Marker Learning compiled a list of 25 celebrities you may not realize are affected by learning disabilities, using a variety of news sources.
Did you know these 25 celebrities are affected by learning disabilities?
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25 celebrities you may not realize are affected by learning disabilities
Learning disabilities are the most common type of disability for school-aged children. According to Pew Research Center, 1 in 3 students receive educational services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for learning disabilities; this surpasses support for students with speech impairments and chronic health problems.
Learning disabilities are neurodevelopmental disorders that can affect people's ability to read and write, solve math problems, speak, and listen or focus. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, multiple learning disabilities can overlap, or they can be "isolated," having a variable impact on the people living with them.
Dyslexia—trouble with reading, spelling, and writing—is the most common learning disability, affecting approximately one-fifth of the U.S. population. Dyscalculia is another common diagnosis, causing difficulty comprehending numbers and math calculations. It’s important to remember that not all learning disabilities are the same and that consulting a professional clinical expert can determine an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Learning disabilities can affect anyone, and facing these unique learning struggles does not mean an individual is incapable of achieving great things. In fact, many of the world's most famous actors, musicians, and athletes—whether diagnosed as a child or as an adult—have lived and thrived while learning differently.
Marker Learning compiled a list of celebrities who you may not have known are affected by learning disabilities. Keep reading to learn more about 25 famous figures who have overcome struggles with learning to become highly successful in their respective fields.
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Just a few years before "Friends" turned her into America's television sweetheart at the age of 25, actor Jennifer Aniston was diagnosed with dyslexia. During a routine eye exam for prescription glasses, a test showed her eyes jumping back and forth between words while reading. The diagnosis came as a relief to Aniston, who reports she struggled in school and thought she just wasn't smart growing up.
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Although Channing Tatum found great success as an actor in films like "Step Up," "White House Down," and the "Magic Mike" franchise, he never considered himself highly intelligent. This was partly due to Tatum's struggles growing up with dyslexia and ADHD, which made him feel like he didn't fit in anywhere. It wasn't until discovering the performing arts that Tatum realized his passion would help him find his place in the world.
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Although Salma Hayek was diagnosed with dyslexia as a teen, it didn't slow her down; she graduated from high school at just 15, then began studying international relations and political science in college at 16. This difficulty reading has caused her a few minor issues at times—like when she struggled to pronounce the title of her 2021 movie "Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard"—but Hayek has established a long, successful acting career. (In fact, she's the first Mexican woman actor to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination.) Hayek even referenced her own diagnosis in a Season 6 episode of Netflix's "Black Mirror," where, playing herself, she exclaims, "I am a dyslexic, talented actress with questionable English!"
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Jamie Oliver may be a world-renowned celebrity chef today, but he struggled with learning as a child due to having dyslexia. Cooking helped him overcome these difficulties—once telling the BBC, "The kitchen genuinely did save me"—and because of this, he advocates for kids to take their own approach to tasks they might find difficult. Despite his troubles with reading and writing, Oliver has published a line of cookbooks throughout his career and released his first children's fiction book, "Billy & The Giant Adventure," in April 2023.
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In his 2016 memoir, "American Dreamer," Tommy Hilfiger discusses how having dyslexia pushed him toward a career in fashion. Although the iconic designer wasn't officially diagnosed until he was older, he worried his difficulty reading would limit his options in life. As a result, he carved out his own career path as an entrepreneur: At just 17, Hilfiger bought 20 pairs of jeans, resold them at school for a profit, and used the money to open his first store.
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Like many others on this list, actor-comedian Whoopi Goldberg's dyslexia went undiagnosed as a child. While peers called her names like "dumb" and "stupid," she credits her mother with telling her she could do anything. Fans know Goldberg grew up to star in such classic films as "The Color Purple," "Ghost," and "Sister Act," but many may be surprised to know she also penned an entire series of children's books about the "Sugar Plum Ballerinas."
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Producer Brian Grazer attributes his success in the entertainment industry to his childhood struggle with dyslexia. In elementary school, he couldn't read at all, but he learned the valuable skill set of connecting with other people. Grazer believes this connection—having what he calls "human conversations"—made his career possible, leading him to generate such acclaimed films as "A Beautiful Mind" and "Apollo 13" and popular TV series like "24" and "Arrested Development."
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Diagnosed with dyslexia at age 7, Tom Cruise has said even by the time he graduated high school he considered himself "a functional illiterate." The actor compensated for his difficulty reading scripts by asking directors and producers to explain the characters in the films he auditioned for, then managed by ad-libbing. It wasn't until 1986—the year his hit film "Top Gun" was released—that Cruise says he was able to understand his dyslexia and, with the help of tutors and learning specialist, learn techniques to problem solve, study, and leverage his creativity to overcome obstacles.
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Music lovers may not be aware that the lead singer of Florence and the Machine was diagnosed with dyscalculia and dyslexia as a child. Prior to becoming a Grammy- and BRIT Award-nominated musician, Florence Welch recounted to Rolling Stone about a time when she felt judged for being unable to count change at a bar where she worked. Despite these struggles, she went on to publish the 2018 poetry book "Useless Magic" and contributed to the 2020 book "Creative Differences" in support of neurodiversity in the arts.
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As a child, Octavia Spencer learned her dyslexia diagnosis wasn't a weakness or deficiency but rather a different way of learning. This attitude helped the Oscar-winning star of films like "The Help" and "Hidden Figures" embrace her own unique strengths. Spencer also benefited from a teacher who introduced her to the "Encyclopedia Brown" books, which not only fostered her love of reading but also inspired her to later write her own series of middle-grade mysteries, "Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective."
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In July 2023, actor Rob McElhenney revealed on X (formerly Twitter) he'd been recently diagnosed with what he called "a host of neurodevelopmental disorders and learning disabilities." Best known for his role as Mac on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," the star admitted this isn't something he would normally talk about, but it is important to let others know they aren't alone in their struggles. McElhenney wrote the following encouragement alongside this announcement: "You're not stupid. You're not 'bad.' It might feel that way sometimes. But it's not true."
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As a child, Cher struggled in school, eventually dropping out at age 16; it wasn't until she took her own child to be tested for reading difficulties that everything made sense. The singer and actor was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 30, a revelation that explained her self-reported struggles with reading slowly and feeling as if "my mind raced ahead of my hand." This diagnosis hasn't limited Cher's six decades in the spotlight, though—a career highlighted by a 1988 Best Actress Oscar win for "Moonstruck" and a 2000 Grammy for Best Dance Recording for her hit song "Believe."
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Like many celebrities on this list, Steven Spielberg was not diagnosed with dyslexia until later in life—age 65, to be precise. Growing up, the future filmmaker was often bullied by peers because of his unexplained difficulty reading and he revealed that "making movies was my great escape." Spielberg's hobby ultimately turned him into one of Hollywood's most well-known producers and directors, with decades of blockbusters under his belt including "Jaws," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," and "Schindler's List."
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Former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow discovered he had dyslexia in elementary school, a diagnosis he shares with both his father and older brother. Tebow didn't let this affect his ability to play the game he loves, though; he adapted by using flashcards to learn plays, as opposed to the more traditional method of studying a playbook.
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Melanie Brown—aka Mel B, one-fifth of the iconic 1990s pop group the Spice Girls—always struggled with reading, but it wasn't until 2017 that she received a dyslexia diagnosis. She welcomed the diagnosis as an explanation for her lifelong struggles as a slow reader and having to read scripts repeatedly to memorize them. Mel B has also spoken openly to normalize the other diagnoses she was given as an adult: ADHD, anxiety, and dyspraxia.
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Richard Branson has said that he believes people with dyslexia, like himself, possess "the skills of the future." The entrepreneur emphasizes dyslexia’s association with beneficial attributes like keen problem-solving skills and an expansive imagination, crediting these qualities in part for the success of his business, the Virgin Group. Branson has also encouraged more understanding of neurodiversity to support future innovation.
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Anderson Cooper, journalist and descendent of 19th-century tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, loves books today but struggled with reading as a child. With the support of a teacher who instilled a passion for reading, Cooper learned to work with his mild dyslexia. In addition to his well-known role as a CNN correspondent, Cooper has also published multiple books, including one he co-authored with Katherine Howe about his own family, "Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty."
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Raised by an actor and a playwright, Keira Knightley knew at a young age she wanted to act. Her parents leveraged this desire to help address her childhood dyslexia, allowing her to get an agent if she read every day during summer vacation and then audition for roles as long as she maintained good grades. Knightley grew up to become a big-screen star in films like "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement," both directed by Joe Wright, who was, coincidentally, also diagnosed with dyslexia.
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Jay Leno credits his mother's advice as one of the main reasons he became the well-known comedian he is today. The former "The Tonight Show" host was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, and his mother said he'd have to work twice as hard as his peers to succeed. So that's exactly what he did, patiently waiting hours for auditions and even sleeping in a New York City alley when his early stand-up gigs didn't pay enough.
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Although actor Keanu Reeves struggled with dyslexia growing up, eventually dropping out of high school due to a lack of proper support, he has always enjoyed reading. Reeves paged through volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica as a child, courtesy of his step-grandfather who worked there, and cited Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac among his literary influences. The star of "Speed" and the "Matrix" film franchise draws a connection between his love of books and acting with the common thread of storytelling.
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Jewel Kilcher’s dyslexia went undiagnosed as a child due to her switching schools often as she moved around a lot while growing up. Even so, the clever singer-songwriter created her own way to improve her reading: She laid a piece of paper with a small strip cut out over the page she was trying to read to focus and make sense of just one sentence at a time. Not only has Jewel written multiple Grammy-nominated songs since then, but she also published a book of poetry in 1998, "A Night Without Armor," and a memoir in 2015, "Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story."
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British musician Robbie Williams—best known as a member of the boy band Take That who later launched a successful solo career—calls himself "numerically dyslexic" due to his dyscalculia diagnosis. Even as an adult, Williams struggled adding and subtracting, remembering important dates, and recalling his own house number; yet he has maintained a successful music career for over 25 years.
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Diagnosed with dyslexia at age 7, Tom Holland was fortunate to have supportive parents who encouraged him to try his best and work hard. The actor has said his difficulties are mostly spelling-related, which did not hold him back from performing. Holland got his first break at age 12 in "Billy Elliot: The Musical" and went on to snag the iconic film role of Spider-Man in 2017.
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Actor Maya Hawke is perhaps best known for her role as Robin Buckley on the hit Netflix series "Stranger Things"—and for having uber-famous actors Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman as parents. Hawke described her childhood as "deeply difficult" due to having dyslexia, which caused her to be bullied, kicked out of school, and sent to a school for children with learning disabilities. Despite these challenges, she remains passionate about reading, a trait she may have picked up from her father, who has written a number of books himself.
Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Lacy Kerrick.