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Stealth Dyslexia: Introduction

March 7, 2021

Both can be true. One can be a slow reader AND a brilliant thinker.

Being able to hold the 2 separate things, recognizing them as separate and co-existing, is a crucial step in incorporating intraindividual differences into one’s understanding of self. It is truly the first step toward empowerment. Our weaknesses do not negate or diminish our strengths.

Dyslexia can be hidden/masked by high levels of intelligence and “grit” which allow for extremely successful and tenacious compensatory strategies, such that the reader is able to “get by” in reading by memorizing words and adroitly ascertaining meanings from passages. This is the classically described “stealth dyslexia,” where the dyslexia itself is hidden by compensation such that an outside observer is not able to discern the extent to which the individual is struggling. Many gifted dyslexic students in 4th Grade and up are perceived as being “the best reader in the class.” By this age, students are often doing most of their reading silently and independently. The gifted dyslexic student in these scenarios often is able to skim the passage and quickly discern the meaning and also pick out and remember key facts. Therefore, the “product” or “performance” that is visible to the outside observer gives the appearance of a strong reader. In fact, for this dyslexic student, reading may be laborious and “a drag” such that they prefer to rush through it, and get the basics they need from the material rather than having the experience of their masterful reader peers who can relish in digesting the material through this medium. When asked to read this same passage aloud, the dyslexic student may read slowly, stumble on words, skip small “connector” words, misread words as a completely different word that starts with the same letter (often revealing their guessing strategy).

Stealth dyslexia avoids detection in a variety of ways, all of which occur through a process of automatic/reflexive compensation on the part of the student, who is drawing upon the skills he/she has in order to complete the tasks. This is not a conscious process. It happens upstream to awareness, or before the point of awareness. As kids get older and grow into adults, insight into this compensatory mechanism may develop. But, as young kids, the ultimate goal and driving force is learning and successful task completion; thus these intrinsic strengths get activated. 

Both can be true.

Our weaknesses do not diminish our strengths.