Reading between the shapes: it’s time we talked about dyslexia in our industry.

Posted: December 16th, 2020

Words: Ross Jardine

Initially when asked if I would like to write a blog piece about my experience of being dyslexic in the creative industries, my first thought was “abso-f***ing-lutely not”. You see, one of the benefits of having dyslexia as a disability is that it’s hidden, and you appear like a perfectly average employee to colleagues, management and other staff. However, the downside to this is that dyslexia is always lurking in the shadows, ready to spill your secret at the very first opportunity. Usually the secret seeps out slowly over time. Misreading a brief here, mixing up numbers there… and on one instance presenting a Christmas animation storyboard to my creative director, who pointed out that the annotation said “snow falls genital” rather than “…falls gently”. Ah?!... time for the awkward fess up.

But why wouldn’t you just tell people straight away, Ross? It’s 2020!

The reason for my, and so many people’s, dyslexia being on a need-to-know basis, stems from childhood, and more specifically school. It’s in the supposed ‘best days of your life’ that dyslexia first rears its head. Although I myself had a tremendous amount of support, even attending a ‘special’ school, many dyslexic children trying to navigate their way through school simply grow into dyslexic adults trying to navigate their way through life. Although non-dyslexic people may have a general idea about dyslexia, they don’t have a proper understanding of what it actually is, and all that it entails.

Often that leads to a lack empathy and patience. It can result in being patronised, belittled, overlooked – and, in some cases, even job loss. Which might go some way to explain way 50% of people in prison suffer from dyslexia, even though it only affects 1 in 10 of the population.

But before you get out your tiny violins, there are a lot of positives to take from this – many of which our industry can really benefit from. People with dyslexia are often good problem solvers, creative and innovative, strong visual thinkers, resourceful and resilient. All crucial ingredients for a successful career in advertising.

In our industry we talk a lot about the left side (reading, writing, maths etc.) and right side of the brain (creativity, imagination, visualisation etc.) But the dyslexic brain is disproportionately right-side dominant. To the point where, instead of reading words (left side) I recognize the shapes that words make (right side) – I notice the length of the word, the ascenders and descenders, the straight bits and the curves. Over the years I have built up a large bank of theses shapes that I quickly recognise.

As for the left-brain stuff, it’s all about finding my own coping mechanisms. For instance, I use a lot of acronyms when writing. ‘Said’ will forever conjure the image of Sad Australians In Dirt. And why is it that Big Elephants Can’t Always Understand Small Elephants? Just because. And why use spell check on the computer (what’s the point when you can recognise the word you’re trying to spell)? Use Google instead, as you’ll always get a description. Still don’t recognise the word? Then use Google Images – after all it’s all about the visuals. Plus, seeing a digital wall of knobs and noonies when you spellcheck might be less embarrassing and far more erotic than presenting a Christmas animation to your creative director.

Although it took me a long time to feel comfortable opening up about this, I feel it’s important to talk about it more. Not only in our industry, which can benefit from these unique visual thinkers, but in wider society generally. If people talked about dyslexia more, maybe it wouldn’t be seen as a disability. Maybe it would be regarded the same as being left handed or able to roll your tongue, and it wouldn’t need to be hidden.

So next time, you spot a typo, or wonder why someone has responded to your lengthy email with only three words and a gif, have patience and understand that brains work in more ways than one. What some lack in email responses, they more than make up in creative perspective.

And who knows, it might even lead to improving overcrowding in prisons.

Words and thoughts by Ross Jardine
Spellcheck by a copywriter

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