If you or someone you know has been identified as dyslexic, it’s important to know that you/they are not alone. Dyslexia is an alternative way of thinking – a learning preference – that affects an estimated one in ten New Zealanders, including 70,000 schoolchildren.

Understanding dyslexia means noticing what this means for everyday life – at school, home and work. It also means understanding the common signs for dyslexia and how it may present itself. Dyslexia is perhaps best thought of as a continuum of abilities and difficulties rather than a distinct category, as it occurs across a range of intellectual abilities with no clear cut-off points. 

While reading and writing can be challenging for dyslexic individuals, big picture skills like problem solving, creativity, high level conceptualisation and original insights are often real strengths.  

In terms of everyday life impacts, dyslexia is usually first uncovered in the classroom environment when core reading and writing skills are being taught. However, it is equally common for dyslexia to go undiagnosed, with individuals labelled as ‘slow’ or ‘struggling’ due to unexpected difficulties in acquiring these skills. 

As the individual moves beyond school into the workplace, these difficulties can be compounded by reliance on written formats and requirements around everything from rapid email communication through to understanding instructions. Even in jobs that are manually oriented, processing instructions and filling in work forms can be sources of challenge and frustration.

Those with dyslexia must be supported in education and in the workplace, and this often requires specific interventions, as well as awareness and understanding. For more guidance on dealing with dyslexia in the classroom, and within the family, workplace, visit DFNZ’s 4D webspaces. This concept of 4D | For Dyslexia – which also stands for 4 Difference and 4 Diversity – extends the common perception of three dimensions to embrace a fourth dimension based on creativity. This fourth dimension is likened to a dyslexic or atypical way of thinking which can offer great creative gifts if addressed correctly.

Signs of Dyslexia

It is important to notice how dyslexia impacts everyday life. Some of the common signs of dyslexia can include:
  • Problems with labels, rhymes, sequences
  • Letters or numbers reversed or confused b/d/p/q, n/u, 13/31
  • Being slower to process and needing repeated exposures to retain learning
  • Retrieval issues – learns something one moment, gone the next
  • Large gap between oral and written capabilities
  • Poor sense of direction – difficulty telling left from right
  • Reluctance, embarrassment or avoidance around reading out loud
  • A preference for face-to-face meetings/phone calls rather than email correspondence, and for charts/graphs over text
  • Frequent misspelling of words and mixing up words which sound similar (recession/reception), in speech or written work
  • Poor handwriting, punctuation and grammar
  • Misunderstanding or misinterpretation of managers’ instructions
  • Problems meeting deadlines, despite working hard
  • Fine motor coordination may be problematic, eg. tying laces, doing up buttons
 Further information on dyslexia signs can be found at the links below. Please note that it is important not to use lists like these as some sort of ‘identification’ checklist. This is because some behaviours are more significant indicators of dyslexia than others. So some non-dyslexic individuals could score highly on a range of trivial items, while others may have fewer but more significant behaviours. Also, dyslexia is best through of as a continuum of abilities and difficulties, with no clear cut-off points, so signs and lists are not definitive. If you wish to explore dyslexia screening or a formal diagnosis of dyslexia, information on organisations which can help can be found on our solutions and assessments page.

Creative Gifts: The upside of dyslexia is the ability to perceive the world from many perspectives, allowing visual-spatial thinking and special talents and skills to flourish in fields such as the arts, design, leadership, entrepreneurship, engineering, sciences, business and technology. 
Excitingly, the leading edge of international research on dyslexia is focused on the creativity and strengths that this atypical way of thinking can offer. US researcher Tom West is a pioneer in this field, and his area of interest is the special talents of dyslexics. West believes that creative dyslexic individuals may be able to act as “engines for economic development”. 

UK research shows that 35% of US entrepreneurs and 20% of UK entrepreneurs are dyslexic – with Sir Richard Branson a famous example. Entrepreneurs create jobs and wealth, both of which are important to drive economies forward. For more on this research click here. Dyslexic individuals also contribute to business growth and productivity through thinking outside the square, and enlightened employers around the world are now specifically recruiting dyslexics for the creativity and alternative thinking they bring. Check out our 4D Workplace for more on this. 

Famous dyslexics include actors Tom Cruise, Robin Williams, Keira Knightly, Whoopi Goldberg, supermodel Jerry Hall and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Here in New Zealand, creative leaders like Academy Award winner Richard Taylor, motivational speaker Billy Graham, renowned hair stylist Mike Hamel and the late maverick motorcycle designer John Britten have all embraced this learning difference to become leaders in their field. Some of these successful New Zealanders have shared their stories for our Inspiring New Zealanders webpage. Click here to read more.