3.6 Reflecting on dyslexia
Throughout this course, dyslexia has been evaluated as an example of ‘abnormality’, a difficulty, a problem in need of an intervention. However, research has shown that some adults with dyslexia are distinctive, not just in their difficulties, but also in their increased levels of creative reasoning compared to ‘normal’ people (Everatt 1997). West (1997) reports that Nicholas Negroponte, the founding member of the Media Lab at the world renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology has joked that dyslexia is ‘the MIT disease’, because so many of the individuals at the forefront of their fields have dyslexia.
The following are some of the strengths associated with dyslexia (Reid and Kirk, 2001):
Good visual and spatial skills in areas such as engineering and the physical sciences.
Ability to recognise patterns of information and represent three-dimensional images.
A facility for mentally rearranging designs and information.
A holistic way of viewing the world, which aids the discovery of problem solutions.
Rich colour memory and ability to use fast multisensory combinations.
Critical thinking skills.
What is problematic in one situation can be advantageous in another. In Section 2.3 we saw that the brain anomalies associated with dyslexia can result in rich neural connections, and that computer models with similar patterns of connectivity are more efficient at tasks that require creativity but not automaticity. Similarly, the ease with which people with dyslexia transpose letters like b, d, p and q, reflects an ability to manipulate and match images that can be helpful in engineering. Rather than viewing it as a deficiency or abnormality, it has been proposed that dyslexia can be thought of as a unique cognitive style that favours parallel/holistic reasoning over sequential processing of information (Aaron et al., 1993).
Remember what we discussed at the beginning of the course about social or historical factors constructing ‘normality'? Dyslexia was not recognised as a problem until there was a social expectation of and need for literacy, even though the condition probably did exist before then and affected people's lives in other ways (e.g. poor memory). Written language is a technology, but technologies change – as we become more dependent on one, we will become less dependent on others. The increase in new technologies is prompting a re-examination of the sorts of skills society needs. This might highlight a need for the creative thinking that computers are unable to do, but which many dyslexic people are skilled in.
As a final postscript, not just to the ideas we have examined to do with dyslexia, but with ‘normality’ generally, consider once more the case of Alexander Faludy (see the Case Study in Section 1.3). His story is worth reflecting on in terms of what it tells us about ‘normality’ and ‘abnormality’ and the way that society responds to individuals who are exactly that – individual.
Summary of Section 3
There are important distinctions between ‘treating’ and ‘managing’ a condition.
Therapies can be directed at behavioural, cognitive and biological levels.
Interventions require effective evaluation.
Successful approaches to managing dyslexia include multisensory teaching of phonics, the promotion of self-esteem through rewards, and addressing nutritional deficiencies through dietary supplementation.