Scatterbrained or Struggling?

Insight into your Partner's Dyslexia Chanllenges

two young adults looking puzzled

Throughout my life, there have been countless times that the wrong conclusion was drawn when my dyslexia was its loudest. Being cut off, dismissed, walked away from, or given a blank stare that said “what’s wrong with you?,” while I struggled to organize my thoughts and clearly express them. For me personally, it’s most hurtful when I’m loudly, unkindly, and publicly called out when I struggle to recall a word or for mispronouncing a name or word–making a joke of it and talking behind my back to others, rather than respectfully speaking directly to me. Early in my career, a phrase I heard more than once was “you are just undisciplined,” followed by annoyance or judgment when I struggled with my dyslexia traits the most.

Misunderstandings like these have played a significant role in shaping how I viewed my place in the world—at home, in school, and then my career, seeping into my personal relationships and translated to viewing family members, teachers, bosses, co-workers, my partner, or friends as unsupportive and judgmental–often causing harm to the well-being of those relationships.

If you don’t have dyslexia, there’s no way to truly identify with the trials and tribulations a dyslexic experiences. When you have a family member or are in a relationship with a person that has dyslexia, a little awareness can go a long way toward making challenging moments less frustrating for you, the person you care about, and your relationship.

Dyslexia the “Hidden Disability”

Everyone forgets things, loses focus, and gets tired. But if it seems more like a habit, it could be your partner’s dyslexia. The biggest struggles are not seen, but how they present can be extremely loud and frustrating to a dyslexic and the people in their lives.

The first step is building awareness and understanding of how dyslexia impacts a person’s day-to-day life. If you don’t, it’s easy to arrive at the wrong conclusions, such as:

  • Irritation around your loved one’s “forgetfulness,”—assuming they don’t care, or are not paying attention
  • Feeling fed-up with your loved one’s inability to stay organized and perpetual procrastination—deciding they’re not trying hard enough, are scatterbrained or lazy
  • Losing patience when your loved one struggles to get a word out or takes too much time to remember and describe detailed information—wondering if they’re preoccupied, not capable or maybe even dishonest
  • From your perspective your loved one easily gets tired and overwhelmed—you’ve decided they lack motivation

Scatterbrained or Struggling?

Forgetful, disorganized, and unmotivated are conclusions that may be drawn from the different ways dyslexia impacts a person. The reality may be that these are signs of someone struggling with their dyslexia. It may not always be obvious, but there are valid reasons behind it.

The answers can be found in the “management system of the brain,” known as executive functioning. This refers to the processes in the brain that control memory, planning, multitasking, and other important skills.

Executive function has three main components:

  1. Working memory: Helps hold immediate information in the mind for a brief amount of time while it’s used to complete a task, or processed.

    In everyday life it helps with maintaining focus and attention by allowing a person to hold and work with information without losing track of what they’re doing. During a conversation or when receiving verbal instruction, it helps a person keep track, process, and remember what was said.
  1. Cognitive flexibility: Refers to “flexible way of thinking,” which is the ability to adjust thinking and behavior with ease based on responses to environmental changes or a specific situation.

    Cognitive flexibility is used in everyday life while multitasking, moving between different tasks, and when switching from talking from one person to another. It allows a person to shift their thinking process to become more adaptable to a situation, and as a result allows a person to solve problems creatively, adapt to curveballs, and act appropriately in varying situations.
  1. Inhibitory control: The ability to stop (or inhibit) an automatic response, desirable actions, or behaviors (self-control).

    An example of inhibitory control is thinking carefully before responding to a question, rather than quickly responding without thinking, which may be intuitive or impulsive, leading to an incorrect response.

These three components work together as executive functioning, which is essential for many skills used everyday to communicate, learn, work, and manage life, including:

  • Memorizing
  • Retaining information
  • Task and project management
  • Focus and attention
  • Quickly identifying and processing objects and information
  • Following sequences of steps
  • Organizing thoughts
  • Time management
  • Organization: getting or staying
  • Planning and prioritizing
  • Regulating emotions and impulsivity
  • Reading, spelling, and writing
  • Word recall
  • Motivation and task initiation
  • Adapt to new, changing, or unplanned events.

Deficiencies in executive function is a common trait of dyslexia. When a person struggles with executive function, it can impact them in different areas of day-to-day life, such as:

  • During a conversation, by the time the other person stops talking, they forget what they wanted to say
  • Having difficulty following a conversation because they forget what the other person has just said
  • Processing more than one thing at a time, such as having a conversation while watching TV
  • Forgetting to bring items needed for work, school, or appointments
  • Consistently losing track of where they placed keys, cell phone, wallet, etc.
  • Having trouble starting and/or prioritizing due to difficulty organizing thoughts
  • Completing tasks seems like an uphill battle due to being easily distracted
  • Having to reread a paragraph several times to retain the information causing tasks to take more time to complete
  • Becoming overwhelmed or lost easily
  • Difficulty following directions or a sequence of steps
  • Having a hard time adjusting or experiencing anxiety when rules, situations, or routines change.
  • Trouble controlling impulsive behaviors
  • Executive function has no connection to intelligence, but it does play a big role in memory tasks and may be the culprit behind frustrating dyslexic moments that make your loved one seem scatterbrained.

Fatigue–the Byproduct of Dyslexia

To overcome daily challenges, dyslexics are likely working much harder and spending more time on tasks than others—causing physical and mental fatigue. When tired or overwhelmed, dyslexic traits can be more pronounced making things even harder to work through.

Awareness that frustrating moments may be that the person you care about is struggling with their dyslexia, presents opportunities to:

  • Help in approaching situations with understanding rather than judgment
  • Improve communication
  • Implement strategies and/or routine that reduces stress around areas of frustration
  • Minimize anxiety and frustrations by finding the right resources
  • Recognize and acknowledge the effort involved to accomplish things with dyslexia
  • Have your loved one feel understood and supported by you

People with dyslexia are just as intelligent and capable as someone without it. So the first thing to remember is a person with dyslexia is not broken and they don’t need to be fixed. Keeping in mind that everyone has things they are good at and not so good at. By understanding the “why” behind dyslexia struggles you can come to a conclusion with more understanding.

Awareness and empathy for the challenges of dyslexia are two ways a person can be supportive to their dyslexic partner. When these exist, life with dyslexia can be a little less frustrating, and relationships can strengthen through the power of understanding.


International Dyslexia Association; Working memory: The Engine for Learning

Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University; Executive Functions: What Are They and Can We Improve Them?

The Centre for Educational Neuroscience, University of London; Inhibitory Control

Red Square Pegs was established to empower dyslexics by embracing dyslexia through awareness and shared experiences and to be a symbol of acceptance, pride, and confidence.