Learning Challenges

Famous People with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia & Other Learning Differences

The list of famous people with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and other learning differences is as impressive as it is long. Celebrities ranging from Tom Holland and Jennifer Aniston to Keanu Reeves and Chris Rock attribute their creative successes, in part, to the resilience and perseverance they developed to overcome challenges in the classroom and in life.

Tom Holland
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Tom Holland

Actor with Dyslexia

Anchor of the Spiderman franchise since age 19, Tom Holland made his superhero debut in Captain America: Civil War and has appeared in blockbusters including The Impossible, Uncharted, and the animated film Spies in Disguise alongside Will Smith. The English actor appeared in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list and has won accolades including a British Academy Film Award, three Saturn Awards, and a Guinness World Record.

Following his dyslexia diagnosis at age 7, Holland enrolled in a private school. But, even today, he’s the target of criticism for spelling and grammar mistakes on social media, where he has 7.4 million Twitter followers.

When asked how he perseveres and learns the skills to succeed in his career, Holland said he utilizes patience and preparation.

“It’s just about taking your time… giving yourself an appropriate amount of time to do the things you need to do,” Holland told 11-year-old YouTuber Jazlyn Guerra in 2021. “The better prepared you are for anything, the more you’ll be able to do and accomplish things that are fantastic.”

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Jennifer Aniston
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Jennifer Aniston

Actor and Producer with Dyslexia

Known far and wide for her role as Rachel in the television show Friends, Aniston started acting at a young age and has earned practically every award imaginable, including a Primetime Emmy Award and Golden Globe.

Aniston opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about her dyslexia — a diagnosis she received in her 20s after seeking out a prescription for glasses.

“I had to read a paragraph, and they gave me a quiz, gave me 10 questions based on what I’d just read, and I think I got three right,” Aniston said. “Then they put a computer on my eyes, showing where my eyes went when I read. My eyes would jump four words and go back two words, and I also had a little bit of a lazy eye, like a crossed eye, which they always have to correct in photos.”

“I thought I wasn’t smart. I just couldn’t retain anything. Now I had this great discovery. I felt like all of my childhood traumas, tragedies, dramas were explained.”

Photo by Dave Mathews

Keanu Reeves
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Keanu Reeves

Actor, Philanthropist, and Publisher with Dyslexia

Keanu Reeves spent much of his childhood pretending. While imagination no doubt benefited the actor of the Matrix franchise, Point Break, John Wick, and other films, Reeves wasn’t pretending to improve his acting chops but to fit in.

Reeves was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child. The traditional school setting became a formidable challenge over time, and he eventually dropped out of high school. But Reeves parlayed his love of stories into a career acting in them.

In a 2017 Esquire article, Reeves was described as a “voracious reader.” In the article, Reeves attributes his love of learning and reading to his step-grandfather who worked for Encyclopedia Britannica. “In my room, I would just open them up. There was a curiosity there. I really enjoyed it,” he said.

Outside of his acting career, Reeves has founded a private cancer foundation, which aids children's hospitals and provides cancer research; a book publisher, X Artists’ Books (XAB); and Arch Motorcycle Company, a custom-motorcycle manufacturer.

Photo by GabboT

Salma Hayek
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Salma Hayek

Actor, Director, and Producer with Dyslexia

At age 25, Salma Hayek left her home in Mexico to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. However, learning a new language wasn’t her only hurdle. As a teenager, Hayek was diagnosed with dyslexia — a learning difference that did not prevent her from becoming an acclaimed actor, director, and producer famous for her portrayal of painter Frida Kahlo in Frida, and Ajak in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Eternals.

“I'm really a fast learner. I always was, which is maybe why in high school they didn't realize I had dyslexia. I skipped years without studying too much,” Hayek told WebMD Magazine in a 2009 article by Gina Shaw.

“[The dyslexia] doesn’t bother me now,” she said. “Some people read really fast, but you’ll ask them questions about the script, and they’ll forget. I take a long time to read a script, but I read it only once.”

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Chris Rock
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Chris Rock

Comedian with Non-Verbal Learning Disorder

Emmy and Grammy award-winner Chris Rock launched his comedy career as a cast member on Saturday Night Live and has since written, produced, and starred in movies and comedy specials. In 2022, he kicked off his stand-up Ego Death World Tour after a memorable appearance at the Academy Awards ceremony.

In 2020, Rock discussed his non-verbal learning disorder (NLD) with The Hollywood Reporter, saying that he can take things “too literally” and has an “all-or-nothing” thought process.

“I’d always just chalked it up to being famous,” Rock said. “Any time someone would negatively respond to me, I’d think, 'Whatever, they’re responding to something that has to do with who they think I am.' Now, I realize it was me. A lot of it was me.”

Rock proudly links to nvld.org from his Twitter bio. NLD is believed to be as prevalent as dyslexia and is often misdiagnosed or confused for ADHD. Though there is much more to learn about NLD, treatments for children include social-emotional learning, executive function training, and physical therapy.

Photo by Mo Riza

Tom Cruise
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Tom Cruise

Actor, Producer, Philanthropist with Dyslexia

Perhaps most famous for his portrayal of fighter pilot Maverick in the Top Gun franchise, Tom Cruise began his unrivaled Hollywood career at age 19, but not without setbacks. The actor showed signs of dyslexia in grade school and once described himself as “a functional illiterate.” According to Cruise, he finally learned to read as an adult through a learning method developed by L. Ron Hubbard called Study Technology.

“I loved learning, I wanted to learn, but I knew I had failed in the system,” Cruise said. “Like many people, though, I had figured out how to get through it. I did the same thing when I moved to New York, and Los Angeles to become an actor.”

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disorder associated with “difficulty with spelling and word recognition,” according to Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D. “Symptoms of dyslexia vary from difficulty breaking down words into syllables to trouble with the accuracy, fluency, and comprehension of the material being read.”

According to the International Dyslexia Association, up to 20% of the population may have symptoms of dyslexia.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

[Free Guide: 19 Symptoms of Adult Dyslexia]

Daniel Radcliffe
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Daniel Radcliffe

Actor with Dyspraxia

Daniel Radcliffe is an English actor best known for his portrayal of Harry Potter in the film franchise that began when he was only 12 years old.

The beloved on-screen wizard has been a source of hope and encouragement in real life for people like him living with dyspraxia, a neurological disorder that affects fine and/or gross motor skills. Up to 50% of children with dyspraxia also have ADHD.

“It has never held me back, and some of the smartest people I know are people who have learning disabilities,” Radcliffe said. “The fact that some things are more of a struggle will only make you more determined, harder working, and more imaginative in the solutions you find to problems.”

In 2022, Radcliffe starred in The Lost City alongside Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, who has dyslexia.

Photo by Dave Catchpole

[Self-Test: Dyspraxia Symptoms in Children]

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo
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Manuel Garcia-Rulfo

Actor with Dyslexia

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, star of the Netflix series The Lincoln Lawyer, is celebrating his first major leading role in an American television series. Garcia-Rulfo, who plays Mickey Haller in the adaption of Michael Connelly’s crime novel, has said his dyslexia complicated his approach to learning his lines in English, his second language.

“I bought a blackboard and put it in my apartment and — it was crazy — I made mental maps with images, drawings,” Rulfo said. “I did it for every scene. If there was a gun, I drew a gun. It’s easier for me to learn that way.”

Dyslexia affects approximately 20% of the population and often co-occurs with other conditions. Adults with dyslexia are entitled to reasonable accommodations in the workplace under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Photo by Gordon Correll

[Your Rights to ADHD Accommodations at Work]

Cher
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Cher

Singer, Actor with Dyscalculia

Grammy-winning singer and Oscar-winning actress Cher has said that her struggles with dyscalculia (a math learning disorder) and dyslexia led her to drop out of school as a teenager.

“I couldn’t read quickly enough to get all my homework done and, for me, math was like trying to understand Sanskrit,” Cher wrote in her autobiography The First Time. “Almost everything I learned, I had to learn by listening. My report cards always said I was not living up to my potential.”

The iconic performer has amassed many awards including a Primetime Emmy, GLAAD Media Award, Guinness Book of World Records title as the oldest female solo artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the song “Believe.”

She recently collaborated with fashion brand Versace on a limited-edition line to raise funds for gender-diverse children and communities. Cher got her start in the music industry as half of Sonny and Cher, the duo that exploded in the 1960s with the pop hit, “I Got You, Babe.”

When asked if she would turn back time and change these learning differences if she could, Cher said, “No! It caused pain, but it’s me!”

Photo by Gage Skidmore

[Click to Read: Unlocking the Potential of Gifted Kids with ADHD]

Tim Tebow
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Tim Tebow

NFL Player with Dyslexia

Two-time NCAA National Champion and ESPN broadcaster Tim Tebow was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 7. Dyslexia tends to run in families; Tebow’s father and brother also have the learning disorder.

Tebow never viewed his learning difference as a handicap. “It [dyslexia] has to do with finding out how you learn,” he said. In Tebow’s case, he made flashcards of football plays as a way around struggling to try and read the whole playbook.

Tebow openly shared his dyslexia diagnosis with New York Jets couch Rex Ryan, who was diagnosed with the learning difference in adulthood.

“I don't think it makes me respect him more, because I respect Coach Ryan a lot," Tebow said in 2012. "What it does is just show that learning disabilities, especially dyslexia, have nothing to do with how smart or intelligent someone is. Because there are not many minds in the NFL that are as bright or as sharp or as flexible as coach Ryan's."

Photo by Naval Surface Warriors

Octavia Spencer
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Octavia Spencer

Actor, Author with Dyslexia

Academy Award and a Golden Globe-winning actor Octavia Spencer began her career in the 1990s, but she dominated the spotlight in 2011 with her role in The Help. Spencer currently plays Poppy Parnell in the Apple TV+ series Truth Be Told, which has been renewed for its third season.

“I was a dyslexic child and am a dyslexic adult; that doesn’t really mean that you’re not intelligent — it just means that your brain functions differently,” Spencer said. “I was actually tested for the gifted program in my school because I was more auditorily inclined than visually.”

Learning disorders are not linked to low intelligence. Many children with learning differences are gifted, or twice exceptional (2e).

Spencer is the author of the Ninja Detective book series and recently partnered with ID and Discovery+ to develop a slew of true-crime projects. She credits her path to success to her mom, who kept her grounded as a child.

Photo by Walt Disney Television

Amanda Gorman recites her inaugural poem, "The Hill We Climb," during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)
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Amanda Gorman

Poet with Auditory Processing Disorder and Speech Articulation Issues

Amanda Gorman is the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate. At age 22, she became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, reading her poem, "The Hill We Climb" during President Biden's inauguration.

Her family revealed in a 2018 interview that Gorman was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder and a speech impediment as a young child.

“She had trouble expressing herself,” Gorman's mother said in an interview with Understood. “But she was always advanced in her thought.”

In a 2021 episode of The Oprah Conversation, Gorman spoke to Oprah Winfrey about her diagnoses:

"I was born early, along with my twin. A lot of times, for infants, that can lead to learning delays," Gorman said. "One of my delays was in speech and speech pronunciation.”

“The auditory processing issue just means I really struggle as an auditory learner," she continued.

“R” sounds in particular challenged Gorman the most. “It is one of the most complex letters in the English alphabet. That was something that I would struggle with until probably 20 years of age," she said.

Gorman credits her speech impediment for making her stronger as a writer.

“When you have to teach yourself how to say words from scratch – when you are learning through poetry how to speak English – it lent itself to a great understanding, I think, of sound, of pitch, of pronunciation,” she said. “I think of my speech impediment not as a weakness or a disability, but as one of my greatest strengths.”

[Take the Self-Test: Could I Have Auditory Processing Disorder?]

Photo by Carlos M. Vazquez II/U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

 

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