Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dyslexia: Gifts and Talents

The Dyslexic Advantage Blog has been so informative to me as a home-teaching parent. Last night I devoured this post hungrily, written by Dan Peters, Ph.D: Reflections, New Insights, Confessions, and Inspiration on Dyslexia and Talent. I found it so encouraging that I went to bed excited that my children had dyslexia. Sound crazy? I know. It certainly does. 

But you see, while dyslexia creates difficulties with reading, writing, and spelling, the condition also opens up unique possibilities that aren't enjoyed to the same extent by the neuro-typical population.

Dan Peters Ph.D. details what he learned at a 2013 Dyslexia conference, all of which is featured in the above-linked article. This is merely an excerpt:

In The Dyslexic Advantage, the Eides identified “MIND” strengths, which stand for Material Reasoning, Interconnected Reasoning, Narrative Reasoning, and Dynamic Reasoning. In short, the dyslexic mind seems to be very good at 3-D and visual-spatial conceptualizing and problem-solving (Material); Connecting vast and divergent amounts of concepts and ideas (Interconnected); Connecting events and telling stories (Narrative); and predicting or “seeing” future outcomes from current situations (Dynamic).

Research was presented that showed the dyslexic brain structure has more variable and diffuse patterns of connectivity than non-dyslexic brains, and increased grey matter volume and activation. While dyslexics are slower readers, they are faster at identifying certain 3D spatial relations. One leading researcher said that individuals seemed to show strengths because of dyslexia not in spite it. He went on to say, “It is not hard for dyslexics to think outside of the box because they have never been in the box.”

Another researcher shared his research that showed that dyslexics had superior abilities in “spatial abnormalities” or locating things that are out of place. Dyslexics are also better at seeing “incidental images” or things that one is not anticipating seeing. A hypothesis he has is whether reading competes with visual skills, as better readers seem to have less developed visual skills than poor readers.
A well-known professor and museum curator reminded us of a famous quote, which says, “The industrial revolution came not from schools, but from workshops.” He highlighted the need to get dyslexics involved in learning through doing, rather than listening and memorizing. A dyslexic executive of a billion dollar company stated that her dyslexia allowed her to solve problems, build teams, and multitask – all integral in her career success.
An inspirational professor and cinematographer talked about the core strengths he observed in dyslexics – empathy, pattern awareness, and intuitive narrative. He passionately talked about dyslexics deep awareness of others and reading of subtle cues. He stated that dyslexics seem to be able to create patterns, which give rise to pathways, and “birth to our experiences.”
Twenty percent of the population is dyslexic, and we desperately need that twenty percent. Many wonderful, timeless stories have been penned by dyslexics over the centuries, and we have many dyslexics to thank for the inventions and advancements our world enjoys in the fields of medicine, engineering, the arts, and other sciences.

At first I thought only Peter and Mary had this condition, but the more I learn, the more it becomes evident that all four of my children have it to varying degrees, though it manifests somewhat differently in each child. Paul's case is very mild. He reads slowly and it tires him within twenty minutes, and though he is a good natural speller, he switches letters within words. The good news is that while his case is mild, he enjoys many of the advantages dyslexia brings. All signs are that he is twice exceptional: both intellectually gifted and mildly dyslexic.

All dyslexics can learn to read, but most read slowly for a lifetime and dislike reading. They love telling stories, but they can't write anything without enlisting someone to check it for them, which can be embarrassing. While dyslexics tend to be very successful entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, CEOs, and managers, most suffer low self-esteem due to their school experiences. They had to work very hard for mediocre grades, and they were ridiculed and told to "just try harder". Public schools have failed them. They largely succeed because of their dyslexia, not in spite of it; they often succeed in spite of their education, not because of it, though of course they must be able to read and write, so schooling is imperative.

As a society we misunderstand what it means to be dyslexic, and we have a lot of work to do. I would encourage any parent of a dyslexic to bring your child home for homeschooling (if financially possible ) until the tide turns for dyslexics in mainstream education. The low self-esteem these people suffer as a result of their negative school experiences is life-long, despite the enormous success many of them enjoy in adulthood. The feelings they experienced in school were just so demoralizing, they've stuck.

Just last week when I met Mary's AWANA teachers, one of them looked shocked and dismayed when I revealed that Mary has dyslexia and panics when asked to read aloud or do a word search. The head teacher's face said it all. In her mind, dyslexia is a bad thing.

Two other conditions are related. Dysgraphia and dyscalculia refer to learning disabilities in handwriting, spelling, and organizing thoughts on paper, and in rote, memorization-related math work. While they're classified as separate from dyslexia, they are closely related and some dyslexics have all three: dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia.

As a society we must work hard to balance remedial help in reading and writing and math, with activities aimed at maximizing the strengths dyslexics enjoy. If all the focus is on the deficits, society suffers because these people are our movers and shakers. We simply can't afford to break their spirits and stifle their creativity.

Technology is a godsend to this population. Those who read slowly or can't spell and have difficulty learning keyboarding, enjoy speech-to-text and text-to-speech advancements. Those who can't seem to memorize all the grammar, punctuation and spelling rules (Peter with his dysgraphia), have modern word processing programs to correct them instantly, helping the lessons become automatic over time.

Those who can't memorize their addition, subtraction, or multiplication facts have an ever-ready calculator with them in the form of tablets and modern cell phones. While they can think mathematically and spatially and solve problems well, when doing the rote tasks involved, they need technology to speed up the process so they aren't bogged down with basics.

When I say Paul has a mild case, I mean that he can't count on his good spelling skills to translate into correct text consistently. More so than the rest of us, he needs spell check or an editor before publishing anything. I've included his latest story, with its peculiar spelling errors. He knows what letters are needed for the correct spelling of words, but he can't always get the letters in the proper order, as evidenced below. Still, his writing impresses and excites me, considering he's only in fifth grade. He would love to write for a living some day, at least part-time. Below is a story he's worked on over a few days, though it's yet unfinished.

Peter, in contrast, spells phonetically, which is characteristic of dysgraphia. Spell check doesn't always help him, but there are technologies that will translate sound spellings into conventional spellings.

The Three Wolves by Paul
Once upon a time there were three wolves. One stern wolf, one silly wolf, and one smart wolf. They lived in a slightly hidden den near a patch of trees. It was late October and most of the trees had lost their leaves. The ground crunched under your feet and smelled of mud.

One day, while the three wolves were waiting for their lunch meat to cook, they decided to go bird wacthing. While the wolves were gone, Goldie-dog, a stary (he meant stray) dog, decided to rest. She saw the wolves' den and walked in. 
Being curouis, she took the three peices of lunch meat from the fire and tasted them.
"This one is too tough," she said, tasting the stern wolf''s meat.
"This one is too raw," she said, tasting the silly wolf's meat.
"This one one is just right," she said, tasting the smart wolf's meat. She ate all of it.

Next she went to a rock to sit down.

"This rock is too smooth," he said, sitting in the stern wolf's rock.
"This rock is too bumpy," she said, sitting on the silly wolf's rock.
"This one is just right," she said, sitting on the smart wolf's rock.
Now, being quite tired, she lied down on a bed.

"This bed is too leafy," she said, trying the stern wolf's bed.
"This bed is too thorny," she said, trying the silly wolf's bed.
"This bed is just right," she said, trying the smart wovles bed. 
She fell asleep.

Later, the bears came back. When they saw the sisutaion concerning their lunch meat, they were cross.

"Who tasted my lunch meat?" shouted the stern wolf.
"Who bit my meat?" said the silly wolf.
"Who ate all my meat?" said the smart wolf angrily.
 Next, the wolves trotted to the bed area.
Do you have any dyslexic friends or family? What have their experiences been? Are they in creative fields? The sciences? Are they entrepreneurs? How is their self-esteem?



Anonymous said...

My dear husband has dyslexia and dyspraxia. He struggled a lot at school but made it to a very good university (thanks to the efforts of his mother in the days when dyslexia was only just beginning to be recognised) and nowadays is Deputy Chief Examiner for a well-known British exam board. Hard work and perseverance.

Because he has to work hard at reading, he always remembers what he has read, and yes, I always check his reports for spelling and grammar! We're a good team.

I always try to see the best in my son, too, although it is less likely that he will 'achieve' in the traditional sense. For him, living independently will be an achievement and even that may not happen. But I love him just the way he is. He's learned how to use the vacuum cleaner and make mummy cups of tea! :-)

Christine said...

Good for him! And what a blessing to have such a good writer backing him up. :) Having to work so hard definitely prepares them for other challenges. Your son sounds very sweet, Sandy.