Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The hidden benefits of Dyslexia

The term 'dyslexia' was first coined over a hundred and twenty years ago to describe students who had no deficit in intelligence but were nevertheless having difficulty acquiring literacy. It seemed a logical name. Dys-lexia. A problem with words.

Since that time, studies of dyslexia have naturally focused on helping dyslexic children lean to read and write. No surprise there. Get 100 dyslexics together and you will indeed have a crowd of people who have experienced difficulty with aspects of literacy. But look more closely and other quirky characteristics are revealed.

For example, many of the 100 dyslexics will have difficulty naming their left and right sides. Some may have problems reading the time from an analogue clock. Tracking the flow of time, short term memory and remembering names could also be an issue. Over the years researchers have been able to identify a cluster of such non-literacy-related problems.

But if you do get that group of dyslexics together and give them time to talk and compare notes, other commonalities start to emerge. For example, dyslexics are often very creative. They are lateral thinkers and problem solvers. Given a complex set of interrelationships, they easily see the whole picture and get to the root of issues. Many are able to read other people's emotions with stunning clarity.

No surprise then that so many successful people from the world of creative arts and the world of entrepreneurial business turn out to be dyslexic. Enhanced ability to think in three dimensions is another common attribute. Thus the ranks of top architects are also rich in dyslexics.

If we were to ask our group of 100 dyslexics whether they would like to be 'cured' of dyslexia - having the problems AND the advantages simultaneously removed by swallowing a pill - what would they say? What would you say? For me it would be an emphatic NO.

Not so much a learning disability, then. More a learning difference that manifests as disability in some situations (particularly in school) and manifests as a prodigious ability in others.


Anonymous said...

Hey Rod great post and so very true also for the first time I can get the word dys-lexia. You breaking the word up like that has helped me now become able to see it better....and so very true about reading people's feelings. Nice one

Rod Duncan said...

Thanks Tatti


Bubblewrap said...

I love the picture, it suits the blog entry perfectly.

Rod Duncan said...

Thanks Bubblewrap. I was looking for a picture with a round peg and square holes.


Womble said...

You've missed us scientists off! I do wonder if the dyslexics more visual style of thinking has made me click with science, whilst writing is a pain within science it is very structured which helps.

Rod Duncan said...

Good point, Womble.

The problem-solving, lateral thinking aspects of the dyslexic brain.

Thanks for the comment.

Bui Tyril said...

Indeed a very interesting post... It's about time schools catch up on this!

Rod Duncan said...

Thanks Bui,

I do understand why the system is as it is. And much work has been done to help dyslexics. However, it is in my opinion time for a more dyslexic-centred approach. And this means a ballance of focus - including strengths as well as weaknesses.

Thanks again for your comment.

Morag Edwards said...

Great post and a useful reminder of the benefits the dyslexic mind brings but when you throw in social disadvantage, my experience is that dyslexic children (mainly boys) rarely get the opportunity to display those strength.

Rod Duncan said...

Thanks for the comment Morag. And it is well worth remembering the degree of suffering and the degree of disability that many dyslexics experience, particularly in the school system.