Add as bookmark

Aphantasia and Dyslexia - No ‘Mind’s Eye’ for Visualization

by Frances Coombes(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 229 - April 2016

“The aim of NLP is to create the richest map possible for people, by enriching the choices that they perceive as available to them in the world. Richard Bandler


Coombes 229

...the brain has plasticity... as you learn new things, new neural pathways are formed
to acquire and store the new learning. Like constantly used tracks in a forest
these pathways become wider and deeper the more they are used.


Children who have aphantasia, (find it impossible to visualize a scene in their mind’s eye) or are poor visualizers are disadvantaged if they cannot read or spell. They may lack the skill to create mental images of words and get stuck at this point continually, which can leave them feeling stressed, frustrated and ashamed. Parents and teachers may be oblivious to the problem or unable to help because they assume that everyone else sees their mental pictures in the same way as their own.

Good spellers will tell you that they can see words, i.e. dog, cat, chair in their ‘mind’s eye’; they normally look up to see them. And if you ask them to spell a complicated word they will just look up and spell it. About half the population do this so automatically that they don’t realize they are doing it; the other half don’t know what you are talking about.

Statistically poor visualizers do not do well if reading and writing is a marker of success. In the UK 20 per cent of the population have literacy and numeracy challenges. Within the prison population 50% of those incarcerated have difficulty reading and 80% have difficulty spelling and writing. The financial cost to society because of lack of understanding of what is going on in people’s mental maps and therefore inability to help them overcome their difficulties is high.

Olive Hickmott has been running a schools programme in inner London for teachers and children called The Keys to Successful Learning through Mental Imagery. The sessions gives insight and help into what is going on for poor visualizers, or at the other extreme super-visualizers whose brains are so active they are zooming off in all directions and can’t stay still long enough to focus on any one task.

Although Olive has a maths degree she believes she would have been diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, due to her bad spelling and hatred of reading. She says she was forty when she first read a book for pleasure and had difficulty recalling what she had read. “Most of my life my brain had been hyperactive and my behaviour was sometimes quite like ADHD.” A teacher told Olive’s mother that her brain was far too fast for her hand.

Olive said: “When I first discovered that good spellers could see words in their head, I was dumfounded that I had never even thought of trying this. I was then furious that no-one had told me about this skill, which others had taken for granted.” I quickly turned this into a passion to offer these skills to others. Then I discovered there were other, equally important, skills that could change people’s experience of learning; I wanted to pass on these key messages to others with learning difficulties. (See Olive’s book Bridges to Success - how to transform learning difficulties using NLP).

In the UK every school is required to teach children multi-sensory teaching and learning as specified in the national curriculum. But teachers are not trained in how a child learns visually and what can go wrong. So they teach the child visually; however, what they are not checking for is what the child is doing with that information in their brain - and how they are learning.

What Brain Scans Reveal

Good spelling and good visualization go together. Dr Sally Shaywitz, Neuroscientist, and Paediatrician has studied how learning and reading difficulties show up in the brain. She says that children having difficulty with reading may be told they are lazy or not motivated, when in fact the part of the brain that deals with reading is not being activated. MRI scans allow scientists to localize and see which areas of the brain light up when we are using our brain in an activity like reading.

By grouping adults into those who are good and those who are poor readers, brain imaging studies show that good readers use three major systems on the left side of the brain. Poor readers have a disruption, a significant under-activation of two of the regions in the back of the brain. Scientists wanted to know if the under-activated brains were the result of many years of not reading, or if the effect could be the result of the adult not learning to read properly, rather than a brain defect.

A Long-term study directed by Dr Sally Shaywitz followed a large number of children attending kindergarten into their mid-twenties and beyond. Some children were good spellers; others were struggling. The study found that children who had difficulty reading had a significant under-activation in the same areas in the back of the brain as adults who struggled to read.

The breakthrough achieved by brain imaging studies was to move from simply identifying the geographical systems in the brain to being able to see the locations of potential differences between good and poor readers, and what the role of each of these systems is. We know that the brain has plasticity and that as you learn new things, new neural pathways are formed to acquire and store the new learning. Like constantly used tracks in a forest these pathways become wider and deeper the more they are used.

Adults who have aphantasia or are poor visualizers will often go through life covering up their difficulties. Many might benefit from attending a spelling day and learning some new visualization techniques.  Dyslexics are often talented people and may have interesting and creative jobs. Some develop alternative strategies for solving many of their visualization problems. But here’s the rub - they tend not to tell anyone what their successful strategies are. This could be because they think it is shameful to admit their shortcomings and how hard they need to struggle to achieve outcomes that their colleagues take for granted.

The NLP presupposition The map is not the territory sums it up.

No two people see the world in exactly the same way. We go through life in possession of our own unique map and way of seeing and sensing the world which we assume is the same for everyone else around us. NLP teaches us about people’s internal landscapes by questioning to clarify what they are ‘seeing’ in their ‘mind’s eye’.

The Person who has the Problem - Also has the Solution

Mr Rowland says: “I can't visualize what people are saying so it helps to have actual pictures and diagrams. Many of us with aphantasia report we need to understand underlying structures of any subject being taught. Lots of detail or learning by rote doesn't work for me. In a way it's a bit topsy turvy. I guess visualizers gradually form models of underlying structures over time, whereas I need them from the outset otherwise I have nothing to pin the detail on.”

I am grateful to Mr Rowland for his strategy, which I am pleased to say also works for me. If you have aphantasia or are a poor visualizer and have developed your own strategy to overcome a particular learning difficulty, then I would like to hear from you.  If there are enough novel ways to help people with visualization tasks then I will collect them and put a short e-book together so that we might all benefit from combining our strategies. Contact me at

Further Information

Readers may be interested in these sites:  Aphantasia facebook group:

Aphantasia Community/Forum:


  1. No Article Comments available

Post Your Comments:

About Frances Coombes

Frances Coombes Advanced Dip CBT/REBT Dip CBT offers one-to-one therapeutic coaching in North West London and on Zoom.  She is a is a CBT/REBT psychotherapist in North West London, a NLP Master Practitioner and Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapist and runs life coaching groups in London and on Zoom.  She teaches NLP at The City Lit in Central London and tutors at the City Lit and Mary Ward Centre in central London on Using REBT for Managing Stress and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). She runs goal setting and REBT coaching groups for vulnerable people for inner London authorities and charities.  

Her most recent book is Motivate Yourself and Reach Your Goals, pub, November 2013, Hodder Headline. Available on and  For extract visit To inquire or book personal development courses contact Frances on Tel: 07818 896 795; 


  • College of Ayurveda UK

    Diploma in Āyurvedic Medicine, 4-year self-paced distant learning program in Āyurvedic medicine.

  • nutrition and cancer

    by Sandra Goodman PhD The latest scientific research regarding Nutrition and Cancer. Full details at

  • Water for Health

    Specialist online health store focused on hydration, body pH balance and quality nutrition.

  • Super Patch Wellbeing

    Super Patches – a most revolutionary advance in wellbeing strategies in the history of medicine

  • Flower essences online

    Fine quality flower essences international ranges to help promote vitality and emotional well-being.

  • Beginner's Guide to ME

    Essential reading for people/carers with ME/CFS serious debilitating illness. Counteracts bad advice


    Aromatherapy creams & candles. Heal naturally No side effects. Holistic treatments, powerful courses

  • radical spirituality

    UK publisher of rejected knowledge in areas of esoteric thought and radical streams of spirituality.

  • Supercoherence-System

    Supercoherence master code can restore each human to their pristine pure state at the speed of light

  • Seaweed as Superfood

    Comprehensive nutrient balance found in no other natural food but seaweed: colon health, weight loss


    The FLEXXICORE exercise revolution: transform your fitness regime with 2 exhilarating exercisers


    Professor Sheik Imam is a famous professional leading African Healer who works with powerful spirits

top of the page