Dyslexia and Programming
Written by Mike James   
Thursday, 30 September 2021
Article Index
Dyslexia and Programming

Programming connection

Now we come to the programming connection.

Dyslexics often can't read long flowing paragraphs or do arithmetic but they do have algorithms in their heads. They often are very know how to do things and find it possible to express the dynamics of a process as a static text - which is what programming is all about. 

Of course there is a the small problem of having to write it all down and read it. There are also problems of spelling, seriation and short term symbolic memory deficits. 

What is more programs use lots of symbolic names which need to be spelled 100% accurately and even capitalised in the correct way.

This is the spelling problem on steroids. 

Oddly this doesn’t seem to be a huge problem for most of the dyslexic programmers I have worked with.

They seem to be able to keep to a single spelling of a symbol.

In the early days this was probably due to the fact that compilers would spit out error messages when variables were spelt incorrectly - yes compilers were early spell checkers!

It isn't always the spelling of a symbol that most of us would have picked but it is often consistent.

The real problem occurs when they have to “interface” with another programmer’s code. For example, two programmers are working together on a project to build an application for managing a production line which makes automatic measurements. One works to build a class library for the other to use in building the application.

Fine until the first programmer writes a call to the “height” method of the “widget” object only to find that is actually the “hieght” method of the “wiget” object!

Such things are usually easy to notice with spelling and intellisense autoprompting and relatively easy to put right with modern refactoring tools, apart that is from the shame of it all!

To be serious for a moment many dyslexics are very loath to admit that they have a problem at all and become hostile and or embarrassed at any attempt to notice let alone discuss the problem. This unwillingness to even admit that there is a problem is perhaps the only intractable problem!

Most dyslexic programmers do a good job and may even do a better job for having to battle with their problem – but this isn’t the important point. If you know that a particular programming language has a tendency to a particular type of error then you do something to guard against it. The same should be true of the programmer’s tendency to make particular types of error.

When I was first learning to program I kept a notebook of the errors I made and very quickly learned what to look out for. Today my errors are much more diverse and subtle for the approach to be of much use but it was helpful in getting the bugs out of me!

Over time I have also had to admit to the errors caused by my own dyslexia which, no matter how mild I claim it to be, still causes me much embarrassment.

The good news is that research reveals some interesting things about dyslexia. First off it seems to be a real physiological problem and not just an “attitude of mind”. This is important because so often children, and programmers, are treated as lazy rather than dyslexic! Of course there is nothing stopping you from being dylexic and lazy at the same time.

Recent research has even identified structural differences in the connectivity patterns in the left occipito-temporal region of the brain between dyslexics and developing readers. The developing readers showed greater connectivity to linguistic regions than the dyslexic group. Those with dyslexia showed greater connectivity to visual and parahippocampal (memory encoding and retrieval) regions. It is also worth noting that dyslexics are 50% left handed where the general population is 11% left-handed.

Second it seems, whatever the deeper neurology is about, to be a perceptual problem rather than a deeper problem in language processing. Hence dyslexics understand well enough but have I/O problems not IQ problems.

In particular it seems to be a problem with particular types of visual and auditory perception – dyslexics just don’t see or hear in quite the same way as the rest of the population.

The final question I have is why is it that so many people who find coping with text difficult take to programming – the most text based of all the technologies? Again research has come up with possible answers.

It is also worht mentioing that October 5, 2021 - October 11, 2021 is Dyslexia Awareness Week and October 7 is Dyslexia Awareness Day.



Einstein - dyslexic? Well it was very nearly E=cm2

And if you discover you are a likely dyslexic, bear in mind two things. It probably makes you a better programmer and you are in prestigious company as this list of famous dyslexics indicates. 

More Information

Dyslexia Awareness Week

British Dylexsia Association

International Dyslexia Association

Related Articles

Programming - A Life Long Challenge

In Praise of Top-Down 

Teach Concepts Not Just Code

What makes a programmer


To be informed about new articles on I Programmer, sign up for our weekly newsletter, subscribe to the RSS feed and follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.


kotlin book



or email your comment to: comments@i-programmer.info







Last Updated ( Thursday, 30 September 2021 )