3rd Apr 2018 READ IT

Understanding Dyslexia

Understanding Dyslexia

Dyslexia is more common than you can imagine… click “read more” for a brief understanding of the learning disorder.

D Y S L E X I A — A I X E L S Y D

It (dyslexia) is more common than you can imagine. You are not alone. And while you will have it the rest of your life, you can dart between the raindrops to get where you want to go and it will not hold you back. – Steven Spielberg

If you think having Dyslexia means you simply read letters in the reverse or are somehow lacking in intelligence, you’d be wrong. Very wrong. Dyslexia is actually a reading and learning disorder, a difficulty sounding and pronouncing words, reading quickly or aloud. The disorder affects children all around the world in varied ways and to varying degrees. It has both genetic and environmental features and can be aided by numerous terrific compensation interventions and strategies. But sadly, society isn’t especially savvy or understanding when it comes to dyslexia. In 2005 Julian Elliott reduces the complexity of the disorder through the broadcasting of ‘The Dyslexia Myth’. In the television show, Elliot proposes the idea that a child with dyslexia is merely a ‘cultural meme’ and dyslexia is unscientific to its very core. Rather than recognising the medical reality of dyslexia, Elliot suggests that it boils down to poor teaching methods and parenting styles, despite the overwhelming, substantiated medical science that proves otherwise.

The Dyslexia Myth; a cruel fiction indeed.

Dyslexia affects approximately 1 in 10 children in the United Kingdom, so it’s probably about time we all informed ourselves a little more about its features! Whilst it’s important to remember that each child is different and learns in their own unique way, there are certain symptoms and behaviours that could alert us to kids who might need just a little extra assistance. Often children with dyslexia have trouble identifying common sight words, such as a STOP or GO sign, or words we see frequently in reading materials- they, he or she. A child who hesitates when having to read aloud might actually be nervous about the challenge this presents them and shy away from bedtime stories, despite their great love of Pippi Longstocking. The beginning sound of words can prove particularly challenging and might need to be repeated frequently. And let’s be honest, pronouncing Pippi Longstocking is a stretch even on the best of days! These struggles with accuracy and fluency are sometimes hard to identify, particular considering developmental variations in children. Kids with dyslexia may also experience trouble in other areas outside of reading, such as poor motor or arithmetic skills and sometimes even low self-esteem. The latter remains undeniably reinforced if misinformation like ‘The Dyslexia Myth’ is given airtime.

Brain activity during reading in ordinary readers          Brain activity during reading in dyslexic readers

So what about the less familiar and sometimes overlapping learning disorders, such as dyscalculia– the difficulty understanding and manipulating numbers, or dyspraxia– the difficulty with motor skills and movements?   A child with dyspraxia might have problems differentiating left from right or even a warped sense of spatial awareness. Heartlessly dubbed ‘Clumsy Child Syndrome’, it’s easy to see how a childs self-worth is completely undermined when we insist on such pejorative language. In dyscalculia, kids might have trouble making sense of basic computation and continue using their fingers for counting, even after more sophisticated strategies have been introduced. Perhaps you notice your child avoids video games that require number counting, like Candy Land? These overlapping learning difficulties are in actuality, learning variations that our socio-education systems fail to properly recognise and evolve accordingly.

What our mainstream education system fails to see is that their careful, repetitive teaching modes are exclusionary to children who process information differently. Interestingly, the brains of children with these learning disorders do not engage the same left-hemisphere neural circuits as children who do not. This deferred brain activity means that these children acquire language, arithmetic and movement skills uniquely, yet we insist on utilising the same methodology of learning for everyone. Research has suggested an inordinate number or children with learning disabilities present with higher IQ’s- 16%, as opposed to 4 % of the general population. Further, myriad research suggests that children who emphasise right-brain and frontal lobe are engaging the creative and entrepreneurial expanses of the brain. Which explains both why children with these learning differences are often highly artistic and why they often excel in learning through disparate teaching modes, such as via pictures, tones, textures.

Our traditional education system seems ignorant, or in the very least, unwilling to accommodate with alternative, creative learning processes, for what accounts for nearly 15% of our young learners. This is perhaps a dyslexic childs greatest learning ‘disability’. I write in parenthesis because really, it begs the question doesn’t it- why is it that we even insist on labelling dyslexia, dyscalculia or dyspraxia disabilities? If a child excels in math but paints more naïvely than Henri Rousseau, do we deem him artistically disabled? Or what of the child who writes eloquently about the periodic table, but could never figure out how to make a lemonade stand start-up? Surely that child has an ‘un-entrepreneurial affliction’. As long as a child can fit into the mainstream education box and acquire language and mathematical communication in the same way, we’ll stay happy, because we won’t have to address our malnourished and inadequate approaches to teaching. It would seem society makes deep concessions for the creatively challenged child, so long as they maintain the status quo.

Understanding Dyslexia Malady aside, our kids deserve more than the labels and boxes society has created for them. As it stands, the psychological affects of our community view on dyslexia is beyond damaging, with 42% of dyslexic children experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety. These children are often deemed lazy, stupid or incompetent by teachers, parents, even their own peers, propping up feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. Such attitudes are even resulting in parents ignoring the needs of their very own children, for fear of repudiation or labelling. A disgrace considering it is a failure on our part to recognise and celebrate unconventional minds and accommodate with more disparate teaching methods. And whilst there are numerous alternative schools (The Steve Jobs School Amsterdam, The Waldorf School of the Peninsula) that tackle learning with far more innovation, our mainstream approach sees kids falling further and further behind because of our lack of ingenuity.

42 %. What a sorry indictment on our society.   We can do better.

Understanding Dyslexia The tragic and confronting truth is, we are more concerned about booking our children into the ‘right’ schools, the most prestigious schools- sometimes before our children are even born- rather than understanding the actual needs of our kids. What’s best for our children is not that they are enrolled in the most expensive and revered institutions, but that they receive an education that best suits their unique strengths and needs. This race for ‘perfection’, prestige and acceptance from our peers, comes at the expense of our very own kids.

Perhaps what we really need is to redefine what ‘best school’ even means, since it’s clear that our current approach is appallingly archaic and, quite frankly, redundant. When you study all the examples of creative and entrepreneurial genius- Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Ingvar Kamprad, Orlando Bloom, John Lennon, Leonardo Da Vinci- to name only a few, you’ll find a constant between them other than dyslexia: they couldn’t fit into mainstream education. And why would they, when their brilliance is not only un-catered for in mainstream education, but actually castigated. It’s astounding to think that despite this hostile and adversarial learning environment, their creative genius still managed to shine through.

Circumnavigating the traditional ivy-league pathways, they nonetheless found outlets for their remarkable talents in industries our society benefits from today. Can you imagine a world without Apple? Steve Jobs didn’t even go to university! These minds shouldn’t have to endure the indignity of believing themselves incompetent or less than their peers, but rather be recognised for their unique aptitudes. And more than recognised, celebrated; after all it’s our society that benefits in endless ways from their genius. I loathe to think how many more talented young people we’re inhibiting and supressing because of our caustic, narrow-minded reckonings on education.   We’re all losing out.

If you suspect your child exhibits the symptoms of dyslexia, there are diagnostic tests that can indicate the likelihood of this brain difference. Different minds are beautiful minds. Some of the most brilliant minds and talents throughout history have lived with dyslexia- artist Pablo Picasso, film director Steven Spielberg, even physicist Albert Einstein. And I for one would love to see Julian Elliott refute the condition with a dyslexic- Nobel Prize- winning- physicist.

For more information on dyslexia and the overlapping conditions mentioned: