Dyslexia: Embracing another way of thinking

According to the International Dyslexia Association (2002), dyslexia is described as : ‘A specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Although most would agree on this definition from a purely scientific point of view, others, will argue that dyslexia is more than just the disability.

The thing with dyslexia is that if you are dyslexic, you will be so for life. As so, there is a whole process that comes into accepting the disability as part of who you are. A task that is already difficult on its own. Living with dyslexia can lead, for some, to emotional problems such as social anxiety, low self-esteem, social exclusion or even to greater length, depression.

According to Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development (Erikson & Erikson, 1997), during childhood every child is confronted to deal with feelings of inferiority, between situations such as success versus failure. Dyslexic children often tend to attribute their success to luck, where any typical child will attribute it to his efforts. Same goes with failure, where others will tell themselves to try harder next time, dyslexic children usually see themselves as stupid (Michael Ryan, 2004).

The danger here is that the child does not grow out of this reasoning, either because he did not get the support needed or he was never diagnosed. Because the older the child becomes the harder that image about himself is likely to change.

For instance, anxiety is one of the most frequent symptom in the adult dyslexic. Anxiety is usually caused when a situation is getting out of hands; however, for a dyslexic person, that feeling is part of their daily life. In the workplace, as a consequence, dyslexic people will favor professions with less responsibilities on purpose, afraid of not being able to face challenging situations that would cause them stress, and ultimately make them look incompetent.

‘Each year the dyslexic child falls even further behind their peers, and their common reaction is to give up even trying in class’ (Alexander-Passe, 2015). According to the data from the Ministry of Education of Spain; in 2012 out of the 23% academic failure, a 40% was due to dyslexia, which represents about 700,000 children who suffer from dyslexia and 10% of the country’s population (Merino, 2016). ‘So what happens? The dyslexic child begins to see themselves as ‘abnormal’ and ‘stupid’ which is exactly what they are told, either openly by teachers or by their friends’(Alexander-Passe, 2015). However, the case of Spain is not unique compared to the rest of the word.

Because it is genetic, up to one in every five people in the world is susceptible to be dyslexic. To this day, the Dyslexia International organization identifies around 700 million dyslexics on earth (Dyslexia International, 2014), all with different variations. It occurs on a continuum, one person might have mild dyslexia while the next has a profound case of it (Kelli Sandman-Hurley, 2013). In other words, if we were to undermine these people it will be like telling the entire population of Europe, that they are not worth it.

In a recent public survey (Dyslexia and YouGov, 2017) in Britain, it was discovered that 97% of the people interviewed thought that dyslexia was nothing more than a default, a disadvantage.

However, as shown in the survey; brilliant minds in our societies, with personalities such as Albert Einstein, Henry Ford or Thomas Edison, apart from excelling in their field of work for being the revolutionary people that they were, also happen to be dyslexic.

Recent fMRI studies have found that dyslexics rely more on the right hemisphere of the brain than non dyslexics. Because this part handles holistic though known as ‘spatial activities’, the dyslexics’ brains establish a new dynamic that makes them expand the use of these abilities found in field of works where creativity and intuition are required. However, because the left hemisphere is responsible for language and reading (among others) with proper training, the dyslexic brain is also able to reinforce the use of it, and eventually, work out its disadvantages it had in the first place (Kelli Sandman-Hurley, 2013).

That is what Professor John Stein at Oxford University calls « compensating advantages ». In an interview he explained that because dyslexia is extremely common in the world due its genetic pattern, it is natural that certain parts of the dyslexic brain are enhanced and therefore makes a dyslexic excel in certain fields of works because the brain does not have to rely on linguistic abilities. Otherwise, as he continues, if dyslexia was only amiss, the genes responsible for the learning disability would disappear over time, and as so there must be balancing advantages in being dyslexic (Dyslexia International, 2014).

In the book « The Dyslexic Advantage » neurologists Fernette and Brock Eide created a mnemonic acronym to put a name on these advantages using the word ‘MIND’ standing for : Material, Interconnected, Narrative and Dynamic.

The first one, material reasoning, is the ability to picture in the mind material objects in a 3D perspective. The skill is actually recognizable in architectures and engineers, a line of professions known for dyslexics people to excel in. The second, interconnected reasoning, refers to seeing situations from different perspectives where others cannot, in others words seeing the wider scheme of things.

As a matter of fact, according to John Stein, dyslexics tend to fail at sequential things such as reading or mathematics, yet, they are able to interpret patterns on a much wider scale and in an easier manner than the rest. Einstein himself recognized he wasn’t able to express himself through words, even if in his mind he had a wider understanding of things : « Thoughts did not come in any verbal formulation. I very rarely think in words at all. A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterwards » (A. Einstein).

That is also linked with narrative reasoning, which refers that facts are better assimilated when put into a wider context rather than simply stated them; whereas dynamic reasoning has to do with expertise that requieres a certain amount of prediction, such as business or financial markets, where our surroundings are not always complete and constantly changing (The Dyslexic Advantage, 2011).

Now it is clear, that there is only one Albert Einstein in this world, yet as himself would say : ‘If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

The difference in the dyslexic mind is undeniable, but more to be valued it is necessary to appreciate it at its right worth; that means even tough it is important to find an inclusive method that would acknowledge that difference it still needs to welcome it as well. Dislexia is still only consider as a learning disability, hence the current focus on methods and techniques to cope with learning deficiencies. But what goes afterwards?

What goes after, that would made dyslexics people appreciate their own way of thinking instead of constantly trying to fit into a mold that is not theirs? Standardization is not the solution, as you simply cannot suppose that what works for one will work for the other. And although that goes for dyslexic people, it also goes for anyone with learning disabilities such as ADHD or dyscalculia. It’s important to treat the hardships, not the difference.

The bottom line is that dyslexic people have so much to offer to our societies as any other individual. However, nowadays part of the issue is that our current educational systems are so obsess with conformity and measurements that we are not nurturing nor supporting a different way of thinking. On the contrary, we face a system that pre-dispose us into thinking that only one way can lead to academic and personal fulfillment. But in order to do so, we need a system that educates and treat dyslexics people properly so that they will be content and satisfied about themselves.

Fomenting our societies into understanding dyslexia and the enrichment it can bring, more to be common sense, is also an investment. Most teachers, even if trained for dyslexia, remain unaware of this positive sensitiveness of the disability. Even places such as NASA is recognizing the potential of the dyslexic mind, not based on academic excellence but because of that different way of thinking valuable for researches. Not only dyslexic thinking has proven to be efficient, it has and still is enriching much of our modern world then.

Instead of considering dyslexia as a fatality in our youth, if we were to open and care more about this different way of thinking, if we could let these people write their own narratives, then no one could ever imagine the bright potential they could bring to our future.