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"Dyslexics of the world, untie!"—An old joke
Dyslexia is one of many types of learning difficulties. There are many types of these difficulties and just about everyone has one to some extent or another. With dyslexia, the learning difficulty may range from a person with horrendous dyslexia who is functionally illiterate, to someone who is just fairly bad at reading and writing. In some instances, you'll find dyslexics who are actually okay at reading and writing seeing as the condition describes a wide range of cognitive problems, including things such as difficulty understanding directions, reading maps, and/or doing logical puzzles. You'd think that in fiction this would be portrayed accurately. You would be wrong.
In fiction dyslexia is a condition where people somehow see the letters in words to be all scrambled up and in the wrong order, often portrayed as going so far as using lots of hilarious Spoonerisms. Dyslexics in fiction also usually cannot spell either which is usually credited to their dyslexia. They also only have full-blown dyslexia that manifests itself as illiteracy, never as just mild difficulties. Additionally in fiction there are no other types of learning disabilities. If someone is bad at reading, they get a Very Special Episode about dyslexia. But there aren't any Very Special Episodes about problems with math, called dyscalculia; if someone is bad at math, they're lazy or stupid. Or normal.
Despite growing awareness of dyslexia in fiction, anyone with dyslexia is usually undiagnosed and seems completely surprised to learn they have it. This was very true in the past, but is becoming less so.
If you have further interest on the subject or want to know how to portray dyslexia more accurately, check out our Useful Notes page on Dyslexia. Compare Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny, for media's treatment of ADD/ADHD.
(On a side note, no, L from Death Note is not dyslexic. He'd still be able to spell his own name right if he was, though.)
- An Archie story gave Moose Mason dyslexia as an explanation for why he did so poorly in school.
- Cassandra Cain, aka Batgirl III is dyslexic. Considering her upbringing, this may be a rare case of acquired dyslexia.
- On the other side of the pond, Jubilee of the X-Men has dyscalculia.
- Sara in Teen Titans Go is dyslexic.
- In WCW, Dave Sullivan was given a dyslexia-based gimmick. Enter: Evad Sullivan.
- In the first scene of The Naked Gun 33 1/3, Frank Drebin is reading a newpaper with the headline: "Dyslexia For Cure Found".
- The younger sister Maggie from In Her Shoes is shown to have a terrible employment history and fails a screen test that involves reading from a teleprompter. She is dyslexic. But practice in reading slowly with a former (blind) English Professor helps. (In the book, sitting in a library and reading slowly at her own pace also helped).
- The Australian crime movie The Hard Word featured a criminal nicknamed Tarzan. A P.O.V. shot established that Tarzan reads words as if they're spelled backwards. During the big caper, one of the crooks must key a 4-digit security code that's written on a piece of paper. Tarzan insists on doing this job, so he reads the number with its digits reversed, and he mis-keys it accordingly. In real life, if a dyslexic consistently perceived alphanumerics in reverse order (rather than randomly mixed) he would never notice: if a dyslexic's brain consistently perceived the word "cat" as "tac", he would eventually recognize that "tac" is pronounced "cat". Actual dyslexia doesn't work that way.
- The Bollywood movie Taare Zameen Par is a brilliant example of raising awareness of the issue of dyslexia on-screen.
- In the Percy Jackson and The Olympians book series, basically all the half bloods have this. The reason given is that their minds are hardwired to read ancient greek, so forcing them to read anything else mixes them up. The author based this on his son's dyslexia, so it's portrayed more realistically than most examples.
- Roald Dahl's book The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke handled a Vicar with 'verbal dyslexia', meaning he said words backwards.
- Averted in Anne Fine's book How To Write Really Badly - the titular bad writer is dyslexic, but all it means is that he has to use a sheet to spell words and has really abysmal handwriting.
- Helen in Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You has a learning disability that's never specified as dyslexia, though she does seem to have trouble with phonics. While she has some mishaps with "b" and "d" and "p" and "q", she says it's because she can't remember which letter faces which way.
- Lucretia in Bystander was diagnosed with Dyslexia by someone that didn't realize her real problem was that print pages and computer displays weren't made for someone with thermal and electrical vision. She goes along with it as part of her Obfuscating Stupidity SOP and has never herself bothered to actually research Dyslexia, or at least she pretends she hasn't. She actually reads very well when temperatures aren't fluctuating too much and she has a paper book to read rather than a computer or other electrical device.
- Anna from Pony Pals suffers from dyslexia (and dyscalculia, although the term is never mentioned: her reading and math difficulties are just lumped together as dyslexia, presumably for simplicity's sake). In the beginning of the series, her parents think she just doesn't try hard enough and threaten punishment, until she meets a dyslexic adult who recognizes her symptoms.
Live Action TV
- Matt Parkman on Heroes has horrible dyslexia to the point that he is functionally illiterate. His having never heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he could have invoked to take alternative promotion exams, is probably related to another condition. When his FBI sort-of-partner arranges for him to take the alternative exam, he's clearly surprised at the notion.
- Theo on The Cosby Show. While it was an interesting character move to reverse his established characterization of "just being stupid", the portrayal was fairly hamfisted, and it is implied that his condition is entirely cured by a pair of glasses. This was inspired by Cosby's late son, Ennis, who actually WAS diagnosed with dyslexia.
- Common in Very Special Episodes that doesn't involve drugs, child molestation, or gambling.
- One such special ep in Step by Step had J.T. struggle with dyslexia.
- The movie Summer School had such a scene, where one of the students in Remedial English is discovered to have undiagnosed dyslexia.
- "Bunny" Warren from Porridge is severely dyslexic, and indeed illiterate. He blames his condition for his incarceration.
Fletcher: Oh, here it comes, the sob story.
Warren: No, Fletch, it's true. I couldn't read the sign.
Fletcher: What sign?
Warren: The one saying "Warning, Burglar alarm".
- Michael DeLuise's character on SeaQuest DSV claims to be dyslexic, and very nearly puts the wrong disarming code into a mine attached to the submarine, before he's ordered to read the number backwards, and realizes that, "the seven goes on the outside".
- So Weird: Molly is mildly dyslexic, though she has somehow avoided mentioning this to her 17-year-old son. When, for the viewer's benefit, she explains what dyslexia is (since her son, Replacement Goldfish daughter, and two college-age friends of the family have never heard of the disorder) she explicitly says that it means that you sometimes see letters out of order. Curiously, the "artistic" representation of it that we see is not letters out of order, but simply replaced by random characters.
- Black Hole High: We learn that Vaughn has dyslexia when the mysterious phenomenon of the week causes him to switch bodies with Lucas. Vaughn is startled to find it suddenly easy to read, while Lucas is confused when he suddenly finds random letters written backwards. While it's an interesting realization that dyslexia, being a result of "the way the brain is wired" remains with the body (This may be more "accurate", though we are assessing the accuracy of the results of two people swapping bodies), it's the fact that he sees letters backwards that tips Lucas off to the nature of Vaughn's problem.
- A boy on the Brazilian tv show Malhação hard a hard time reading; One of the characters explained he was "dyslexic" after asking him to make a mark on the right side of a piece of paper and the boy marked the left side.
- Scrubs falls right into this trope with a one-time joke, despite its usual precision:
Dr. Kelso: Maybe next time you should try a lawyer who didn't need 3 tries to pass the bar exam!
Ted: I have stress-induced dyslexia and you know that Dr... Oslek.
- Degrassi the Next Generation:
- Rare dyscalculia example: Liberty van Sandt was dyscalculic, and needed extra help in math from her math teacher. Unfortunately, this led to a rumor being spread that she was being sexually abused by him, due to the extra time they spent together.
- Joey Jeremiah is diagnosed with dysgraphia in the original series after repeating the eighth grade and not doing terribly well in the ninth.
- Anya is dyslexic.
- Charlie on Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia is either dyslexic or just illiterate; it's hard to tell. At times, his writing reads like Engrish. For example:
Taked baby. Meet at later bar, night or day sometime.
- The Quantum Leap episode Jimmy, where Sam leaps into a dock worker with Down Syndrome. Another of the workers has a severe hatred of Jimmy even beyond the usual prejudice of the time, and it turns out to be because he's dyslexic and can't read, and thus feels like the retarded but literate Jimmy is actually smarter than him. It uses the "jumbled up words" explanation, though you can fanwank that Sam was trying to not sound too smart while inhabiting such a person.
- Before the 2006 elections in Israel, Israeli satire programme Eretz Nehederet made a sketch in which the fictional ‘Dyslexia Party’ made an ad for themselves, with a presentor reading statements off a page pretty poorly (‘From now on, we will let anyone screw us over!... Sorry!... We will not let anyone screw us over!’). They started singing a song about the harsh life of dyslects (‘We want to finish tests before dark... To watch films even without a dub... We hate how the waiter gets andgry when we order Bolognese sapta... Vote for the dyclests!’).
- Max and George in The George Lopez Show
- Portrayed rather realistically. George went his entire life without knowing he was dyslexic. It's explained in the show that whenever he had a hard time reading, he'd ask someone else to do it for him. It was only when Max was diagnosed that he discovered this. It's treated pretty well on the show, but is still the point of a few jokes. One involved searching for a specific street number, and being unable to remember or recognize it.
- CeCe in Shake It Up, as revealed in the episode "Add It Up". Doubles as Actor Allusion; Bella Thorne is Dyslexic as well.
- Bruce Jenner used to show up on various television series to talk about what dyslexia really is. In the 1985 Silver Spoons episode "Trouble With Words", he meets nine-year-old Alfonso, an excellent dancer whose father thinks is simply neglecting schoolwork. Alfonso stays up all night sweating over a book report on Moby Dick which compares the conflict between man and whale to "the fight between dab and doog". Jenner pounces on it and gives the father an education.
- Played for Laughs - as are most things - on Whose Line Is It Anyway, to excuse Ryan's verbal stumble in the film noir game. "What he didn't was...or know was, or was know, was that...I was dyslexic."
- A cartoon in Dragon magazine many years ago showed a magic-user reading his newly-acquired magic scroll. It began, ?This is a scroll of learning disability. As you read, yol will smolwy become confused by thr printed wertz??
- The Mad Magazine parody of Jewel's poetry book includes a poem about being diasgnosed with dyslexia, which ends:
There's only one thing I still can't quite understand
On page 4 of the doctor's report
Right after it says "dyslexia"
Why does it say "Also, your cisum skcus"?
- The song Dyslexics are Teople Poo makes use of this trope in a Stephen Lynch way (hilariously offensive and insensitive).
- Adventures in Odyssey featured an episode were Oscar was revealed to have dyslexia as he had a great deal of trouble reading but was not completely illiterate.
- The Onion makes fun of this in this radio story.
Stand Up Comedy
- Jasper Carrott had a comedy routine on the subject (largely the popular misconception version...)
Carrott: I once did a routine about dyslexics, and...the letters I got... "Dor Jaspor Pargit, leave us exiliads alone, you winker!"
- Eddie Izzard is actually dyslexic. Or "partially dyslexic", as he puts it.
"I always thought I'm dyslexic but then met somebody who is more dyslexic than me. Since then I always say I'm only partially dyslexic, because other dyslexics would go 'Hey, you're not dyslexic!'. There's a lot of rivalry in the dyslexic department. 'Rivalry' spelled with three 'L'."
- Kevin and Kell:
- Rudy has dystracksia, so he has trouble reading tracks -- a big problem for a predator (Rudy is a fox/wolf hybrid).
- According to Kevin's mother Dorothy (a rabbit), this is also a problem for prey. Dorothy also has dystracksia, which forced her to find her own food/water/shelter rather than following tracks left by other rabbits. On the bright side for her, she was never part of a herd that got "thinned" by predators.
- Terinu's race, the Ferin, are all functionally dyslexic. This is considered a feature, not a defect, by their creator, since they're a slave race.
- Double Subversion in this Xkcd strip.
- Butch of Chopping Block has recurrent problems with this. Among other things, when he tried to kill the Dixie Chicks, he accidentally slaughtered a more risque performance by "Chix With Dicks."
- In the Whateley Universe, Tennyo has dyscalculia and is in a special math class. But she's abnormally good at biology.
- Retarded Animal Babies, episode one is probably one Trope Namer for this. "D is for Lysdexia!" The fact that the loading screen says "IQ: 100" and by the time it's done loading says "IQ: 40" doesn't help.
- Rubberbandman from Static Shock was shown to be dyslexic, which was a problem when he had to follow instructions to keep the MacGuffin from blowing up. The short at the end of the episode unfortunately said that the part about reading backwards was actually true.
- An episode of Family Guy shows a movie theater for dyslexics, with a marquee promoting Chevy Chase in "Feltch".
- Steve Smith from American Dad.
- Referenced (and Played for Laughs) in Metalocalypse, as Skwisgaar states that he has "music dyslex-kia", meaning it's impossible for him to read sheet music and that he just hits whatever notes when playing guitar. It works for him, though. Moments later, the rest of the band admits that's what they do too
- Herbert and George from Arthur have dyslexia.
- George S Patton was dyslexic and mastered the courses at West Point by having a Battle Butler read strategy books to him.
- Samuel R. Delany, in an essay in Writer's Digest, said that he is dyslexic, and pointed out that there were earlier societies (such as the Vikings) in which it was possible to be dyslexic and not notice.
- Terry Goodkind, surprisingly enough. He was an amateur painter before publishing his first book.
- Too many examples to list. The Other Wiki has a few.
- King Carl XIV Gustav of Sweden admitted publicly that he was dyslectic in 1997, something that had been suspected by journalists for many years. He did for example misspell his name when signing his accession document and at one point wrote his name as "Cal Gustf". A common nickname for him in Sweden is "Knugen" after he misspelled Kungen (the king).
- Tom Cruise believes his dyslexia was cured by Scientology.
- John de Lancie (you might know him as Q from Star Trek) was so horribly dyslexic he had trouble reading scripts. that's why he became so brilliant at improvisation and comedy.
- There are actually quite a lot of people who suffered dyslexia as children, but managed to overcome it in some form. These people might be able to read and write, but not pros at it, while some people quite enjoy it, but will persist in having difficulty learning new words or new (Latin-based) languages.
- There is also a theory that many children were dyslexic because they were left-handed, but forced to write with their right hand.