Dyslexics don’t See Words in their Minds, they See Pictures

When you ask a dyslexic/right-brain child or adult what they “see” in their minds when you tell them to imagine a concrete word such as “car” they will usually tell you they see a picture of a specific car or multiple cars – they don’t see the word “car”.  Normally when you ask a left-brain person what they “see” when you ask them to think about the word “car” they will see the written image of the word in their mind, a car or a car and the word. But generally they can visualize the word when they need to.

How right-brain and left-brain people think about a word

This is a huge difference between a right-brain and left-brain thinker.  Dyslexics have a difficult time trying to learn to read because they see pictures of what the word is, not the symbols of written language that represent the word.

Now let’s take abstract words.  To a dyslexic words like “up”, “down”, “when”, “now”, “is” are difficult to learn how to spell and remember if they can’t easily visualize the idea of “down”.  They need context so they can come up with a visual image to understand and remember these type of words.  You can have a dyslexic practice these words with all the different methods to learn to spell and read that are appropriate for dyslexics along with visualization exercises to pair the meaning of the word with a concrete image in their minds.

One way to have dyslexics practice visualizing abstract words is having the student write sentences using these abstract words in a sentence that represents  a clear picture in their minds of what this abstract word means.

For example, go to Google Images, google a word like “down” and you will get many webpages of concepts of what “down” can mean.  Have your dyslexic student pick images of “down” that make sense to them, copy the pictures to your computer into a document in a program like  Microsoft Word and then on the same page create and write sentences about the picture using the word “down”.  The sentences can be serious or silly, whatever pleases your student.   Always remember to keep the picture and sentences on one page so that they connect the picture with the word as this will help them remember the written image of the word “down”.  This method can be used effectively paired with individual concrete words (animal, place or thing).

Teaching methods for the dyslexic should always incorporate the idea that they see “whole concrete images” best. Dyslexics will often learn how to spell and read words more successfully if they can use their ability to see pictures of the meaning of a word paired with seeing the word as a picture and not several parts and individual letters. For example: instead of emphasis on the letters in the word “d-o-g” they are taught “dog” as a total picture.

More on this another day.

Cheers!
Karen Hope
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

25 thoughts on “Dyslexics don’t See Words in their Minds, they See Pictures

  1. Really interesting to see your article and comments. I am studying an M.A. in children’s book illustration and I am also a paper engineer, and am very interested in producing tactile books for all i.e. the visually impaired, dyslexic, colour-blind, anyone who does not currently have adequate reading tools.

    As a paper engineer I feel the movement afforded by the pop-ups or novelty could help a lot with understanding words. Would you mind helping me research a bit more?

    From what I gather an image associated with a word is not necessarily helpful. What if the printed word itself was decorated in such a way that it was more a graphic representation of an image, for example the word “cat” which is still clearly the word cat and not a separate picture, but with added ears, eyes tail, legs. The word would be the most visible to be clear, and the ‘doodles’ if you like, would be of secondary importance.

    Words such as up, down, left, right could easily be shown with movement, what other things would be good to address?
    Thanks in advance for your ideas,

    • Hello Trish;
      Thank you for your email. I like to answer questions by quoting the questions followed by the answers. So here we go:

      “From what I gather an image associated with a word is not necessarily helpful.”

      Not true for Dyslexics in my experience. They think in images first and then words where people who are more language dominant think in words first and then move to images.
      Working with images connected to “word images” can be very effective. Dyslexics are strongly visual thinkers. So I would connect an image of a cat with the “cat”.

      “What if the printed word itself was decorated in such a way that it was more a graphic representation of an image, for example the word “cat” which is still clearly the word cat and not a separate picture, but with added ears, eyes tail, legs. The word would be the most visible to be clear, and the ‘doodles’ if you like, would be of secondary importance.”

      There are many programs utilizing this technique. For many learning disabled students, this can be very helpful as a memory cue. For Dyslexics this can be confusing. Word images decorated can impact their ability to memorize words as they have been changed to look different from the word image even though the word is about the decoration.

      “Words such as up, down, left, right could easily be shown with movement, what other things would be good to address?”

      This is a good idea. Images of what these words represent contextually could be helpful. There are so many things to use, don’t know where to start. I like your idea with the pop ups. Dyslexics are also strong kinesthetically so anything they can touch or see 3 D is great.

      All the best;
      Karey

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