On screen, she's articulate and classy, but even this top movie star has had her problems.
Girls all over the world turn green with envy at movie princess Keira Knightley's grace, beauty and eloquence. But life hasn't been a bed of roses for the glamorous star, who has struggled with dyslexia for most of her life, making even reading a movie script as tough for her as climbing a mountain.
When she admitted that dyslexia made it impossible to learn her lines, Keira shocked fans who had thought she was "perfect" and problem-free. She says: "I remember going in for an audition when I was eight and it was the most excruciating experience because I couldn't read my lines."
So many people struggle with dyslexia but there still seems to be an unnecessary stigma attached to the condition. Even Keira says that she ended up with a "chip on her shoulder". But with the right help and determination, it is possible to overcome, or at least manage, dyslexia.
Keira claims it was her determination to be a star of the silver screen that pulled her through, saying, "My desire to act was my driving force."
Her mum managed to get Keira to read books by promising to find her an agent. Keira remembers her mum saying to her: "If you come to me with a book in your hand and a smile on your face every single day during the summer holidays, then I will get you an agent."
And the plan worked. Keira knew that working hard to overcome dyslexia would be her path to screen success and now, she is one of the most successful movie stars in the world.
What is dyslexia?<
According to Margaret Hardy, director of Dyslexia Testing Services Pty Ltd, dyslexia "is a neurological difference in the structure and functioning of the brain that affects how it processes information linked to reading and spelling".
Hardy says there are two main areas affected: auditory and visual. "People with auditory dyslexia struggle to process the sounds of language and visual dyslexics have difficulty learning the visual patterns of letters and words," she explains. "These two forms of dyslexia may occur independently or together."
Keira has mentioned in the past that because of her dyslexia, she feels the need to prove to people that she is not "dumb". However, Hardy says dyslexia does not remotely imply that you are not educated or clever.
"Dyslexia affects all levels of society across nationalities and races and is not, in any way, linked with intelligence or ability. Dyslexics can
achieve," Hardy says.
Spot the signs
"Dyslexia is not as simple as mixing up left and right," says Hardy. "It is the most common of all learning disabilities." Some common symptoms of dyslexia are:
- Speech problems in early childhood
- Difficulty learning nursery rhymes, songs or poems
- Inability to follow verbal instructions
- Failure to achieve literacy levels at an average rate
If your child shows any of these signs, it's a good idea to have them screened for dyslexia. There are many checklists available from dyslexia organisations.
How to get help
Keira claims that because she got the right kind of assistance with her dyslexia, it no longer affects her on an everyday basis.
She says: "I got some really good help from amazing teachers and my mother and father worked tirelessly with me I don't notice it anymore."
Here are a few ways to get help if you or a family member suffers from dyslexia:
- Find a psychologist in your area by visiting the Australian Psychological Society website: www.psychology.org.au.
- Contact one of the main dyslexia associations, such as the International Dyslexia Association at www.interdys.org.
- Concerned parents should contact their child's school to discuss the situation with teachers
- Contact professionals such as special education teachers or psychologists who specialise and have experience in working with students with dyslexia.
Hardy says: "Dyslexia is a lifelong learning disability, although with early intervention, it can be managed. We have dyslexic doctors and plumbers, engineers and actors. One thing they all have in common is that they achieved despite their dyslexia."