The Dyslexic Iceberg: An Excellent Analogy

Drawing by Hayley Butcher

Dyslexia is a widespread and abundant, yet highly varying neurodiversity. Its symptomology, impacts, and effects differ greatly amongst the global dyslexic population.

In a previous blog post ‘The Dyslexic Variation’, the natural diversity and ‘assortments’ present with the dyslexic spectrum was examined. Very much like a giant bag of old-fashioned ‘pick and mix’ no two dyslexic individuals are the same. Crucially, every dyslexic individual is unique and presents with differing combinations of dyslexic characteristics and quirks, strengths, weaknesses, interests, and personality traits. When a diagnosis is given and approved by a professional it is easy to assume that all dyslexics will slot easily into a narrow set of criteria characteristics. However, very much on the contrary, this is not the case.

In addition to variations amongst individuals, dyslexic differences may also occur within the same person. Interestingly, dyslexic traits can be amplified, extenuated, or even reduced vastly within the same day, as its impacts are very much situation-dependent. Factors including stress, anxiety, hunger, illness, fatigue, and the difficulty, or perceived difficulty, of the task at hand can greatly affect the behaviours, both internally and externally, of a dyslexic. Vitally, this emphasises how complex, multi-layered and ever-changing dyslexia can be; stressing the importance of possessing knowledge and awareness of the dyslexic world.

The ‘Dyslexic Iceberg’ provides an excellent analogy and highly visual representation of the vast and varied symptomology of dyslexia. Split into two major parts and sections, the ‘surface’ and the ‘submerged’, this iceberg represents the more viewable and observable traits that exist above the surface of the water as well as the characteristics that may often be overlooked, hidden, or cleverly concealed by individuals below the water surface.

The Surface

As demonstrated, the surface or tip of the iceberg exemplifies the dyslexic traits and characteristics that can be the most easy to observe and identify and are often the most commonly associated with dyslexia. When one considers dyslexia as a phenomenon, most would automatically think of reading, writing, and spelling difficulties. Although this is not necessarily wrong, as many dyslexics can have difficulties and struggles in these areas, many other key traits and impacts remain neglected, unconsidered, and ignored. In order to fully understand and ascertain the complexity of dyslexia, an appreciation and awareness of other less obvious and person-specific characteristics must be considered.

The Submerged

In great contrast, the much larger submerged underwater portion of the iceberg exemplifies the many less obvious and observable traits dyslexics can possess. Critically, this large area contains a multitude of varying impacts and characteristics that are present within some dyslexics and not others. Dyslexic individuals can possess a unique combination and mixture of these traits that sit alongside the more viewable surface characteristics of reading, writing, and spelling difficulties. Because dyslexia is so complex and varied not all submerged traits could be listed in the above representation. Notably, other submerged dyslexic qualities can include:

  • Clumsiness and lack of coordination
  • Potential struggles with mathematical understanding
  • Difficulty with proofreading and skimming text
  • Difficulties with grasping grammar, tenses, and punctuation
  • Struggles with word recognition and phonetic awareness
  • Easily frustrated or overwhelmed with tasks
  • May find putting thoughts or ideas in writing challenging
  • May be easily distracted or prone to procrastination
  • Fear of failure or getting answers wrong

In its entirety, the dyslexic iceberg is a concise and visually appealing method of both representing and explaining how dyslexia is formed by a combination of varying traits; whereby some are more visible and observable than others. Ultimately, in terms of dyslexia, no ‘one size fits all model’ exists as all dyslexics hold and display differing ‘dyslexic traits’ that can vary from one task or situation to another.

A full picture of dyslexia includes many more strengths and talents than weaknesses. These abilities are also quite variable, and may be readily apparent or hidden. The “dyslexic iceberg” model can be combined with the Shaywitz “sea of strengths” model: the iceberg is a cluster of weaknesses, floating in the sea of strengths. To explore more, see our category, Dyslexic Talents.