Today, we are experiencing a new high in interest around dyslexia as more professionals write, speak, and make movies about the advantages of this learning difference. Young dyslexic entrepreneurs are starting businesses and creating products to solve many of the reading and writing problems individuals with this challenge encounter. As someone who is dyslexic (with a teenage son who is, too), these new tech tools provide a welcome relief!
This is an exciting time for the dyslexia community as new scientific studies and business research continue to demonstrate the link between this learning difference and entrepreneurship. Not only are we discovering more about this connection — we are gaining a better understanding of how dyslexia can confer a competitive edge in many professions.
There are three types of skills that are consistently mentioned in research and articles that address the relationship between dyslexia and business success: problem-solving based on outside-the-box thinking, dealing effectively with adversity, and delegating responsibilities.
You can support your teen’s growth by helping him understand how dyslexia can be a valuable asset, with strengths that can serve him well both in his education and career.
Most dyslexics develop workaround strategies in school that enable them to overcome the challenges they encounter. As a student, I didn’t receive accommodations for my dyslexia until my sophomore year in college. To succeed throughout my education, I developed innovative strategies to solve problems, think creatively, and back my way into solutions.
For example, when I had an exam, I would use the test itself as a tool. I began by scanning for words that I had misspelled on homework assignments or struggled to spell correctly while taking notes. To overcome this limitation, I circled words in order to locate them quickly when they were needed.
Spelling is difficult for me because I can’t hear sounds phonetically. When I think about how a word sounds or the letters that make it up, my mind goes blank — which is why I rely heavily on my visual memory to recall images of words. For example, last year while I was writing a blog post, I was determined to use the word “absorb.” I had exhausted my list of tech spelling tools, and had even searched through the dictionary with no luck. Then I remembered a commercial about Bounty paper towels and went to the product website. On the homepage was the word “absorb” spelled out in big letters!
Helping Your Teen Identify His Strategies
Talk to your teen about how he solves problems and the strategies he’s developed when his dyslexia interferes. Encourage him to think about ways in which he can deepen these skills, perhaps by using them in a new area of study or as a jumping-off point for a new approach. He may not be aware of how he overcomes obstacles because the dyslexic brain is always searching, adapting, and interchanging strategies in the background to meet reading and writing challenges.
Thinking outside the box is a key problem-solving strategy that many dyslexics use — in fact, one I still rely on. Even today, I have a pile of note cards of frequently misspelled words on my desk. Often, I can’t recall enough correct letters within the word for Word or Google to correct the misspelling, and I have to turn to other tools I’ve created myself.
You can discuss with your child how his creative problem-solving skills will be a benefit in college — and later in his career. Regardless of the profession he pursues, being able to quickly understand a problem, distill the information, and find a solution are invaluable abilities to possess.
Dealing with Adversity
The ability to deal with adversity and bounce back from failure is one of the key reasons that so many dyslexics are successful business owners. In school, I experienced many failures and defeats as I struggled with the challenges my dyslexia caused. Yet I developed resiliency — what many call grit — as I struggled to overcome these obstacles.
As an adult, even though I continued to contend with failures in college and my career, I had learned through experience that these setbacks would not be the end of the world. In school, I developed the ability to regroup, look at the situation differently, and always move forward. For dyslexic entrepreneurs and business owners, such early challenges provide important training, giving them a competitive edge over individuals whose unbroken successes may leave them ill-prepared when an undertaking does not work out as anticipated.
Teaching Your Teen to Build on Setbacks
Help your child understand that his daily experiences dealing with the challenges of dyslexia and rebounding from failures will enable him to develop invaluable character traits, such as flexibility, grit, and creativity. When I was in school, no one told me that I would one day look back and see how the ability to persevere in the face of these obstacles would profoundly affect my life. In every article I’ve read about a dyslexic entrepreneur, business owner, scientist, or actor, each person identifies his ability to overcome adversity as a key factor in his success.
As a dyslexic student, I was always thinking ahead, identifying which of my peers could help me in areas in which I struggled. Within the first week of school, I knew who took detailed notes, who asked the best questions, and who truly understood the material. These were the students I asked to work with. I would, in turn, offer to contribute in those ways in which I excelled.
Many dyslexics understand early on the importance of connecting with classmates whose abilities complement ours. While note-taking or writing reports may be especially difficult for many of us, we can volunteer to coordinate group projects, create visual materials, or make oral presentations.
In order for entrepreneurs and business owners to grow their businesses, they must understand how to effectively delegate tasks to the right team member. Although it sounds simple, this skill requires insight into the goals of a project, the steps needed to get there, and the various abilities of colleagues. Academic studies continue to find that dyslexics are more comfortable delegating responsibilities to employees than their non-dyslexic peers.
Advising Your Kid to Play to His Strengths
I tell my son to “focus on your strengths and delegate!” He is learning how to build informal teams in school and find opportunities to use his strengths, rather than focusing on his weaknesses. Most dyslexics manage their schoolwork by striking this balance and working collaboratively with group members who have complementary strengths and limitations. It is this ability to recognize what it will take to get a job done well and to delegate the responsibilities to those best suited to the task that dyslexics bring to the table.
So when your teen solves a problem in an unconventional way, gets back up after stumbling, and takes the initiative to delegate some work in exchange for taking on other tasks, give him your support — these are skills that will serve him well throughout his schooling and into the workplace.
Bhatt, R. (2015, March 18). When Struggling With Dyslexia Makes You A Better Entrepreneur. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from Fast Company.
Cowen, C. (2014). Dyslexia and Visuospatial Processing Strengths: New Research Sheds Light. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from Center for Development and Learning.
Logan, J. (2009). Dyslexic entrepreneurs: The incidence; their coping strategies and their business skills. Dyslexia, 328-346. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from Wiley InterScience.
Logan, J. (2012, June 29). Unusual talent: A study of successful leadership and delegation in dyslexic entrepreneurs. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from Cass Business School.
Markowitz, E. (2011, May 11). Dyslexia Fosters Entrepreneurs? Retrieved August 20, 2015, from Inc..
Tickle, L. (2015, January 15). Retrieved August 20, 2015, from The Guardian.