Behind the Scenes with Successful Dyslexics

A healthy percentage of the ghostwriting clients I’ve had have been successful dyslexics. These are some of my favorite clients to work with. They tend to have fascinating ideas, interesting life stories, and a lot of compassion in their hearts.

Adult illiteracy is common among successful dyslexics

To become financially secure as an illiterate adult is incredibly challenging, and dyslexic folks who can afford to hire a ghostwriter tend to be more than just secure, but downright successful. Working with successful dyslexics has made me aware that an inordinate number of them are highly talented at business despite being unable to read.

Part of dyslexia, they say, is having a mindset that tends to give you a “big picture perspective.” (A really helpful book on this: The Dyslexic Advantage.) The paths these dyslexic folks have travelled fascinates me because before I worked with them, I never gave adult illiteracy much thought. I certainly never realized that some of the world’s top business men and women are severely dyslexic.

Words are my lifeblood

Obviously, I’m not dyslexic. I’m not just a writer, but someone for whom words and books are my lifeblood. (Here’s a blog on how fun that is)

When I hear an unfamiliar word, I immediately wonder how it’s spelled. When I hear musicians sing, I ponder exactly how the lyrics were written on the music sheets.

As a child, I remember hearing Crystal Gayle’s song River Road, where she passionately sang, “I ran down River Ro ho ho hoad.” I wondered if the song lyrics spelled it out exactly like that or if she made up the “ho ho ho” part. My mind automatically relates everything to the written word. Not so for dyslexics.

Punctuation stymies dyslexics

Recently, I had an altercation in an airport with a United representative who warned me my under-the-seat luggage wasn’t appropriate because it didn’t conform to the description in this sentence: “Passengers may carry on one bag (such as a purse or briefcase) that fits under the seat.”

She argued that since my under-the-seat luggage didn’t resemble a purse or a briefcase, it was disqualified, to which I smart-ass-ly replied, “Items in parentheses are subordinate to the text of the main clause; therefor, the fact that the luggage fits under the seat is more important than the fact that it resembles a purse or briefcase.”

You’ll notice I also know how to use semicolons (unheard of!) (Thanks Mr. Hench!) but sadly I didn’t have a chance to rub that in her face, since my brilliant retort didn’t get transcribed for posterity.

Then I wondered: could the United rep be dyslexic? Because this misunderstanding is exactly the type of problem a dyslexic would have. Memorizing grammatical rules, like what parentheses mean, is a sheer impossibility for many dyslexics, even successful entrepreneurs.

Being nice to travelers in economy class is another problem United representatives typically have, so her problem may have had nothing to do with dyslexia, but I’m handing out benefits-of-the-doubt like candy here.

Successful dyslexics walk among us

Writing for successful dyslexics has really made me aware that my second-nature understanding of how grammatical and punctuation rules work isn’t something others necessarily share. This knowledge has made me soften up a bit.

See, I tend to get genuinely angry when I hear people habitually using words wrong. It’s not because I’m a stickler for rules (I’m a rebel to the core, are you kidding?) but because when you use words wrong, they mean something different.

You end up saying something that I can tell from your tone is not what you meant to say. So then, I don’t know what the hell you meant to say, but you go around acting like you have been EXTREMELY CLEAR, because whatever you meant to say made sense to you, in your head, where words and punctuation have their own special meanings.

Because of my work with successful dyslexics, I’m trying to have more compassion for people who make no sense. I’m trying to see them as potentially learning-disabled instead of people put on this earth to torture me. These wrong-word-users might be dyslexic or they might just be careless. They might also have had a bad education. Again, that’s not their fault. They might also be “math people” who don’t get words the way I don’t get … whatever math people do.

My point is, while I can easily imagine an illiterate adult becoming homeless or helpless, I never before considered the fact that a lot of illiterate adults walk among us in every level of society. They develop elaborate strategies for hiding their dyslexia. (Here’s a blog about other forms of high quality suffering)

They can be, and often are, very successful people. Some hide their dyslexia. Others are open about it. Either way, they’re not being illiterate just to bother me.

While that may seem obvious, it’s actually a bit of a revelation. Some people don’t know how to interpret parentheses. Not everyone knows that. I thought everyone did, but no. A lot of people don’t. It’s one of life’s weird but true facts.

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