In our Dyslexia Awareness workshops we talk extensively about how we look at Dyslexia as a learning difference or style, not a learning disability. However for the last twenty-five years “Dyslexia” has been used incorrectly as a common term for a wide range of learning disabilities. I heard one teacher refer to it as an “umbrella” for any type of reading, spelling or writing problem. If a person can’t learn to spell or read they must be dyslexic.
Another common perception of Dyslexia that irks us is the medical opinion that Dyslexics are broken. Their brains are wired wrong. Without this particular wiring we would not have Einstein, Churchill, Leonardo Da Vinci, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, many of the actors in Hollywood, Edison, Jackie Stewart and Jay Leno to name a few. Their “faulty” wiring was part of why they became who they are.
So when we talk about a different learning style what do we mean? Let me explain by asking a question. Do you have a particular innate talent such as being an artist (painter, sculptor, writer, poet, etc.), musician, exceptional athlete, gifted mathematician or scientist, intuitive mechanic that can always figure out what’s wrong, star race car driver, a comedian or maybe a natural orator?
But if you do not consider yourself an artist for example and can’t draw anything more detailed than a stick figure because your brain does not provide you with the ability to draw does that make you broken? If the highest level of math you ever managed was fractions and percentages, forget algebra, geometry or trigonometry, are you wired wrong?
If you are not proficient with these types of abilities no one realizes or cares. No one points at you and says you have no ear for music and your singing is like listening to a cat screeching (unless you feel the need to demonstrate to everyone that you can’t sing). But if you are Dyslexic everyone notices that spelling is really difficult for you and that you can barely read or write. You ask a lot of questions all the time before you get on with a task. You can’t tell time or read a clock so you have difficulty with arriving somewhere on time. You misunderstand questions unless they are really specific because you think about everything from many different directions and levels. You have difficulty communicating because you think in images, not words and sometimes can’t find your words when you are talking so you stumble or say the wrong thing. People might think you are stupid, lazy or annoying. These issues are hard to hide. However nobody notices that you are not a gifted race car driver unless you are in a race.
Spelling, reading, writing and number systems were created about 3000 to 5000 years ago (depending on the authority quoted) and learning and working with them are not natural abilities we are born with like talking. Children are trained to spell and read from a young age by using parts of the brain that have made new connections with each other to accomplish these cognitive tasks. In Dyslexics these connections are not made the same way as they are in left-brained people who read and spell easily and well. A Dyslexic brain processes information differently with other areas of the brain and does not respond well to left-brain teaching methods. This can result in problems with spelling, reading, identifying and understanding numbers and other tasks that are related to them. So if reading, spelling and numbers are not naturally hardwired into our brains why do we say a Dyslexic brain is broken if it has difficulty performing these skills?
With more and more new information coming from medical and scientific research maybe Dyslexia will finally come to be considered what we believe it is – a learning difference. Then teaching skills for spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic can be taught in a way a Dyslexic does understand rather than forcing us to use methods appropriate for a left-brained person.
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online