Friday, February 5, 2016

Note: The following article is from the first issue of APJDD in Jan 2014, as indicated below, pp. 79 ff. The original two-column format has been edited slightly to increase readability. In November of 2014, the author was invited to give five talks for the Dyslexia Association of Singapore to begin a program designed to take advantage of the distinctive talents of individuals with dyslexia. The Postscript to the article below outlines the focus of research of interest to the non-profit Dyslexic Advantage. Footnotes remain in their original positions within the text. -- TGW


Asia Pacific Journal of Developmental Differences
Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2014
© 2014 Dyslexia Association of Singapore
www.das.org.sg
T. G. West

“Amazing��Shortcomings,��Amazing��Strengths”��
��
Beginning��to��Understand��the��Hidden��Talents��of��

Dyslexics����
��
Thomas��G.��West��1��*��
��
Editor’s�� note.�� This�� concept�� of�� giftedness�� in�� dyslexia�� is�� one�� that�� has�� not�� yet�� been�� widely��
addressed��within��the��Asia��Pacific��context.����This��is��despite��the��recognition��given��to��the��mild��
dyslexia�� of�� former�� prime�� minister�� of�� Singapore,�� Lee�� Kuan�� Yew,�� a�� seminal�� force�� in��
government��for��over��30��years.����A��search��for��eminent��dyslexics��in��these��areas��reveals��only��the��
Indian�� actor,�� Abhishek�� Bachchan,�� and�� the�� young�� dyslexic�� Malaysian�� pilot,�� Captain�� James��
Antony�� Tan,�� the�� youngest�� pilot�� to��fly�� around�� the��world,�� with��two�� entries�� in�� the�� Guinness��
Book�� of�� records,��who�� is�� still�� only�� 21.�� There�� are�� undoubtedly��many�� more�� famous�� dyslexics��
who�� have�� not�� yet�� revealed�� their�� di��culties�� in�� learning,�� because�� of�� the�� potential�� stigma��
attached.����This��recognition��of��the��extraordinary��strengths��of��some��dyslexics,��if��they��are��not��
too�� daunted�� by�� the�� di��culties�� they�� experience�� in�� school,�� should�� begin�� to�� redress�� the��
balance.����Above��all,��identifying��and��supporting��the��problem��early��can��reduce��the��potential��
impact�� on�� self��esteem,�� allowing�� dyslexic�� people�� to�� fulfill�� their�� potential�� and�� make�� a�� full��
contribution��to��their��environment.��

Overview of a New Awakening

In recent years, developmental dyslexia is
coming to be seen, remarkably, as a
significant advantage in an increasing
number of fields -- often linked to
substantial success in design innovation,
entrepreneurial business and scientific
discovery. As hard as it is for many to
believe, it is becoming more and more
clear that some dyslexics are capable of
envisioning possibilities, seeing patterns
and making discoveries that are missed
by even the smartest non-dyslexics.
It is also becoming increasingly clear that
all of this is because of the dyslexia, not
in spite of it. Currently, during a period of

1��Kkrasnow��Institute ��for�� Advanced��Study, ��George�� Mason�� University,�� USA��

Asia��Pacific��Journal��of��Developmental��Di��erences�� ��
Vol.��1,��No.��1,��January��2014,��pp��78—89���� �� ��
DOI:��10.3850/S2345734114000076��

*��Correspondence��to:��
Thomas��G.��West.�� Institutional��address:�� Kkrasnow�� Institute�� for�� Advanced�� Study,�� Advisory�� Board,�� 4400�� University�� Drive,�� MS��2A1,��
George�� Mason�� University,�� Fairfax,�� Virginia ��22030��4444,�� USA.�� Blog:��http://inthemindseyedyslexicrenaissance.blogspot.com����
Email:��thomasgwest@gmail.com��


new awakening, a small number of
researchers are finding more evidence
that dyslexia does not result from
damaged “wiring” in the brain, as many
have long believed. Rather, they see an
alternative (a different but valuable)
“wiring” pattern – one that involves early
educational difficulties – but one that
provides alternative strengths and
capabilities generally not available to
non-dyslexic brain structures.

An example of these new perspectives on
dyslexia research and practice is found in
the recent book Dyslexic Advantage by
Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide, which
asserts: “the brains of individuals with
dyslexia aren’t defective; they’re simply
different. These wiring differences often
lead to special strengths in processing
certain kinds of information, and these
strengths typically more than make up for
the better-known dyslexic challenges.”
“We don’t see the reading, spelling, or
other academic challenges associated
with dyslexia as the result of a ‘disorder’
or a ‘disease.’ Instead, we see these
challenges as arising from a different
pattern of brain organisation – [which
predisposes] dyslexic individuals to the
development of valuable skills” (Eide &
Eide, 2011, xvii).

There are many cases of this paradoxical
mix of weaknesses and substantial
strengths. It is becoming increasingly
apparent that these are not really
unusual – and appear to be
representative of an important subgroup
that needs to be studied in a systematic
and rigorous fashion. A good example (to
be dealt with at greater length below), is
one of the founders of the modern study
of molecular biology. He was a classic
dyslexic, with the usual reading and
writing problems throughout his early
education. Yet, as he as he eventually
struggled through college and graduate
school and progressed into laboratory
work, he found that he could predict the
results of many experiments. He found
that he could use his powerful dyslexic
imagination to see interactions at the
molecular level – seeing new patterns
and developing fundamental insights and
new theories (in one instance, twelve
years ahead of all others in the field)
about the links between the human
genetic code and the development of the
immune system. Later, a different scientist
proved experimentally that he was right
and received a Nobel Prize (Tauber &
Podolsky, 1997).

The US National Science Foundation has
been funding a Harvard-Smithsonian
study of when and where dyslexia may
be an advantage in doing science,
especially within astrophysics (Schneps,
2013). In the UK, the dyslexic head of the
Virgin Group explained long ago that his
dyslexia had been a motivator in building
his group of more than 250 companies as
well as giving him a “business
edge” (Branson, 1999). In the field of
computer graphics and simulation,
dyslexic artists, scientists and
technologists are often leading innovators
(West, 2004, 2009)1.

A dyslexic professor at Columbia
University has written the book, The Great
Ocean Conveyer, about how he was able
to integrate complex information (in a
manner similar to many other dyslexics)

1��Note:��Some��sections��from��this��edition,��with��other��writings,��
have��been��modified��for��inclusion��in��this��paper.��

from extremely diverse sources to
understand the way historic changes in
ocean currents have led to abrupt climate
change in the past. In the preface, he
explains, “As a dyslexic, I receive my
most valuable information and ideas from
what I hear and diagrams I see rather
than what I read on the printed
page” (Broecker, 2010, ix-x).

A world famous professor of
paleontology, dyslexic himself, says that
he tries to teach his graduate students
how to “think like a dyslexic” so they can
see patterns invisible to others, making
discoveries long thought impossible. The
rest is “just memorization,” he says,
without significant discovery or true
innovation (Horner, 2007)2

Very recently, in an especially striking
example, the British electronic intelligence
agency GCHQ announced publically,
“Dyslexia is Britain’s secret weapon in the
spy war: Top code breakers can crack
complex problems because they suffer
from the condition. GCHQ bosses say
those with the disorder see things in
codes others do not. The Cheltenhambased
agency has set up a dyslexia
support group.” One agency official
noted that “dyslexia may in other
circumstances be regarded as negative –
but most people only get to see the full
jigsaw picture when it’s nearly finished
while the dyslexic cryptographists can see
what the jigsaw looks like with just two
pieces” (Mail Online, July 13, 2013). Long
aware of the important contribution of
distinctive dyslexic talents (along with
other forms of “different thinking”), GCHQ
had held its first “Diversity Day” as early
as June 2006. However, the agency had
rarely been so public about these
considerations until they were raised by
recent comments from MPs on the
Commons Intelligence and Security
Committee.

While many are still skeptical, an
increasing number of researchers believe
that learning from the lives of highly
successful dyslexics and visual thinkers
can lead to new insights and approaches
that will help dyslexics and non-dyslexics
alike -- profoundly transforming
fundamental ideas about education and
work in a time when computer
technologies are rapidly turning the world
upside down and the established
professionals seem to have lost their way.
Accordingly, they say it is high time for us
to begin to recognize and understand
and learn how to deal with these puzzling
extremes in talent – the unexpected
academic weaknesses that seem often to
be associated with special capabilities
and success in both life and work. Low
level weaknesses should not be allowed
to prevent high level accomplishment.
Schools, they say, almost never teach or
test what dyslexics are good at – but life
does.

Early Puzzle

From the time of the earliest researchers
(in the 1890s) until Samuel Torrey Orton
(in the 1920s) and Norman Geschwind (in
the 1980s), the central puzzle of dyslexia
has always been the linkage of high
ability in some areas with remarkable
and unexpected difficulties and
disabilities in other areas. For more than
a century we have recognized this

2�� Filmed�� by�� NHK�� cameraman�� (Tokyo,�� Japan)�� on�� site�� of��
dinosaur�� dig,�� far�� northern�� central�� Montana�� on�� Canadian��
border,��about��9��minutes,��July��5,��2007.����

pattern, but have generally focused on
only one aspect. With the best of
intentions, we have learned much about
how to fix the problems that dyslexics
experience but we have done almost
nothing to develop a deeper
understanding of the varied and hard-tomeasure
talents that many dyslexics
possess (Geschwind & Galaburda, 1987).

As we have noted, highly successful
dyslexics nearly always say that their
accomplishments and special ways of
seeing come directly from their dyslexia --
not in spite of their dyslexia. More
researchers are now saying that we
should take them at their word and give
credence to what they say. Most
professionals in the field have long
agreed that talents are important, but
eventually they almost always come to
focus exclusively on the serious business
of reading and academic remediation
alone.

In contrast, more and more researchers
are feeling a sense of personal
responsibility to dyslexics as a group.
They feel the need to substantially
change the course of what is being done
within the field. They believe there is a
need to seriously embrace a radical
change soon or there will be no change
at all -- allowing additional generations of
dyslexics to suffer needlessly – as well as
wasting the distinctive talents that are
sorely needed by the larger society and
economy as we enter an age of great
uncertainty on many fronts. They
recognize that we badly need the big
picture thinking and original insights that
seem to be the signature contributions of
the most successful dyslexics. (It is a
paradox, among many paradoxes, but it
may be that those who would appear,
initially, to need the most help are, in
time, may be those most likely to be able
to help the most.)

Much has changed in recent years that
would suggest that these fundamental
changes in perspective may be much
closer to taking place: a small conference
of foundations, researchers and highly
successful dyslexic individuals and their
families took place in April 2013 – which
has built considerable momentum in this
direction; the increasing influence of the
“positive psychology” movement
(Seligman, 1990); efforts to integrate
dyslexia research with work psychology
research (in the UK and elsewhere);
books, articles, blogs and websites
d e v o t e d t o “ t h e d y s l e x i c
advantage.” (Eide & Eide, 2011)

William J. Dreyer – Case Study of a
Dyslexic Discoverer and His Grandson

Sometimes, a longer look at a particular
case can indicate the potential of these
major reversals in perspective. The
passage below is excerpted from the oral
history project at the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena. The speaker is
the late William J. Dreyer, Ph.D., who is
increasingly recognized as one of the
major innovators in the early days of the
biotech revolution that is now washing
over all of us. In September 2007, one of
his inventions was placed in the National
Museum of Health and Medicine in
Washington, D.C. -- the first gas-phase
automated protein sequencer, which he
patented in 1977. The sign over the
machine on exhibit reads: “The
Automated Gas-Phase Protein Sequencer:
William J. Dreyer and the Creation of a
New Technology.”

“I knew I was different in the way that I
thought, but I didn’t realize why I was so
dumb at spelling ... and rote memory and
arithmetic. The first time I realized how
different ... brains could be ... was when I
bumped into Jim Olds at a dinner party
back in the late sixties. Jim ... was a
professor here [at the California Institute
of Technology] ... famous for his pleasure
center work. A speaker talked about the
way we think and compared it to
holography. Jim was across the table
from me. I said, ‘Oh, yes. When I’m
inventing an instrument or whatever, I see
it in my head and I rotate it and try it out
and move the gears. If it doesn’t work, I
rebuild it in my head.’ And he looked at
me and said, ‘I don’t see a thing in my
head with my eyes closed. ’We spent the
rest of the evening trying to figure out
how two professors -- both obviously
gifted people at Caltech in the Biology
Division -- could possibly think at all,
because we were so different. So then I
took this up with Roger Sperry [Nobel
Laureate and near lab neighbor] and I
realized that I had some amazing
shortcomings as well as some amazing
gifts” (Caltech, 1999)3.

A strong visual thinker and in many ways
a classic dyslexic, Dreyer developed new
ways of thinking about molecular biology.
With his powerful dyslexic visual
imagination, he could somehow see the
molecules interacting with each other.
Sometimes he was almost entirely alone.
He (with his colleague J. Claude Bennett)
advanced new ideas based on new data
about how genes recombine themselves
to create the immune system. These ideas
turned out to be many years ahead of
their time.

Most did not like this new theory because
it conflicted with the conventional beliefs
held by most expects in the field in those
years. “It was so counter to the dogma of
the time that nobody believed it,” his
widow, Janet Dreyer, explained (Dreyer,
J., 2005). Dreyer’s approach also used a
form of scientific investigation (“peptide
mapping”) with which most immunologists
were then entirely unfamiliar. “Knowing
what we know now pretty much any
biologist would look at Bill’s data and say
that is what it has to mean. But few could
understand it then,” she noted. However,
gradually, they all learned to think the
way Dreyer thought. Then, it was obvious
that Dreyer (and Bennett) had to be right.

To See What Others Cannot See

In his earlier school days, Dreyer had the
usual reading, writing, memory and other
academic difficulties experienced by most
dyslexics. Throughout his career, he
avoided reading and writing whenever
possible. But in time, he was able to
make it to college and even graduate
school -- where he developed his own
ways of learning and began to find roles
that that made use of his strengths while
he learned to get help in his areas of
weakness.

He joined a study group. The others in the
group all took careful notes in the
lectures. He took no notes. He just sat
there while he listened and observed
carefully. Then after the lecture, they
provided him with the detailed data, and

3���� PDF�� at�� http://oralhistories.library.caltech.edu/108/.�� Roger��
Sperry,�� mentioned�� in�� this�� quotation,�� was�� Caltech�� Hixon��
Professor�� of�� Psychobiology�� 1954��1984.�� Sperry�� was��
awarded��the��Nobel��Prize��in��Physiology��or��Medicine��in��1981.��

he told them what it all meant. “He was
giving the big picture and all the major
concepts, …”explained Janet Dreyer.
Eventually, surviving a major lifethreatening
illness made him realize it
was time to refocus his life -- and then his
fascination with laboratory work began to
draw him in.

Soon, with his remarkable ability to
visualize the molecular interactions (using
his dyslexic imagination), the young Bill
Dreyer became a star in the laboratory.
While in graduate school in Seattle,
Washington state, and while working at
the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in
Bethesda, Maryland, he could tell his
professors and colleagues which were the
best experiments to do. Somehow he
knew how to proceed and where to go in
this brand new field of study that came to
be known as protein chemistry. He was
seeing patterns and connections the
others were not seeing. 

Like many highly successful dyslexics, 
Dreyer could thrive in the leading edge of a 
new field. Like somany dyslexics, Dreyer 
seemed far better suited to creating 
new knowledge than he
was in memorizing old knowledge.
At this time, his professors and section
heads would write the grants, get the
funding and write the research papers
with him and for him based on his ideas
and observations. “The money just came.
Because he was doing good work, grants
would just be there for him,” observed
Janet Dreyer. He was happy at NIH but
eventually (after a previous Caltech offer
had been refused) in 1963, Caltech
persuaded Dreyer to come to Pasadena
as a full professor at the age of 33.
Clearly, the value of his pioneering work
had been recognized.

However, later, because of the further
development of his new and increasingly
heretical ideas, William Dreyer could not
get funding from academic or foundation
sources for inventing his new instruments.
His department head would get irate
phone calls from professors from other
institutions complaining about Dreyer’s
publications and talks. He gave many
talks at the time, making some attendees
angry, although others could see the
importance of his innovative observations.
“He was on the lecture circuit then and he
[gave these talks] a lot.” Of course, these
were not really unproven theories,
explained his widow Janet. She pointed
out that Dreyer was sure of his ground
because he had the data to prove the
veracity of his ideas. “It was not merely a
hypothesis in that paper, it was real
data.” However, it was data in a form so
new and so alien that almost everyone in
the field could not understand what he
was talking about. In time, these
professors, and all their students, came to
see, much later, that William Dreyer had
been right all along.

Because he could not get funding from
the usual sources, Dreyer went to private
companies to manufacture the innovative
instruments he had designed and built
himself -- something quite unusual and
discouraged at the time but now wildly
popular among universities hoping for a
share of large royalty payments. Seeing
the potential for his inventions (and their
scientific impact) but having a hatred of
administration and corporate politics,
Dreyer came to be the “idea man” for
seven new biotech companies (including
Applied Biosystems).

Years later, when Susumu Tonegawa was
awarded a Nobel Prize (Physiology or
Medicine, 1987) for work he had done in
Switzerland, his innovative sequencing
work proved (through experiments that
were illegal in the US at the time) that
Dreyer and his colleague had been
correct in their predictions many years
earlier. In the words of two scientific
historians of this period: “This experiment
marked the point of no return for the
domination of the antibody diversity
question by nucleotide studies: it was
Susumu Tonegawa’s final proof of the
Dreyer-Bennett V-C translocation
hypothesis through the use of restriction
enzymes” (Tauber & Podolsky, 1997, 207).

Family weaknesses, Family Strengths

Later in his life, Dreyer taught molecular
biology to his grandson who was clever
with computers but had been having a
very hard time in high school because of
his own dyslexia. The grandson went to
live with his grandfather. Employing the
grandson as a kind of apprentice, Dreyer
would start each work day (using a form
of applied just-in-time learning) saying
something like: “I want you to write this
little search program for me today but
first let me explain the biology you need
to know to do this task.” In time, working
with Dreyer, the grandson skipped the
latter part of high school, most of college,
all of graduate school and was doing
advanced “post-doc” level work writing
computer programs, doing advanced
programming developing databases,
graphic user interfaces (GUIs), and other
tools.

The grandson also used sophisticated
scientific information visualization
techniques to help link various human
traits to sections of the genetic code. In
doing this work, he noted that he used
his “visual thinking ability to design the
architecture of the programs ... visualizing
the components in his head, trying it out
and fixing what doesn’t work, before I
write the code -- much like my
grandfather...” He is not only doing high
level work; as Dreyer and others pointed
out, the grandson was in fact working at
the leading edge -- co-authoring peerreviewed
journal articles (King, in Roden,
2005, Hart, 2006). 

Indeed, one of the grandson’s 
work colleagues only got his
own Ph.D. degree (and a required
publication) because the grandson was
able to write a tutorial and GUI that
helped a member of the colleague’s
required publication review committee
better understand the significance of the
advanced work done by the colleague
(Dreyer, Dreyer & King, 2001-2004)4.

Much later, after years of post–doc level
work without even a high school diploma,
the grandson decided it was time to go
to college. He chose a university with
very challenging standards but also an
extremely good system for supporting his
dyslexia—which presented continuing
problems throughout his years of
study. This happened to be the University
of California at Berkeley. In May of 2013,
the grandson, Brandon King, graduated
in Cognitive Science with honors and
distinction.

Brandon’s grandfather, William Dreyer,
died of cancer in the spring of 2004. One
of the enduring passions of his later work
had been to try to understand the

4����Additional��clarifications��and��further��details��were��provided��
by��Brandon��King�� via��email,��March�� 23,��2009,��available��from��
Thomas��G��West.��

relationship between his dyslexia, his
visual thinking and the high levels of
creativity he had experienced in his own
life and work. Dreyer’s interest led to his
participation in a small conference on
visualization technologies, creativity and
dyslexia held at the National Library of
Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. This
author’s second book, Thinking Like
Einstein, is dedicated to: 

“William J.Dreyer, 
1928-2004, 
molecular biologist,
strong visual thinker, 
prescient inventor,
instrument maker, 
who loved to fly high to
see what others 
could not see, 
frequently
alone.”

Magnificently Ill-Adapted Engines of
Discovery

The story of the life of William Dreyer and
his grandson, Brandon King, brings into
sharp focus the considerable advantages,
in the right setting, of the dyslexic kind of
brain -- at least of certain variations within
the great diversity of dyslexic brains. (Of
course, this story also strongly suggests
what sometimes might be possible
employing nontraditional educational
approaches such as apprenticeship or
home schooling.) We can see that this
kind of brain -- seemingly so magnificently
ill-adapted to conventional education --
can (sometimes) be a powerful engine of
insight, innovation and discovery.

This kind of brain may cause many
problems in early schooling but it may
also, sometimes, raise some individuals
rapidly to the top of a new field of
knowledge -- pushing forward way
beyond the many who are conventionally
successful students but who find it hard to
conceive of anything really new or really
important. Perhaps they cannot see
through to the novel, unexpected solution
because they have learned too well
exactly what the teacher wanted them to
learn, what was expected on the
conventional test. Perhaps they cannot
easily unlearn what they have been
taught.

In another example, one high-achieving
researcher at NIH, with three professional
degrees, in law, medicine and
pharmacology, once admitted that he
was aware of his own limitations,
constrained beneath a kind of glass
ceiling. He was aware that in spite of all
h i s s u c c e s s a n d academic
accomplishments, he “was not dyslexic
enough” to do really original, creative
and important work -- as he had seen in
his dyslexic colleagues. (Personal
communication, R.S., March 2000.)

With stories such as these, we can begin
to understand that these visual-thinking
dyslexics do indeed see the world
differently. They think differently. They are
not like non-dyslexics. They are not like
each other. Often, they seem to “see
things that others do not see.” (This same
phrase -- with almost exactly the same
words -- reoccurs with striking frequency in
many different and unconnected settings.)

Yet these same individuals have great
difficulty with things that are easy for
almost everyone else -- especially at the
lower levels of education. In schools, they
are constantly tested on what they are
not good at -- almost by definition.
Why are they never tested, we should
ask, in the areas where (some and
perhaps many) have enormous talent and
can make major contributions in their
later life and work? Can teachers and
school psychologists believe that this is
possible? It is hoped that some of the
stories offered here will have created a
new vision of what is possible. 

But this new vision may also require the
development of new tests and measures -
- ones quite different from conventional
academically-oriented measures -- but
perhaps ones that are better suited to the
new realities of life and work, suited for
the visual-thinking dyslexics but also
suited for many non-dyslexics as well.
To succeed with such extremely mixed
abilities, as these individuals often do,
one needs to have a deep reservoir of
confidence and fortitude to carry on in
spite of the judgments of others that you
are, in fact, really slow and lazy and
stupid. To maintain the required drive,
determination and sense of mission in the
face of almost constant early failure and
humiliation is often nothing short of
miraculous. 

It would appear that only a
comparatively small number survive these
early days with enough confidence and
drive to press on, against all odds, to find
success in some area of special
knowledge, deep understanding and
passionate interest. We need to better
understand the nature of this kind of
success and the remarkable individuals
who seem able to find their way around
so many obstacles, seeking an area
where they are at home with their work,
often performing at very high levels of
proficiency and productivity.

Those of us who are trying to understand
and to help dyslexics (along with others
more or less like them) must come to see
that conventional academic remediation
is only part of the job -- and not the most
interesting or important part. We need to
seek ways to help dyslexics find and
develop their own talents, large or small,
so that they cannot be beaten down --
hiding their distinctive talents along with
their disabilities. One of the best ways --
perhaps the only really effective way -- to
do this is to study the lives and work of
highly successful dyslexics (in some detail
and in all their great diversity) -- to allow
other dyslexics to see what can be done
as well as showing how it can be done.

The story of Bill Dreyer and his grandson
shows clearly the mixed problems and
great potential of dyslexic individuals and
dyslexic families in a most modern,
s c i e n t i f i c a l l y - s o p h i sticated and
technologically-advanced context. The
talents that many dyslexics exhibit are
powerful and valuable assets (frequently
hidden and misunderstood) in a rapidly
changing world. These individuals may
appear to be slow and backward, but in
many cases they are way ahead of
nearly everyone around them, those who
are mostly blind to what visual thinking
dyslexics can do and what they can
contribute.

Over the years, more and more dyslexic
individuals have become aware of their
own special talents as they confront their
l o ng- h idde n weak n e s s e s an d
humiliations. Many are finally coming to
understand the positive aspects of their
own mixed abilities well enough to give
themselves permission to talk about and
think about things they no longer need to
see as only failures and weaknesses to
be hidden and denied. They have
discovered that it does not go away just
because you pretend it is not there.
Fathers are realizing that they cannot
drive it out of their sons by ever more
rigid discipline. Rather, they are learning
that it is best to confront it, face on, with
the new realization that there are hidden
talents to be acknowledged (and used)
as well as fears that will increasingly fade
away in the clear light of day.

Learning to see the positive side can be
powerful indeed. Of course, there is still a
great deal of work to be done, but it can
be focused on increasing strengths rather
than decreasing weaknesses. It is urgent
at this time to outline the kinds of things
that need to be done -- to take seriously,
at long last, the varied talents and
considerable strengths of dyslexics. The
time is right. The time is late. The time is
long overdue. 

Those on the front lines --
the teachers, tutors, parents, advocates
and school psychologists--those who have
cared the most, those who have been
able to understand when no one else did-
-unfortunately, they have often done less
than they could have done because they
have attended to only half of the job.
They have too often focused on fixing the
problems – and have totally ignored the
development of talents. This should
change -- and we hope that it will change
soon.

References

Branson, R. (1999). Dyslexia: Dyslexic Genius,
Parts 1 and 2. Documentary, Twenty
Twenty Television for UK Channel Four.

Broecker, W. (2010). The Great Ocean
Conveyor: Discovering the Trigger for
Abrupt Climate Change. Princeton and
Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Caltech (California Institute of Technology),
(1999). Oral History Project, session
one, tape 1, side1, interview of
February 18, 1999 with Shirley K.
Cohen, published by Caltech Archives
2005.

Dreyer, Dreyer & King, (2001-2004). Multiple
conversations with William Dreyer,
Janet Dreyer and Brandon King, 2001-
2004.

Dreyer, Janet Roman, Ph.D., molecular
biologist, second wife and widow of
William J. Dreyer. Interview with
Thomas G. West, June 28, 2005.

Eide, B. L., & Fernette F. (2011). The Dyslexic
Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden
Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New
York: Hudson Street Press.

Geshwind, N. & A. M. Galaburda, (1987).
Cerebral Lateralization: Biological
Mechanisms, Associations and
Pathology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT
Press.

Hart C. E., Sharenbroich, L., Bornstein, B. J.,
Trout, D., King, B., Mjolsness, E. & Wold
B. J. (2005). A mathematical and
computational framework for
quant itat ive compar ison and
integration of large-scale gene
expression data. Nucleic Acids
Research, 33(8), 2580-94.

Horner, J. (2007). Video interview, Thomas G.
West and John (Jack) Horner, Personal
collection, NHK DVD, not broadcast,
Thomas G. West.

Mail Online, July 13, 2013. Dyslexia is Britain’s
secret weapon in the spy war. http://
www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-
2362793/Dyslexia-Britains-secretweapon-
spy-war-Top-codebreakers
crack-complex-problems-suffercondition.
html

Reid, G. & Kirk, J. (2001). Dyslexia in Adults:
Education and Employment. New York:
John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Roden J. C., King, B. W., Trout, D., Mortazavi,
A., Wold B. J. & Hart, C. E. (2006).
Mining gene expression data by
interpreting principal components.
BMC Bioinformatics, 7, 194.

Schneps, M. (2013). Harvard-Smithsonian
Center for Astro-Physics. Laboratory for
V i s u a l L e a r n i n g . S e e
www.cfa.harvard.edu/dyslexia/LVL/

Schultz, P. (2011). My Dyslexia. New York: W.
W. Norton & Company.
Seligman, M. E. P. (1990). Learned optimism.
New York: Knopf.

Tauber, A. I. & Podolsky S. H. (1997). The
Generation of Diversity: Clonal
Selection Theory and the Rise of
Molecular Immunology. Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press.

West, T. G. (2004). Thinking Like Einstein:
Returning to Our Visual Roots with the
Emerging Revolution in Computer
Information Visualization. Amherst, NY:
Prometheus Books.

West, T. G. (2005). The Gifts of Dyslexia:
Talents Among Dyslexics and Their
Families, Hong Kong Journal of
Paediatrics (New Series), 10, 153-158.

West, T. G. (2009). In the Mind’s Eye: Creative
Visual Thinkers, Gifted Dyslexics and
the Rise of Visual Technologies.
Second edition. Amherst, NY:
Prometheus Books.

Biographical Sketch

Thomas G. West is the author of In the
Mind's Eye: Creative Visual Thinkers,
Gifted Dyslexics and the Rise of Visual
Technologies (Prometheus Books),
selected as one of the “best of the best”
for the year by the American Library
Association (one of only 13 books in their
broad psychology, psychiatry and
neuroscience category).

In the Mind’s Eye was published in
Japanese translation in as Geniuses Who
Hated School. A Chinese translation was
published in 2004 and a Korean
translation was released in 2011. West’s
second book is Thinking Like Einstein:
Returning to Our Visual Roots with the
Emerging Revolution in Computer
Information Visualization. 

Dyslexic himself, Mr. West has been invited to 
provide presentations for scientific, medical, art,
design, computer and business groups in
the U.S. and overseas, including groups
in Australia, Canada, New Zealand,
Hong Kong, Taiwan, Dubai and twelve
European countries. Recent invited
conference lectures or keynotes have
included: Magdalen College Oxford,
Harvard and MIT, University of California
at Berkeley, University of Malta, University
of Trieste, the Arts Dyslexia Trust in
London and an education conference in
Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 

Early in 2013, West gave a talk on creative visual
thinking, computer graphic information
visualization and dyslexia at Pixar
Animation Studios in Emeryville, California
– and presented a Director's Colloquium
on a similar topic for scientists and staff
of NASA Ames Research Center (at
Moffett Field in California’s Silicon
Valley).


Postscript

Important alternative research trends and
perspectives have been becoming more
apparent recently. The Dyslexic
Advantage organization (with which this
writer is associated) has recently
formulated a strategy for research
progress built around the following series
of observations:

It is increasingly clear that dyslexic
individuals do not only differ from nondyslexics
in the ways they process written
language. Rather, they differ in the ways
they process almost all kinds of
information. Consequently, researchers
now see that they will need to study more
than reading and writing.

In addition, dyslexic individuals are seen
to share common strengths as well as
areas of difficulty – and these strengths
usually involve brain functions unrelated to
reading. Indeed, the strengths of dyslexics
provide the reason that there are so many
dyslexic individuals in the human
population – that is, the dyslexic wiring
pattern in the brain has been selected
over long periods of time as a favorable
trait and this provides the basis for
achieving such high prevalence.

Increasingly, researchers are becoming
more aware that dyslexia is a lateblooming
profile. The strengths of dyslexics are 
often more apparent later in
development than the strengths of many
non-dyslexics. Consequently, because
these strengths are more apparent in
adults than children – when the nervous
system is fully matured – it is now seen as
important to study dyslexic adults,
including those who are excelling in their
lives and work as well as those who
continue to have difficulties.

Another important observation within the
Dyslexic Advantage perspective is that it
may be inherently difficult to measure the
things that many dyslexics are good at.
Dyslexic individuals often excel in complex
high-level cognitive tasks. Consequently,
researchers believe they need to develop
more creative research approaches and
testing methods capable of measuring
these high-level skills and talents. These
researchers are learning to re-examine
dyslexic children in light of what they have
learned about the mature adult dyslexic
brain. This way, they hope to be able to
better understand the true nature and
significance of what they observe in the
earlier stages of development.

To emphasize this last point, the Dyslexic
Advantage organization has chosen to
adopt the image of the butterfly as the
institutional logo and symbol – believing
that one can only see what the dyslexic
brain is “trying to become” by considering
its mature form. If one were to study
caterpillars only, one would never guess
that this fat, ugly worm with so many legs
is ultimately destined to fly high and far
on wings of iridescent beauty. 

(Personal communications, Dyslexic 
Advantage, October 2013.)

Thomas West

1 November 2013