Paradigm Shift on Dyslexia

I picked up The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain to learn more about my son (and husband) with dyslexia. But as I read, I found myself discovering even more about our other four sons who do not show classic signs of dyslexia (reading difficulty), but have all struggled with spelling and handwriting. When I read a passage to Paul, 12, he said, "Mom, that books says things about me that I've never even told anyone!"

Written by a husband and wife physician specializing in neurology and learning disorders, Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide, The Dyslexic Advantage describes dyslexia not so much a learning disorder as a very different way of mental processing. And many of these alternate ways of thinking result in very real advantages such as being able to visualize and manipulate 3D images and see the big picture of things. People with dyslexia often perceive space differently than the rest of us, and are able to make connections between unrelated objects, thinking more creatively than folks with more common brain wiring. Rather than just spout of wishful thinking in order to build up self-images of folks with dyslexia, the Eides build their case by explaining brain science and case studies, sprinkling in some anecdotes as examples.

Here's what one Amazon reviewer had to say about the book:
The Eides have done what so many "claim" to do in their books, but never really get there. They show clear, concrete, and proven advantages to the way the brain works for dyslexics, and shows why those advantages have "trade offs" when it comes to learning things such as reading, writing, and spelling. Basically, the way the dyslexic brain works, people with dyslexia tend to be much, much better than average in four particular areas - described as the M.I.N.D. areas. These cover things such as being able to see objects in 3D and manipulate them on ones mind (a great skill for Engineers, designers, builders, etc.), the ability to see advanced and complex connections between things (an amazing skill for systems engineers, entrepreneurs, psychologists, lawyers, etc.), amazing long term memory, etc. While these advantages are amazing, great, needed, and should be utilized to the best of ones ability - these advantages are there because the dyslexic brain is wired in such a way to support them. The down side is this wiring is the most inefficient way to learn the skills of reading, writing, and spelling. While those are true downsides, that doesn't mean dyslexic individuals can't learn to read, write, and spell - most do. The Eides just show a much better route to those skills. - D.A. J. - Amazon review

Besides discussing the various areas dyslexics tend to excel in, the Eides also describe helpful technology and the best educational means for students. Guess what? It's not usually your local public school! The Eides are rather bullish on homeschooling when it is done by motivated, committed parents. Finally in the appendix, there are a number of helpful resources.

One of the most interesting concepts in this book to me was the idea of “stealth dyslexia.” This is a term the Eides use to describe those who don't show signs of reading difficulties, at least at first blush. However, handwriting (dysgraphia) and spelling problems are very common.  At least three of sons clearly fit this pattern. Each is a strong reader, but their handwriting and spelling are atrocious despite years of trying all sorts of programs. (I do have much higher hopes for the youngest two boys, though, now that we are using the brilliant All About Spelling curriculum! )  These kids, though, do show the classic positives of dyslexia, as well, and they are my three engineer types. As I read this book, so many things I'd observed through the years now made sense.

A few interesting facts about dyslexia:
1. Dyslexia is not related to IQ.

2. Dyslexia affects between 5-20% of the population, making it the most common learning disorder.

3. Dyslexia is so common among engineers that at MIT they call it the "MIT Disease." Must be true at Purdue as well. A history of technology professor Andrew had told the class he knew they were all engineers and none of them could spell, so he wouldn't take off for spelling errors!

4. Well-known people with dyslexia include Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Agatha Christie, Leonardo Da Vinci, Francis Schaeffer,  Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Ford, and many, many others. Not surprising are the scientists and inventors, but many dyslexics also excel as artists, architects, writers, and entrepreneurs. 

If you suspect you have a child with dyslexia, don't panic! Do become educated about this way of thinking. The Dyslexic Advantage, while not a primer on how to overcome reading difficulties, is a great place to start. Sally Shaywitz's Overcoming Dyslexia is useful as well. There are some great resources available these days to teach kids with dyslexia and new technologies to assist as well.

Finally, start looking at the positives and not just the difficulties that come from a brain that interprets the world in a bit different way. That way of seeing things has brought us innumerable innovations and insights that wouldn't have been gained from a more ordinary mind!

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