Dyslexia – a Hindrance or an Advantage?

As reported by the Guardian earlier this year, people with dyslexia have skills that are drastically needed at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The UK surveillance agency said it has long valued neurodiverse analysts such as Alan Turing

Alan Turing – the Second World War codebreaker and the all-round genius, whose work paved the way for the modern computer – was allegedly dyslexic.

According to his headmaster in Sherborne School, the boy was wasting his time at public school if he focused only on science and ignored the classics. The headmaster believed that a student needed the classics to get educated. Never mind that Turing grasped Einstein’s critique of Newton when he was just 16 years old.

However, over decades, scientists became more interested in the phenomenons like autism and dyslexia. They looked at people like Alan Turing and wondered whether these conditions might actually be an advantage, not a hindrance.

Now, again, proved with the Government Communications Headquarters: apprentices on GCHQ’s scheme are four times more likely to have dyslexia than those on other organisations’ programmes, the agency has said, the result of a drive to recruit those whose brains process information differently. According to the GCHQ, those with dyslexia have valuable skills spotting patterns that others miss – a key area the spy agency wants to encourage as it pivots away from dead letter drops and bugging towards high-tech cybersecurity and data analysis.

Jo Cavan, the director of strategy, policy and engagement at GCHQ, said that the agency has valued neurodiversity during its 100-year existence, with the work of Alan Turing, its best known example. However, the shift to online defence and security prompted by the government’s integrated review in March will make dyslexic thinking skills an even bigger feature of GCHQ’s future, she said.

Cavan’s comments coincided with Made by Dyslexia charity, which aims to reframe how dyslexia is understood in education and employment as a strength rather than a weakness. According to Kate Griggs, the chief executive of Made by Dyslexia: “The main reason that we have a problem is that a lot of things we measure in education and in employment use standardised tests which have been the same for decades. Dyslexic people don’t have standardised minds; we process information differently, which is hugely valuable once we get into the workforce.”

This again proves the importance of personalised education and individual approach to each student, in order to help them unleash their potential. Students with dyslexia sometimes feel they are unable to thrive in a traditional school setting, but when studying in a supportive environment where individual needs are recognised and met, every pupil has an opportunity to achieve more, think fast and outside of the box. Thus, capitalising on their unique neurological differences.