By definition, in order to get a diagnosis of Specific Learning Disability (SLD), a child needs to demonstrate a discrepancy (or gap) between his average-to-above-average qualities and areas that are disproportionately worse. All people with Learning Disabilities have strengths, particularly relative to their weaknesses. The term “Learning Differences” is sometimes employed because it captures the fact that difficulties in some areas are directly tied to strengths in others.
For instance, in “The Dyslexic Advantage,” authors Fernette and Brock Eide list four “MIND” aptitudes common in individuals with dyslexia:
- Material or spatial reasoning: heightened ability to solve problems with navigation, or with the visualization of faces, scenes, and objects. This skill can be useful for designers, engineers, filmmakers (like Steven Spielberg), or photographers, like Ansel Adams.
- Interconnectedness: verbal reasoning capacity to connect seemingly-disconnected ideas (finding analogies, etc.). Paul Orfalea, CEO of Kinko’s, has said that his “learning style helped him see the big picture and not worry about tiny details.”
- Narrative reasoning: great memory for personal experiences. This skill can be helpful for poets (such as Philip Schultz), essayists, memoirists, and other writers (like John Irving).
- Dynamic reasoning: ability to reason in novel situations. This is helpful for the business or scientific field, as exemplified by Jack Horner and likely Albert Einstein.
There is the most evidence to support the “M” (or visual) component. Several studies have suggested that people with dyslexia possess an enhanced ability to process the visual periphery and/or the “visual gist” of images, a skill that can be useful in multiple fields, including architecture and astronomy.
There is also an undeniable relationship between people with learning disabilities and success in business. “Psychologists who analyzed the mental makeup of business winners found that learning difficulties are one of the most important precursors of financial success. About 40 percent of the 300 studied had been diagnosed with dyslexia — four times the rate in the general population,” says one Sunday Times article, reporting on research from the Cass Business School. It is unclear whether the cause of this overrepresentation is the “big-picture thinking” often associated with people with LDs, a resilience that people with LDs tend to cultivate, or something else — but the numbers do not lie.
Children with learning disabilities also tend to be more empathetic, due to the hardships they face. Most teachers with learning disabilities view their disabilities as a having a positive effect on their teaching, likely due to the ability to empathize with students and their potential learning struggles.
Need help thinking of strengths specific to your child? Work with your child to complete Understood’s “Know Your Child Strengths” checklist. As you do this, you’ll both see just how many strengths he has. He may not even recognize which traits are considered strengths! It is essential to nurture the strengths he has so that he develops an accurate and positive view of himself.
Eide, B. L., & Eide, F. F. (2011). The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York, NY: Plume.
Flink, D. (2014) Thinking Differently: An Inspiring Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities. New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks.
Headstrong Nation. Learn the Facts. Headstrong Nation.
Horowitz, Sheldon (2013) Strengths of Students with Learning Disabilities and Other Disorders [Video file]. YouTube.
Logan, J. (2009) Dyslexic Entrepreneurs: The Incidence; Their Coping Strategies and Their Business. Dyslexia.
Love, D. (2011). 15 CEOs with Learning Disabilities. Business Insider.
Spear-Swerling, L. (2005) Achieving Good Outcomes in Students with Learning Disabilities. LD Online.
Venton, D. (2011). Q&A: The Unappreciated Benefits of Dyslexia. Wired.
Warren, C. (2008). Coudl This Be teh Sercet to Sussecc? YCDC.
West, T. (2004) The Secret of the Super Successful... They’re Dyslexic. Eye to Eye.
Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. An Index of Successful Dyslexics. YCDC.