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Health & Parenting

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Patrick Dempsey Reveals His Dyslexia

Star of Grey's Anatomy Says He Was Diagnosed at 12
WebMD Health News

March 2, 2006 -- Actor Patrick Dempsey, a star on the hit TV show Grey's Anatomy, has dyslexia.

In a TV interview with Barbara Walters of ABC News, Dempsey said he was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was 12 years old. Before that, he had been misdiagnosed and put in special education classes.

Dyslexia is a brain-based learning disability that specifically impairs a person's ability to read. People with dyslexia typically read at levels significantly lower than expected, despite having normal intelligence, states the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

"Did you think you were stupid?" Walters asked. "Oh, yes. Certainly," Dempsey replied.

Now 40, Dempsey told Walters that it's "very hard" for him to read scripts, so he relies on memorization to master his character's lines. Dempsey says he developed perseverance as a result of his experiences with dyslexia. "I have never given up," he told Walters.

Not Related to Intelligence

Dyslexia is common, but it's often misunderstood.

"Unfortunately, people assume that if you read poorly that correlates with having a low IQ," Jeffrey Gruen, MD, says in an NINDS news release.

Gruen is an associate professor of pediatrics at Yale University's medical school. With colleagues, he published a dyslexia studydyslexia study in the November 2005 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This study confirms that dyslexic children can be typically smart and can have strong IQs. The reading disability is not a global effect on entire brain function," Gruen says in the NINDS news release.

A positive view of dyslexia describes people with dyslexia as visual, multidimensional thinkers who are intuitive, highly creative, and excellent at hands-on learning. Many dyslexic people, like Dempsey, shine in the arts or creativity, design, computing, and lateral thinking.

Learning to Read Differently

When his study was published, Gruen told WebMD that people with dyslexia are "intelligent, smart, and talented," and that dyslexia is "no fault of their own." People with dyslexia "learn to read differently, and we just need to accommodate them."

Gruen's study found a gap in the DCDC2 gene in many dyslexic patients. That finding suggests that genes play an important role in dyslexia, Gruen says.

More research lies ahead to learn more about that gene gap. For instance, it's not certain if everyone with that gap will develop dyslexia. Some dyslexia patients in Gruen's study didn't have the gene gap.

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