April 1, 2013
By: Health Journal
Actor Henry Winkler was told he was stupid. A teacher labeled Dan Malloy, the future governor of Connecticut, "mentally retarded." Delos Cosgrove recalls "hanging on by my fingernails" in high school and college before becoming a thoracic surgeon and the Cleveland Clinic's chief executive officer.
Each has dyslexia, a condition that makes reading difficult but has little to do with intelligence. Mounting evidence shows that many people with dyslexia are highly creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, and neuroimaging studies demonstrate that their brains really do think differently.That helps explain the long list of entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, actors and other professionals, doctors and lawyers who have excelled despite, or perhaps because of, their affliction, experts say.
"There are people who are dyslexic that you could never imagine," says Sally Shaywitz, co-director, with her husband Bennett, of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. When they give talks on dyslexia at high-powered gatherings such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, she says, "We can't walk down the hall without people pulling us aside and saying they think they have it, too."
The Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Cosgrove says he relied on memorizing texts in medical school, and reading hasn't gotten easier for him. He says he has never read a novel and told his staff he'd rather hear about any problems in person than read a report.
But, he says, "I frankly think dyslexia is a gift. If you are supported in school and your ego remains intact, then you emerge with a strong work ethic and a different view of the world."
As many as one in five Americans has some degree of dyslexia, according to Yale research, although only about 5% of children have been formally diagnosed. And it clearly runs in families; six gene variations have been linked to the condition to date. Dyslexia was long thought to be a vision-related problem, but there's a growing consensus that dyslexics instead have difficulty associating letters with spoken sounds and blending them together fluidly to make words. Neuroimaging studies can even pinpoint what goes awry.