Famous Dyslexics: From Walt Disney to Jamie Oliver
Did you know that Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, and Muhammad Ali were all famous dyslexics? Dyslexia can greatly affect someone’s life, but that doesn’t mean it stops them from accomplishing great things. What is dyslexia? Are dyslexics more intelligent than non-dyslexics? Who are some famous dyslexics? What are the treatment methods used by famous dyslexics? What are tips to help with dyslexia?
What is dyslexia?
Reading is a complex action, especially for our brains. It requires our brains to connect letters and sounds be put into the right order as well as pull the words together into sentences, phrases, and paragraphs so that we can not only read but also comprehend it all. People who have dyslexia have issues in matching the letters they see on a page with the sounds those letters go with. Both adults and children with dyslexia all struggle to read fluently, learn a second language, spell words correctly, among other things.
Dyslexia is actually a rather common condition that affects around 20% of the population and plays a role in 80-90% of learning disabilities. Sadly, there is no cure for dyslexia it’s a lifelong condition. That said, it can be easier and get better with the right support system and exercises to help improve one’s reading ability.
A Little History of dyslexia
Dyslexia started to gain scientific relevance in the 19th century due to the societal interest people had in their having reading difficulties with the German neurologist, Adolph Kussmaul. Kussmaul noticed that many of his patients couldn’t read properly nor regularly use words in the right order. He coined the term “word blindness” to describe his patients’ difficulties. In 1887, Rudolf Berlin, a German ophthalmologist, was the first to coin the term “dyslexia” from the Greek term meaning “difficulty with words”.
In 1896, the first case of developmental dyslexia was reported in the British Medical Journal by Pringle-Morgan. Hinshelwood, an ophthalmologist, and Pringle-Morgan, a general practitioner, both speculated that these difficulties with writing and reading are chalked up to “congenital word blindness” and for many years following, the majority opinion was that dyslexia is caused by visual processing deficiencies. That theory was proven wrong in 1925 when Samuel Orton, an American neurologist, suggested the first ever theory on how specific reading disabilities arose. Orton placed a lot of emphasis on the dominance on one side of the brain. Some of the teaching strategies that he developed are still in use today.
In the mid-20th century, children with specific literacy difficulties began to not be considered “under the jurisdiction” of medicine. Rather, they fell into educational and psychological categories.
Famous Dyslexics: Are dyslexics more intelligent?
Check out this video on dyslexia and intelligence with a dyslexia specialist and speech-language pathologist, Devon Barnes.
It’s sad, but some parents, teachers, and people believe that someone who is dyslexic lacks intelligence. That’s simply not true, though. Dyslexia has absolutely nothing to do with someone’s intelligence. That said here are a few key facts about dyslexia and intelligence:
- Children who fail to read, write and spell-like their peers often think they aren’t intelligent.
- People with dyslexia, though they are slow readers due to the effects of dyslexia, are often creative and quick thinkers with strong reasoning abilities.
- Most people with dyslexia are average or above-average in intelligence.
- It’s not uncommon for “highly-gifted” children to have a specific visual-spatial learning style as well as learning problems associated with dyslexia.
This study even proves that dyslexia and intelligence are connected! According to the study, “High-performing dyslexics are very intelligent, often out-of-the-box thinkers and problem-solvers.”
Walt Disney was one of the famous dyslexics whose struggle with the condition is more well-known, and the father of everything Disney from Mickey Mouse to the theme parks to Cinderella suffered from dyslexia and ended up dropping out of school at the ripe young age of 16 despite being a highly motivated person. He took classes like photography and drawing and was the cartoon artist for the school newspaper. He tried to join the army but was turned down for being too young. Having been turned down from the Army, Walt Disney moved to France and got a gig working for the Red Cross and driving an ambulance. Although Walt Disney had dyslexia his whole life, he didn’t drop out of school for not being smart enough- he was incredibly intelligent having earned honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, and UCLA. Disney never let any sort of adversity with dyslexia slow him down. He was once quoted as saying, “We allow no geniuses around our studio,” talking about his cartoon studio.
Leonardo Da Vinci
Da Vinci is one of the world’s most famous painters by painting works such as the Mona Lisa. Da Vinci, although having been one of the famous dyslexics, also was highly skilled as an inventor and in mathematics.
It’s said that Einstein, one of the world’s most famous names, didn’t talk until the age of four nor read until the age of seven due to a language disability and dyslexia. He is probably one of the most famous dyslexics of our list. While it’s argued that this is a false notion, he was nevertheless a brilliant scientist who failed all of his classes and dropped out of high school… then he went on to fail his college entrance exams.
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Beethoven is one of the most renowned musical composers to this day and also one of the most famous dyslexics. However, one of his music teachers once told him that he couldn’t follow instructions. Why? Not only was he deaf, but he was also dyslexic!
Famous actor and one of the famous dyslexics himself learned to cope with dyslexia and managed to graduate calling himself a “functional illiterate”.
“When I’d go to a new school, I wouldn’t want the other kids to know about my learning disability.” – Tom Cruise
Keira Knightley, one of the best-known actresses from Hollywood, never let her dyslexia get in the way. Check out this interview with this famous dyslexic about her disorder. Even though she states that she has now overcome dyslexia, we want to state that you cannot overcome dyslexia, however, work with it and the symptoms and difficulties tend to feel less burdening.
Tommy Hilfiger is an iconic fashion designer who created the all American brand of clothing that is popular in both men and women’s fashion and has been since the 1980s. While Hilfiger is a well-recognized name around the world, many don’t know the struggle of the designers past and struggles with dyslexia. Hilfiger believes that his dyslexia is what helped inspire him to become a designer. His lack of formal education is what allows him to be unique in his craft compared to his fashion counterparts. Hilfiger is quoted as saying, “I still have trouble reading. I have to concentrate very hard at going left to right, otherwise, my eye just wanders to the bottom of the page.” He is one of the famous dyslexics who focused on his own strength and used his difficulties as a tool to help him succeed.
The world’s richest man is also one of the world’s most famous dyslexics. Gates is a Harvard University dropout but nevertheless was able to change the world and become incredibly famous all the while dealing with the day-to-day issues that come with dyslexia.
“Dyslexia is a sign of potential.” Richard Branson belongs to the group of famous dyslexics who dropped out of school at age 16 and whose dyslexia was treated as a handicap. His teachers thought he was dumb and lazy when, in reality, he simply was dealing with dyslexia. Richard Branson is the founder of Made By Dyslexia, an organization whose goal is to shed a different, positive light on dyslexia. Branson’s full name is Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson and he’s an English entrepreneur who founded the Virgin Group which controls over 400 companies.
Jim Carrey, one of television’s finest, had undiagnosed dyslexia and struggled to read from a young age. He used his memory to get through school and became of the world’s lesser-known famous dyslexics.
The man behind Apple grew up dyslexic. However, Jobs never let his dyslexia get in the way of his success. In 2011, Jobs’ net worth was over $10.2 billion.
Bloom is most famously known for his roles in Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. He was discovered to have dyslexia when he was young in school and his mother encouraged him to take art and drama classes which is what led him to his acting career.
Whoopi Goldberg is a political activist, comedian, and talk show host who fits into the group of famous dyslexics. She is one of the few people to win a Grammy, Yont, Emmy, and an Oscar.
John F Kennedy, George Washington, & George W Bush
All three of these Presidents of the United States of America were believed to be famous dyslexics.
Muhammed Ali, a known boxer and activist, really struggled in school when he was a boy. He is quoted s saying, “As a high school student, many of the teachers labeled me a dumb… but I knew who the real dummies were. I barely graduated. There was no way I was going to college I never even thought about it. I could barely read my textbooks.” However, Ali didn’t know at the time that he had dyslexia. He also didn’t have much confidence in his abilities. Having eventually graduated from graduate school 376 out of 391 in his class, Ali became an advocate for children with dyslexia.
Maggie is a research fellow in the UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies as well as an Honorary Research Assistant in the UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy. She is the co-producer of the long-running TV show The Sky At Night. Maggie is one of the famous dyslexics who struggled a lot in life with dyslexia but came out on top with hard work and perseverance.
Cher wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia at the school like many other famous dyslexics. Rather, she was unable to read when she dropped out of high school after two weeks. She found out she had dyslexia when she was looking into solutions for her own dyslexic child at age 30. Due to her dyslexia, she became an avid listener and could retain information that other people might have missed.
Tim Tebow is an American football quarterback who while being successful, is also a famous dyslexic. That said, Tebow had the odds stacked against him before he was even born. When his mother was pregnant with him, she became ill with amoebic dysentery in the Philippines and slipped into a coma. The medications used to treat her also caused her a severe placental abruption… the doctors told her that she needed an abortion because a stillborn child was imminent. Despite the doctors’ orders, Tim’s parents continued with the pregnancy and Tim was born healthy with no signs on any wrong. That is until elementary school when Tim was diagnosed with dyslexia. Like Tim, his brother and father also have the condition as well as Tim’s former NFL coach Rex Ryan.
John Lennon is one of the most famous of the famous dyslexics, but not for having dyslexia. Lennon was the lead singer of the Beatles, the world-renowned band in the 1960s who changed the shape of rock music.
A professional chef and bookseller who dropped out of school at age 16 without any official qualifications made it big and didn’t let dyslexia stop him. Check out his interview about how dyslexia changed his life.
Treatments used by famous dyslexics
Everyone deals with dyslexia in different ways. Here are a few that some of the famous dyslexics have used to help cope:
- Find out how you learn best.
- Try using flashcards to help learn things. They incorporate many ways of learning- writing, reading, and the physical movement of flipping the cards (kinesthetic learning).
- Understand that it might take longer to learn things that others, but that doesn’t mean you are stupid or incompetent
- Train your cognitive skills
Famous Dyslexics: Tips to help with dyslexia
There are a ton of ways to help your child at home or to help yourself.
- Check out these 16 essential facts to know about dyslexia!
- Try using the different senses. Research has shown that a productive way for dyslexics to learn is to incorporate many different senses such as sight, touch, and hearing.
- Understand the early signs of dyslexia.
- Find out the etymology of a word- especially if your child is bilingual! Sometimes knowing how words formed can be useful. For instance, there used to be a rule in early English that words can’t end in the letter “v”… that’s why words like have, give, and save end with an “e”.
- It’s important to understand what it means for you when your child is dyslexic because it doesn’t only affect them.
- Make a word wall to display words that your child has mastered and “got down pat”. The child can then refer to the wall for assignments and spelling practice as well as future guidance in general. It’s also a great way to show how your child’s vocabulary is growing!
- Go into detail when reading and talking to your child. Dyslexics need help when it comes to noticing the details in new words- even more so when the word is spelled oddly.
- Make things artistic. Sometimes, remembering a word is easier if it is learned visually and by ear. For example, take a flashcard and have the written word on one side and have the child draw a picture of the word on the other side. For instance, write “table” on one side and draw a table on the other.
- Be in touch with the school. If you feel that your child may have a learning disability or dyslexia, be sure to keep in touch and tag-team with the school and teachers. When you and the school are working as a team, it means that your child gets double the practice which is important for dyslexic students.
Let us know what you think of famous dyslexics in the comments below!
Anna is a freelance writer who is passionate about translation, psychology, and how the world works.