Account Director, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
1 Jun 2021
Dylan Langley explains what it’s like to be a dyslexic and explains that while it can cause challenges, in reality it’s much like a superpower which helps him see what others cannot
I hereby resign from BAE Systems.
So that’s not a sentence I’m happy to have written. But write it I did – twice. As resignation letters go they were short and sweet but, at that particular time, I felt like I had been left with little option but to tender my intent to seek out pastures new.
The problem was that both times the person I was working for was thinking differently to myself and neither one of us could reconcile our logic to each other’s. Thankfully, on both occasions, other colleagues defused the situation but these were formative experiences, rooted in the fact that I am a dyslexic and therefore think a little differently to others.
That said, it’s not as if dyslexia is an uncommon condition. About 20% of the general population are dyslexic and well known people to have had the condition include Leonardo DaVinci, Walt Disney and Albert Einstein.
I was diagnosed at an early age. While only mild, the main issue for me is when a word does not sound like how it is spelt – like ‘lieutenant’ (see UK and US pronunciations). So while other dyslexics have different and more severe challenges to overcome, my issue is with the many different ways the same sound can be created by letters – and vice versa – and how the same sound is then written down in very different letters depending on the etymology of the word. Spelling longer words, by contrast, is no trouble at all.
My two sons have inherited the condition and, to be honest, our collective inability to remember how certain words are spelled can leave my wife (who I always spell ‘whife’) pretty confused. But that’s just it – we don’t remember it and have to work it out each time. It’s why I dropped history at school because I couldn’t deal with how much I had to remember, but now I love it as I have loads of context to place it into. And it’s why I often have to start my day at 5:15am whenever there is something significant to read and write as I know it’s going to take hours.
It’s partly down to how the English language has evolved – i.e from so many other languages – and partly how my brain works. Back in the day this would have been something of a blow, but now I can see that there are actually huge upsides, which I am now realising in my own career.
Dyslexics, you see, may struggle with reading but there are other more positive traits which become apparent as you get older. Creativity, for example. Although there is currently no scientific data proving people with dyslexia are more creative – researchers are still looking into this – there are many examples of people who are dyslexic who are highly creative. Sir Richard Branson, for instance, is dyslexic and he’s spent his entire career pushing creative boundaries.
And the good thing about finding something like speed reading a challenge is that at a company like BAE Systems, there’s always someone else who can step in and decipher the content quickly on my behalf.
Back to the classroom
I’ve also benefited from the constellation of online material out there – from podcasts to research papers to TED Talks and apps which offer grammar tips and tricks.
I found the TED Talk by educator Dean Bragonier to be particularly pertinent. Delving into “The True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind” he cites cognitive advantages such as our ability to “look at a situation and identify seemingly disparate pieces of information and blend those into a narrative, or a tapestry, that makes sense to us that most people can’t see” – helping smooth the way for careers in sectors such as entrepreneurship, engineering, architecture and the arts.
I see this in my kids, which has made me see it in me. Personally, the only subjects I excelled at school were maths, art and hockey, and this made Bragonier’s subsequent point about the importance of finding other ways than written text to convey learning – such as via video or audio presentation – to be particularly powerful.
Such talks have also been critical in helping my wife understand how I think, and to if not get it, to at least recognise that mine (and our sons) brains work differently and thus arrive at often counterviews to her through an entirely different route.
I suspect this is true for many couples and it reminds me of a quote from Christian Bale’s character in the movie, The Big Short: “I met my wife on match.com. My profile said that I'm a medical student with only one eye, an awkward social manner, and 145 thousand dollars in student loans. She wrote back, "You're just what I've been looking for!" She meant honest.”
I have written this article not because I needed to but because I wanted to. I want others who have a similar super power condition to take inspiration in the knowledge that it should prove no barrier to their careers – akin to GCHQ’s neuro-diversity campaign. And I want others who don’t think like this to know more about it and understand it.
It comes down to the power of diversity, which is all about ensuring that a variety of perspectives and experiences are present at decision-making tables. Only in the last couple of years have I started to realise how this picture all fits together and why I do and say some things more or less than others.
It’s not a wrong way of doing things, it’s just different, and actually it’s often the key differentiator in solving a problem or coming up with a new idea. Like deciding to write a blog about it, for example.