This post originally appeared on the Bachelors Degree Online site.
Learning disabilities, including dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, and autism can be life changing and debilitating. Many students struggle in school or drop out altogether. But for others, a learning disability may be a gift, requiring them to work harder and achieve more, or have a special focus or talent. It is for this reason that so many high achieving people have learning disabilities, including Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo Da Vinci. Although those with learning disabilities typically have trouble with communication, many writers are also in the high achieving, learning disabled club. We’ve highlighted 25 of them here: famous authors and writers who suffer, or thrive from, a learning disability.
Agatha Christie is the best-selling author of all time, with about four billion copies sold and translations into at least 103 languages. She is best known for her detective novels and short story collections. But at the same time, she couldn’t even balance her own checkbook due to her learning disability, believed to be dysgraphia. She had a hard time spelling correctly, as a self proclaimed "extraordinarily bad speller" and was not good about remembering numbers, but her learning disability did not hold her back.
Stephen J. Cannell was an American writer and novelist, as well as TV producer and sometime actor. His most celebrated work was crime drama scripts, with writing credits including The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, The Rockford Files, and The Greatest American Hero. He suffered from dyslexia and struggled in school, but he graduated from the University of Oregon. Cannell used his fame to speak out about dyslexia, and discussed his experiences in the documentary Dislecksia: The Movie.
As one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century, F. Scott Fitzgerald is best known for his novel, The Great Gatsby, as well as many short stories. But F. Scott Fitzgerald is believed to have had a learning disability, mostly likely dyslexia. It’s reported that he was kicked out of school at the age of 12 for not focusing or finishing his work, and he had a very hard time spelling, but he succeeded as a writer despite his disability.
The man behind the comic strip Dilbert self-diagnosed his dyslexia. He was working as a bank teller and noticed that his totals didn’t balance at the end of the day. But dyslexia does not seem to have hindered his success, as Dilbert is well loved, in addition to his books, restaurant ownership, and appearances on TV shows. Adams also suffers from focal dystonia, a condition that causes involuntary muscular contraction, as well as spasmodic dysphonia, but he is able to work around all of his conditions.
JF Lawton is a prolific screenwriter, with screen credits including Pretty Woman, Under Siege, and DOA: Dead or Alive. But before he became a popular screenwriter, he suffered from severe dyslexia. The disability made school life difficult, and Lawton had to work hard to overcome this obstacle to become a writer. He credits his father, author Harry Lawton, with the support he needed to succeed– something that families of dyslexics should keep in mind.
Dav Pilkey, author and illustrator of the Captain Underpants book series, was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia at an early age. His disabilities caused him to act out in class, and he spent lots of time banished to a desk in the school hallway. It was at this desk where he created Captain Underpants, the character that made him famous as an author and illustrator of children’s literature. For Dav Pilkey, dyslexia and ADHD helped launch a career.
The famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote more than 60 plays and is the only person to be awarded an Oscar as well as a Nobel Prize for Literature for the same film, Pygmalion. It’s believed that Shaw suffered from ADD (attention deficit disorder). Although he was a co-founder of the London School of Economics, he did not like formal education, noting that "Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents."
Award winning author Jeanne Betancourt is beloved for her Pony Pals book series. Two of the characters in her books, Brian in My Name is Brain Brian and Anna in the Pony Pals, are both dyslexic. She has publicly spoken out about her dyslexia, sharing that she believes being dyslexic helped her as a writer, and explaining that, "Since learning to read and write was difficult for me growing up, I paid more attention to the world around me. I watched and listened carefully to people for clues to what people were thinking and feeling." As a dyslexic, she better developed her skills as a storyteller.
Richard Ford is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author and a dyslexic. He’s famous for The Sportswriter and its sequels, as well as his short story collection Rock Springs. He has mild dyslexia, but he did not let his disability keep him from developing a love of literature. In fact, he believes that dyslexia actually helped him become a better reader as the disability made him slow down and be thoughtful about the books, sharing that "being slow made me pore over sentences and to be receptive to those qualities in sentences that were not just the cognitive aspect of sentences but were in fact the "poetical" aspects of language…those qualities in language are as likely to carry weight and hold meaning and give pleasure as the purely cognitive, though of course we can’t fundamentally separate those things, although the information age does its best."
Jules Verne pioneered the science fiction genre and inspired steampunk. He is most famous for his novels, including A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in Eighty Days. As a student, he was more interested in writing than working in other subjects. He didn’t do well in school, and often complained of having a hard time focusing. Although undiagnosed, it’s believed that Verne may have had a form of ADD or ADHD.