Dyslexia Representation in Pop-Culture & Media
By Maura Baker
In recent years more and more social issues are being portrayed and widely talked about in the media, such as issues regarding race, gender, class, etc. However, there does not seem to be much talk about Dyslexia and other learning differences in the American media. Of course, there are many communities and organizations that prioritize Dyslexia education and that speak about ways daily tasks can be made easier for Dyslexics. Unfortunately, there is also very, very little if not no representation of most learning differences in American pop-culture, but it is important to note the references to Dyslexia and other learning differences that there are. So, here are some of the ways Dyslexia is represented in the media.
There are actually a few famous novels that star and feature Dyslexic characters. One you may have heard of is the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, which follows a teenaged demi-god as he discovers his strengths all while saving the world. Percy Jackson, the protagonist of these novels, is Dyslexic, but Dyslexia is very much one of his strengths as it helps him understand ancient Greek, so this is a very positive representation of Dyslexia. Another less popular but still great book series with Dyslexic characters is Hank Zipzer by Henry Winkler, which is about a young boy who is navigating his way through school and life with Dyslexia, although he does not have a lot of support. It is important to have books with characters with learning differences, as it can make you feel like less of an outsider if you can see yourself in a book.
As many people know, the Percy Jackson books were turned into movies. There are other movies with Dyslexic characters too, such as Rafe McCawley in “Pearl Harbor”, which tells the story of two American pilots in Hawaii at the time of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. This representation demonstrates how Dyslexic people often have very great talents and a variety of intelligences, as Rafe was portrayed as a very good pilot, even though he could barely read or write. There are also Dyslexic characters in TV shows, for example, Hank Zipzer was also a TV show from 2014-2016. Additionally, Ryder Lynn from the show “Glee”, which is about high school students who learn about the hardships of life and use music as a way of enjoying life, is also Dyslexic. However, many people do not know about this, and he struggles in a lot of silence, which unfortunately is one of the harsh realities of having a learning difference.
Mainstream media is not particularly kind to anyone, nor does it promote individuality (which there is so much of in people with learning differences), and people with learning differences are no exception. While there are many social media pages dedicated to spreading awareness and positive messages about Dyslexia and other learning differences, Dyslexics sure have not escaped dreaded stereotypes; that all people with Dyslexia have the same exact symptom, which is that they read letters backwards (which we know this is true for some Dyslexics but not all). Dyslexic people are sometimes unfortunately portrayed in “memes” on social media as being stupid or lazy, which is 110% not true. But, on a better note, there is a big Dyslexic support community on social media, and if you are interested, check out sites like the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), Learning Ally, or Dyscalculia Blog.
Hopefully, as years go on, there will be more representation of Dyslexia and other learning differences such as but not limited to Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia. If Dyslexia is portrayed in such a way that not only the struggles but the strengths are shown, it can make people with Dyslexia feel more understood and more comfortable talking openly about their learning difference(s). Portrayal of Dyslexia in the media can also help create awareness, which in turn can cause society to look into ways of helping people with Dyslexia. It is important that people from all walks of life with all kinds of stories are represented, because everyone deserves to feel like they belong in this world, and that they have something great to contribute.