexia and engineering? In the study The Value of Dyslexia, it was reported that those they researched with dyslexia had an exceptional ability in complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and people management – all skills that are highly regarded in engineering.
Dean Bragonier, Founder & Executive Dyslexic, NoticeAbility, a non-profit organisation helping students with dyslexia recognise the positive attributes of the learning difficulty, supports these encouraging findings. He highlighted in his TedX talk, The Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind, that
“…[those with dyslexia] have an ability to look at a situation and identify seemingly disparate pieces of information and blend those into a narrative or tapestry that makes sense to use that most people can’t see […] this translates into an exceptional level of success in four major vocational paths, that’s entrepreneurship, engineering, architecture and the arts.”
This natural strength in engineering was also supported in Molly Patterson’s Yale Science article, The Paradox of Dyslexia: Slow Reading, Fast Thinking;
“Indeed, dyslexics not only succeed in engineering but in a range of fields including medicine and law. Ultimately, although they are slower readers, dyslexic students have strengths in higher order thinking and reasoning skills. In fact, as Bennett Shaywitz points out, the 2009 Nobel Laureate in medicine, molecular biologist Dr. Carol Greider, is dyslexic.”
Dr Carol Greider is not the only notable academic thinker who has been diagnosed with dyslexia. Maddie Aderin-Pocock the Astronomer and space scientist is also a recognised dyslexic. The theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein’s early work showed common dyslexic tendencies, alongside his infamous references to the importance of imagination and his indignation over his own written communication.
In addition to these prominent cases, it is recorded that 10% of the British population have dyslexia. These findings have been evident in our own office with a higher than average 20% having dyslexia. When asked about her experience of being diagnosed with dyslexia, our Head of Engineering, Emma Crichton described how her brain is wired differently. Even arguing that dyslexia has been an advantage in achieving her career in engineering;
“I think laterally, am comfortable with a jumble of various ideas and believe I offer a slightly different perspective. Although I can only speak from my own experience, I have met a lot of people in engineering with dyslexia.”
It is becoming abundantly clear through multiple studies, personal anecdotes and statistical evidence that engineering complements those with dyslexia. It is evident that we need these diverse thinkers to innovate and foresee a more sustainable future. These different perspectives, in collaboration with a range of other thinkers, could be the most effective way to implement the innovative and inclusive outcomes required to ensure that engineering serves all people and our planet.