York businessman Kevin Linfoot has overcome dyslexia to amass a huge personal fortune. CHARLOTTE PERCIVAL looks at how people cope with word blindness.

WHEN you leave school barely able to read and write, it can't be easy to forge a glittering career.

But as York businessman Kevin Linfoot has shown, academic qualifications are not the only way to conquer the business world.

This week, Mr Linfoot told The Press that despite his struggle with dyslexia, he has become one of Britain's wealthiest and most successful men.

He has had to keep most of his business in his head, write phonetically and ask his personal assistant to read out documents, but he is now a multi-millionaire with a home worth £4 million.

"My memory is incredible and that's what I rely on," he said. "I can't read, but I am very aware of what is happening. I put all my efforts into other things.

"Until I was about 35, I could have a conversation and then be able to remember every word that was said."

This week, Jerry Hall revealed that she too had been diagnosed with dyslexia, as well as her four children with Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.

"Being dyslexic is difficult at the very beginning but, as you get older, you learn to cope with it and I think it's great," she said. "It's like a gift because it makes you think differently."

In recent years, celebrities such as Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson, actor Tom Cruise, North Yorkshire celebrity chef James Martin and TV interior designer Peter Plaskitt have also spoken about their dyslexia.

John Rack, head of assessments and evaluation at Dyslexia Action, which is based at the University of York, said there was no reason why dyslexia should hamper success.

"Dyslexia is not related to IQ at all, so there is no reason why people who are successful can't also be dyslexic," he said.

"But we have our suspicions that there is a positive side to dyslexia. There is no proof of it, but when you talk to people who are dyslexic their way of thinking sometimes gives them an advantage because they don't get bogged down in the details of what everyone else is doing but they see new opportunities and they can often capitalise on them, because they're not having to spend a lot of time once they're in work on the thing's they're poor at.

"Once they find their space and area at which they can succeed then they have a strong motivation and fewer distractions and can be successful."

Dyslexics are often very creative, says John. They do particularly well in technical and artistic careers because they can use their creative, practical skills and are not held back by having to read and write often.

Many say their success stemmed from determination to prove wrong the teachers who said that they would never amount to anything, explains John.

That isn't such a good thing, because they should not have been treated badly in the first place.

But things have improved in the last ten years, and most schools and colleges recognise that dyslexia is real.

"Unfortunately, one really cruel comment from one teacher who just doesn't want to move with the times can undo all kinds of positive things that other teachers have done to get things moving forwards," he said.

John appreciates it can be hard to pick up on dyslexia, but urges parents who have their suspicions not to be afraid of talking to the school.

Your child's teacher or the special needs coordinator are good people to start with, he says. Ask them to monitor their progress, or try an individual learning plan where they aim for targets.

If things don't improve, it could be worth taking them for an assessment at Dyslexia Action.

"Don't be afraid to sound like the concerned parent," he added. "It's always better to have these things out in the open."

Case study - Animal magic is spur for Lucy, 11

ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD Lucy Pearson dreams of being a veterinary nurse.

She's creative, imaginative, loves horse riding and is caring and thoughtful towards animals.

But up until a few years ago, her mum, Tamsin, doubted it was possible.

"I could see that Lucy was struggling with writing and reading and remembering spellings and tables that she'd learned," explained Tamsin. "But I didn't want to make a fuss about it in case she just wasn't very bright."

Tamsin's brother, who was diagnosed with dyslexia in his 40s, urged Tamsin to take her to Dyslexia Action, where a test confirmed his suspicions.

Tamsin, of Elvington, immediately asked Dyslexia Action to put Lucy on the waiting list for weekly lessons, while she went back to work to pay for them.

The change in Lucy since she started tuition at the centre has been astonishing, says Tamsin.

She is now getting the help she needs and, with everyone's help and encouragement, starting to fulfil her potential.

"Lucy was writing backwards and reading backwards and had very interesting spelling, and she still spells phonetically sometimes," said Tamsin.

"She was finding it very hard. But when she's at school, they don't look at her work and say she can't spell, they look at the content. And see her potential. She has a good brain but as soon as she puts pen to paper it's hard.

"She's more confident now and she loves the lessons at Dyslexia Action - they're the most sensible things I ever spent my money on."

Lucy now loves reading, and has settled into secondary school well.

"She knows what she wants to aim for," said Tamsin. "Before the dyslexia was diagnosed I didn't quite know what we'd do with her. It's wonderful now because I know that because we know what the problem is and because we are able to give her these lessons and school has supported her, that she has got the potential to achieve her aim of becoming a veterinary nurse."

Case study - I got bullied at school. I found it difficult'

BUSINESSMAN Dave Dee still shudders at the thought of school.

Most days he was caned, put in the corner and made to wear the dunce's cap, he remembers. But by the age of 14, the boy who could not read or write had become one of York's best known business dealers.

Dave, 57, who now owns Dave Dee Removals, The Banana Warehouse and an on-line estate agency, was 35 before he could write properly.

"I got bullied a lot at school because I found it difficult," he said. "I used to do any mortal thing not to go to school. Even at 14, I was still shoved in the corner with the dunce's cap on and if I didn't read what was on the blackboard they'd cane me. It was easier to be caned and sent out to stand in the corridor all day than do the lessons."

School was so difficult that he threw himself into employment, working on the market and his dad's second-hand furniture shop before, after and sometimes during lessons.

Later, he bought some pigs and bred them on an allotment. He enjoyed mechanics and enrolled on a six-week course, which took him three years to complete. Soon afterwards, he learned he had dyslexia.

Aged 30, he decided to practice writing numbers from a book, then the days of the week and then the months.

It was a real breakthrough, he says, and inspired him to learn more.

There was some professional help, he says, but mostly it was left to his family.

"I used to be very hard to live with and have mood swings and it was to do with my frustration of not being able to read," he said. "A bus would go by with a huge slogan on it and I wouldn't know what it meant and it used to annoy me. I used to look at number plates and try to read them but I didn't know they didn't say anything. I used to look at them and try and make a word out of them and that used to wind me up even more."

Dave met his wife over the internet and she helped him read books. Now, he enjoys reading, and especially likes being read to.

"If you're not interested in something, you can't do it, but give me something to read that I'm interested in and that's the key," he said. "I'm lucky because my wife is very good and patient with me.

"From speaking to other dyslexic people, I've realised they try harder and they are often kinder, but I do know people who have become drug addicts and shoplifters because they know nothing else."

What are the at risk' signs of dyslexia?

* Lack of phonological awareness - having difficulties sounding out words and mispronunciation of letter combinations.

* Making unexpected errors when reading aloud, missing words out or reading the wrong word.

* Taking ages to read something and understand it.

* Having difficulties with spelling.

* Having difficulties copying from the blackboard and/or taking notes.

* Having difficulties with sequencing resulting in problems with, for example, learning times tables, days of the week or months of the year.

* Poor short-term memory resulting in difficulties, for example, with remembering a series of numbers, such as a telephone number, or a list of instructions.

* Confusing left and right.

* Confusing names or objects or using spoonerisms, eg par cark.

* Finding it difficult to learn songs/nursery rhymes.

* Appearing to have misheard what has been asked.

* Suffering with additional stress and low-self esteem.

* Orally communicating very well but written work does not reflect apparent understanding.

* If anyone else in the family, who is a blood relation, has similar difficulties.

What is dyslexia?

DYSLEXIA causes difficulties in learning to read, write and spell.

Short-term memory, mathematics, concentration, personal organisation and sequencing may also be affected.

About one in ten of the UK population have the condition, according to the Dyslexia Institute - and as many as 375,000 schoolchildren have severe dyslexia.

The condition usually arises from a weakness in the processing of language-based information, including the ability to make connections between sounds and written symbols such as words and letters.

Typical characteristics include poor spelling, difficulty reading, poor handwriting, confusion about left and right, difficulty with maths and poor short-term memory.

It can affect people of all ages.

To find out more about dyslexia, you can phone the Dyslexia Action on 01904 432930 (York) and 01423 522111 (Harrogate).