PATTERN RECOGNITION — SEEING WHAT OTHERS DON’T

           Because dyslexics use your creative right brains more, that side gets very strong. This strength may let you soak up patterns of things that you see, and processes that you imagine.  Dyslexics link ideas together in different ways — instead of following a “logical” step-by-step sequence, you might see a pattern or similarities and likenesses.

            Learning foreign languages is usually hard for dyslexics. But Richard Engel picked up four different dialects of Arabic, as well as Spanish and Italian, as he worked as an international television journalist. He did it by finding patterns in the languages.

“If you can stand to listen to the chaos long enough you can start picking out the notes and soon you have a symphony.”

Richard Engel, Author and Television Journalist

Pattern recognition

What do these words have in common: Madam, civic, eye, level?
To find the answer, read each one backwards.

When my dyslexic husband was getting a new phone number for us, the phone company offered him three different numbers to choose from. My husband immediately said “We want 418-0936”. When I asked him why, he said “Because it’ll be easy to remember. With the exception of the first number, all the pairs of numbers add up to 9.” Maybe easy for him to remember — I had to just memorize it.

(Note: I’ve changed the actual phone number. You’ll have to go through all the possible combinations of 9 to call me.)

Patterns show up in numbers, too: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13… What comes next in this pattern of numbers?

Answer: 21.

The pattern is made by adding the first two numbers together to get the next: 0+1=1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 3+ 2=5…

This sequence of numbers is very common in nature and architecture. It even has a name — the Fibonacci sequence.

References

“10 Riddles That Play on Words.” n.d. Kidspot. Accessed November 9, 2017. http://kidspot.com.au/things-to-do/activity-articles/10-riddles-that-play-on-words/news-story/38308fcc7c41a224ade5d3d99da64ac4.

Eide, Brock, and Fernette Eide. 2011. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Grandin, Temple, and Catherine Johnson. 2005. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. New York: Scribner.

Wallace, Jane. “Richard Engel, Chief Foreign Correspondent for NBC News.” Yale Dyslexia. Accessed October 8, 2020. http://dyslexia.yale.edu/story/richard-engel/.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2007. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Harper.

CREATIVITY: GIST — THE MAIN POINT

The gist is the kernel of an idea. Dyslexics get the gist of the idea easier than many people — you see what’s important, then discard the rest,  leaving everybody else to wonder “Why didn’t I think of that?”  Linear thinkers and fluent readers may see the same information, but it is often locked into scripts or apps in their brains — they may not realize that they can use the knowledge in a new way. Or they get lost in the details, and have a hard time seeing what’s important.

The gist of an idea is its main point or part.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

For example, what is the gist of this entire website? That dyslexics are different, not less than.

If you are good at cutting to the heart of the matter, seeing the point, it will help you in school, and later in life.

Rube Goldberg drew cartoons of everyday actions that became ridiculously complicated.

Seeing the gist of something seems so obvious and easy that it is a little ambitious to call it a “skill”. But some people see the point much easier than others. Those who don’t flounder, mired in extraneous details and useless actions.

Here’s an example:

I used to have a boss who called me into his office and gave me long detailed instructions on how I was supposed to gather information for a report. The first time he did it, I sat there and listened to him going on and on about what data to look at and what I should avoid, where to find it, ignore the data in this column, here’s the latest picture of the kids, he likes to use the yellow highlighters, but I might find these numbers interesting, had I heard that this project was on hold? But he was going to go out and fix it, so don’t worry about it …

A solid five minutes of … stuff. Somewhere in that avalanche of words was what I was supposed to do.

I had just started the job, and was terrified of not doing well. But I was totally lost.

I thought about some of the words that had washed by me, and what this boss would need to know from that data. I gathered up my courage and said “You want me to find the data on these projects. I’m to highlight these numbers, and put the pages in the gray binders on that desk. If I have any questions, I’ll ask.”

My boss looked at me like I was dense. “That’s what I just said.”

But what took him five minutes to say, I did in 30 seconds.

Gist doesn’t seem like much at first, but people who see the world differently are often able to cut to the point of a topic and ignore all the extra “stuff”.

And that can be a huge advantage.

“Being dyslexic can actually help in the outside world. I see some things clearer than other people do because I have to simplify things to help me and that has helped others.”

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group of companies, knighted for “services to entrepeneurship”, one of the richest men in the world.

CREATIVITY — THE PAYOFF

Now we come to the fun stuff — the stuff that dyslexics excel at.

While you’re in school, your teachers will help you learn to minimize the effects of your dyslexia when you are reading and spelling. When you get out of school, and get a job, you will have a calculator to quickly tell you what 4 X 15 is. You will have spell check for your documents. If you want to know when the first manned landing on the moon happened, you can look it up on the internet.

Nobody has yet invented a machine that has insights or an imagination — a machine that can think in pictures, and is creative. That’s anything-is-possible right-brain stuff. Right-brain thinkers see the world differently. Your outside-the-box vision leads you to new ideas.

There are a lot of characteristics that go into creativity. Creativity is a higher-level thinking skill that uses strengths such as:

Gist — Seeing the point of the problem

Pattern Recognition — Seeing what others don’t

Thinking in Pictures

Insight — Aha! moments when you suddenly understand the answer without going through logical steps to get there.

  • The region of the right hemisphere that dyslexics use to read is also where brilliant insights happen!
  • This means dyslexics might have more insights.

Imagination — Anything is possible!

Creativity is the payoff for different learning styles.

To create: to make or bring into existence something new.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

LEARNING DIFFERENTLY

            You’ve gotten through the hard stuff. Now it is time to talk about what really sets dyslexics apart — your amazing ability to see the world differently. You don’t believe me? Read on.

  • Dyslexia is not the end of the world
  • Dyslexics think differently
    • Right brain thinking allows dyslexics to see the world in a new way
  • The other side of dyslexia is a set of awesome abilities.

            So now that you have an understanding of your dyslexia, it’s time to put your learning differences to work for you.

DYSLEXIA IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD, IT IS THE BEGINNING OF THE ADVENTURE

            Dyslexic brains don’t want to shift from the big-picture right brain to the details-oriented left. Staying in the right hemisphere can cause problems for you when you read or do other jobs that need to be automatic.  

            But new research shows that the crossed-wires, fuzzy-processing, right-brain-use of dyslexics contributes to your thinking in unique, creative ways. That ability is very powerful,  and produces its own incredible talents.

DYSLEXICS THINK DIFFERENTLY FROM OTHER PEOPLE…

AND THAT’S A GOOD THING

            So what’s so great about how dyslexics think?

RIGHT BRAIN THINKERS

            You, as a dyslexic, don’t shift to the left side of your brain for reading. Instead, you use your right hemisphere more than non-dyslexics. 

            That means the right side of your brain gets more exercise. The right hemisphere is the “go-to” portion when you think about things. This is why dyslexics are big picture thinkers — you do most of your thinking in the big picture right side of your brain.   

            In fact, one of the few differences in dyslexic brains compared to those of fluent readers’ is that the right side of a fluent reader’s brain is slightly smaller than a dyslexic’s. 

“Studies show that individuals with dyslexia process information in a different area of the brain than do non-dyslexics.

Many people who are dyslexic are of average to above average intelligence.”

International Dyslexia Association http://www.interdys.org/FAQWhatIs.htm

LEFT BRAIN THINKER: HOW I THINK VERSUS HOW MY KIDS THINK

            I am a very linear thinker — I go from A to B to C without ever wandering off course. My kids are dyslexic. We have different ways of seeing the same problem.

            Consider the sentence: “There were bats in the old house, but they flew away.”

Two possible meanings of the word “bat” come up in my brain.

            When I read this sentence, I might pause to sort out if the writer meant a flying mammal or a stick for sports. But I’d go to my left hemisphere mental filing cabinet, where everything is stored logically, and based on context, I’d know pretty fast which meaning the author meant.

Bats

            Mammals

Live in abandoned buildings

Fly      

Wooden Sticks

May be left in abandoned buildings

Are swung and sometimes thrown

And I’d make a decision on which definition worked better. I wouldn’t spend any more time on the thought because I’d want to get on with the story I was reading.

The context of the sentence tells me which meaning of the word “bat” is appropriate.

But this is what might pop into my kids minds:

Everything that might possibly be associated with bats. And then associations with the associations.

            My way of reading lets me quickly understand the content and be fluent — I get sucked into whatever I’m reading. But my kids have a lot more interesting ideas flash through their heads.

            Neither way is better, just useful at different times. If you’re trying to read a story, getting sucked into a book makes it come alive. But if you’re trying to figure out why bats are getting a fatal disease, thinking of everything around the word “bat” may give you some great new connections.

“…I am interested less in the [dinosaur] bones per se than in what they reveal about large-scale trends.”

— Dr. John “Jack” Horner, paleontologist, MacArthur “genius” Fellowship recipient.

TAKE A NEGATIVE AND TURN IT INTO A POSITIVE

            Being fluent in something means that you have learned the script for it. Dyslexics, on the other hand, have a hard time remembering a lot of scripts.

            But dyslexics can turn this seeming-negative into a positive. Because you often have a hard time turning lots of little steps into scripts, you have to think about what you are doing each time you do it. And each time you do a step, you can ask yourself “Isn’t there a better way to do this?”  You think about what you are doing. Sometimes you come up with a better answer.

Doing it the hard way

I was working on the computer one day, using drop-down menus to individually copy and paste a lot of files from one place to the other. It was taking forever. My son wandered over and asked me “Why don’t you use Control-A to select them all at once, then drag them over?”

Past experience told me that I could get the job done by using my long series of scripts. I never stopped to ask myself if there wasn’t a better way to copy files — my scripts locked the knowledge up in only one way to do it. My dyslexic son saw many possibilities, including an easier one.

References

Armstrong, Thomas. 2003. “Coming to Grips with the Musculature of Words.” In The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing: Making the Words Come Alive.
Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/102280/chapters/Coming-to-Grips-with-the-Musculature-of-Words.aspx.

Beilock, Sian. 2010. Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal about Getting It Right When You Have To. 1st Free Press hardcover ed. New York: Free Press.

Eide, Brock, and Fernette Eide. 2011. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Grandin, Temple, and Catherine Johnson. 2005. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. New York: Scribner.

Horner, John R. “Jack,” and Celeste Horner. 2004. “Jack Horner: An Intellectual Autobiography.” The Montana Professor, Spring 2004. http://mtprof.msun.edu/Spr2004/horner.html.

The International Dyslexia Association. “Promoting Literacy through Research, Education and Advocacy.” The International Dyslexia Association, November 12, 2001. http://www.interdys.org/FAQWhatIs.htm.

Nicolson, Rod, and Angela Fawcett. 2008. Dyslexia, Learning, and the Brain. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Shaywitz, Sally E. 2003. Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. 1st ed. New York: Knopf.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2007. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Harper.

READING IS HARD WORK FOR DYSLEXICS

Dyslexic brains have trouble learning the correct scripts to connect sounds with written letters. You have problems storing the scripts in the left side of your brains as sight words. This gives you problems remembering the right words or breaking words down into their separate sounds.

You continue to sound the words out every time. To help sound out the words, dyslexic brains fire on both sides. You might even move your lips to use as much of your brain as possible to figure out the words, turning the letters back into sounds

Sounding out each word every time uses time and energy as lots of neurons in your brain fire inefficiently. The scripts are not very strong. It is a slow and tiring way to read.

Out of Time
We have, at most, two seconds to read a word and understand its meaning. If we don’t sound the word out in that time, we begin to forget it. Dyslexics often take a half second or more to sound a word out. If it is a hard word, it can take more than two seconds to decode. And so you begin to forget it.

Dyslexics use more time, and more of the right hemisphere of your brains to read a word. This means you burn more energy to read. And you might forget what you are reading as you sound it out.

Out of Energy
When really working on a problem, it is possible for anybody to literally run out of energy for higher-level thinking. People who are dyslexic work even harder than fluent readers to make letters make sense, and hold them in your brains long enough to understand the words. Because you have to work so hard at reading, your brain may use about five times more energy as fluent readers. Dyslexics work harder, and run out of energy faster and more often. This is why you may feel exhausted after a day at school.

Most people use about ten watts of energy to power their brain. When reading, dyslexics use five times more energy than fluent readers or 50 watts – about the same amount of energy as is needed to power a laptop computer!

To make reading automatic — to turn letters into a sight word — dyslexic readers have to see a word many more times than non-dyslexics do. But eventually, you being to recognize words without decoding them every time.

“Because of the dyslexia I always thought I had to work twice as hard as everyone else just to go the same distance.”

– Orlando Bloom, star of Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Blackhawk Down

For many dyslexics, reading may always be slow. It may never be fun. Writing may always have mistakes. Those are hard facts for you to deal with.

But dyslexics have other strengths.

References

Armstrong, Thomas. 2003. “Coming to Grips with the Musculature of Words.” In The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing: Making the Words Come Alive.
Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/102280/chapters/Coming-to-Grips-with-the-Musculature-of-Words.aspx.

Beilock, Sian. 2010. Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal about Getting It Right When You Have To. 1st Free Press hardcover ed. New York: Free Press.

Bloom, Orlando. “Orlando Bloom.” Search Quotes. Accessed November 9, 2017a. http://www.searchquotes.com/quotation/Because_of_the_dyslexia_I_always_thought_I_had_to_work_twice_as_hard_as_everyone_else_just_to_go_the/340019/.

Eide, Brock, and Fernette Eide. 2011. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Nicolson, Rod, and Angela Fawcett. 2008. Dyslexia, Learning, and the Brain. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Shaywitz, Sally E. 1996. “Dyslexia.” Scientific American, 1996:98-104.

———. 2003. Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. 1st ed. New York: Knopf.

“Dyslexic Kids’ Brains Work Harder.” 1999. University of Washington Alumni Magazine. Learning Curves. October 6, 1999. https://www.washington.edu/alumni/columns/dec99/dyslexia.html.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2007. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Harper.

Wood, Tracey. 2006. Overcoming Dyslexia for Dummies. – For Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Zimmer, Carl. 2006. “You’re a Dim Bulb (And I Mean That in the Best Possible Way).” The Loom. DISCOVER Magazine. March 23, 2006. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/?p=359.

HOW WE LEARN TO READ

For most people learning to read is just like learning to do any other skill. Beginning readers:

            Left HemisphereRight Hemisphere
 1) see the letters and hear the sounds
 2) attach the sounds to the letters
3) practice putting sounds to groups of
letters as words
 
4) create scripts that tell them what
the words mean — turn them into sight
words.
 
Beginners practice a word until it is stored in the word app storage area (red, on left) for easy access. Dyslexia researchers call this the “word form area”.

Pretty soon, most people can skip the first two steps. When they practice enough to turn the words into sight words, the words are stored in the word app storage area. The beginning readers will have enough brain power left over to read fluently, and get sucked into the book.

Fluent readers go to the word app storage area (red, on left) to quickly retrieve a word when they are reading.

Dyslexics Don’t Switch to the Left Hemisphere

Dyslexics have a hard time storing the words they are learning in the word app storage area.

But because reading uses the sight system to interpret sounds, there are more chances for problems and confusion. Some people — people who are dyslexic — have a very hard time learning the scripts needed to read. Researchers think that dyslexia can be a problem with any of the areas of the brain used in reading, or the connections between them. That explains why dyslexia looks different in every person who has it.

One of the main problems is that dyslexics’ fast, efficient left-hemisphere has a hard time learning the scripts to recognize a word on sight. Your brains don’t switch from using the right side to sound the word out each time, to using just the expert left side where written-word scripts are stored. You have to sound the words out many more times before they become sight words. This process takes more time and more brain energy. It is a slow and tiring way to read.

So there is another characteristic that can be assigned to right or left brain hemispheres:

           Left HemisphereRight Hemisphere
 Fluent ReaderDyslexic Reader

“If you are dyslexic, your eyes work fine, your brain works fine, but there is a little short circuit in the wire that goes between the eye and the brain. Reading is not a fluid process.”

– Caitlyn Jenner, Olympic Gold Medalist

References

Armstrong, Thomas. 2003. “Coming to Grips with the Musculature of Words.” In The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing: Making the Words Come Alive.
Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/102280/chapters/Coming-to-Grips-with-the-Musculature-of-Words.aspx.

Beilock, Sian. 2010. Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal about Getting It Right When You Have To. 1st Free Press hardcover ed. New York: Free Press.

Jenner, Caitlyn. n.d. “Caitlyn Jenner Quotes.” BrainyQuote. Accessed November 9, 2017a. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/caitlynjen362264.html.

Nicolson, Rod, and Angela Fawcett. 2008. Dyslexia, Learning, and the Brain. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Shaywitz, Sally E. 2003. Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. 1st ed. New York: Knopf.

Wood, Tracey. 2006. Overcoming Dyslexia for Dummies. – For Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2007. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Harper.

HOW WE LEARN — DETAILS

The different brain hemispheres have different jobs when we try to learn something new. As beginners, we start off using both sides of our brains, looking at everything we could possibly need to get the job done. By the time we’ve become an expert at the task, we are only using the parts we need, stored on the left side of our brain.

So to learn something new, our brain has to:

Left HemisphereRight Hemisphere
 1) take in a lot of new information
 2) see what the overall goal is
3) figure out what’s important 
4) then put the correct bits together to get the job done. 

We do this process over and over again. Each time we go through the process, we get better at remembering which bits are important and which bits we can ignore. The more we practice, the more often our brain neurons fire together, the stronger the connection, the better we get. This is why practice is so important in mastering a skill — we are teaching our brain neurons to fire together in the right pattern.

It’s like our brains create little apps that run when you want to do something. Psychologists call these scripts.

Experts Switch to Left

As the skill becomes automatic, our brains cut out the first two steps in the right hemisphere, then the third step, on the left. By the time the process is automatic, the brain just uses the bits needed by running the script in the left hemisphere.

With the bits that are important stuck together in the left side of our brains, the expert left hemisphere limits options or possibilities. Limited options means more time for details of other stuff.

Think of it this way: when you wanted to learn to text on a cell phone, you had to

            Left HemisphereRight Hemisphere
 1) see all your options
 2) figure out the best way to do it, then
3) put the steps in the correct order and 
4) practice until you got it right. 

At first, you weren’t very good. But you practiced the skills over and over again. It took a lot of time and effort. But now, when you want to text someone, you do it without thinking about it. Fast and efficient.

When you master the skill, the bundle of steps becomes one smooth action. You don’t have to think about each step every time. In fact, if you stop and think about a skill that you have mastered, it slows you down, and you make mistakes. Try thinking about every step of texting now, and you won’t get very far very fast.

Most of the things we do in life follow these scripts. Brushing your teeth, walking to gym class, riding a bike — all follow scripts.

Once we learn the scripts, our brains go to them first. We don’t think about the individual parts of the script, because it will mess us up.

The little brain apps work really well most of the time. And they leave the brain enough processing power to have a conversation with your friend as you text.

There’s a lot to learn out there. Schools are places where teachers try to get as many scripts as possible into their students memories. They are trying to teach you the scripts as quickly and efficiently as possible.

HOW WE LEARN — OVERVIEW

To understand what’s going on with dyslexia, we need to understand a little about how we learn to read. In this post, well look at:

A TALE OF TWO HEMISPHERES

The brain is divided into two halves, called the right and left hemispheres. The two sides of the brain are connected. They share information and work together.  You need both sides to function well.

DIFFERENT STRENGTHS, DIFFERENT JOBS

But the right and left hemispheres of the brain have different strengths. They process information in very different ways.  Think of it this way: the right brain looks at the whole big picture, the left brain works with a limited number of parts. 

Right Brain Jobs

The right brain is where we do our mental processing when we are just beginning to learn how to do a task. It works with huge amounts of information from all the senses. The right brain is slow and takes a lot of energy, but sees the big picture as it explores. For the right brain, anything is possible.

Think of designing an imaginary car. You would probably come up with a mix of what would the car have to have — some sort of engine to make it move, and what would just be really awesome — ejector seats!

Left Brain Jobs

The left brain is where expert processes are stored. It thinks in details, is logical, analytical and fast. To do this, the left brain limits possibilities.

Driving the car involves a lot of automatic rules. When you come to a four way stop, you always let the person to the right of you go first. Why? You are limiting your options so you can focus on watching for other cars and pedestrians.

MAIN BRAIN HEMISPHERE STRENGTHS

Some people are very good at using the skills and strengths of both sides of their brains. Others think more with one side or the other, either being more analytical, or being more intuitive. If you’re like most people, you’ll be strong in some areas and less so in others.

 It’s kinda like building a character in a role-playing game like Dungeons and Dragons. In a role-playing game, each character has different strengths — a twelve in magic. They also have challenges — a three in charisma.

Everybody has a mix of right and left brain strengths and weaknesses. What are your strengths from each side?

Left Hemisphere Strengths –  PartsRight Hemisphere Strengths – Whole
Right handed.Left handed.
Fast processing.Slow processing.
Focused on fine details.Looks at all the information.
Sorts ideas and objects.Identifies relationships,  similarities, likenesses,  and patterns. 
Takes the whole and breaks it up into its parts  – just uses what’s needed for the specific task.Makes connections; sees gist, background or context   as patterns in the whole. Needs the big picture.
Logical steps — builds on everything it knows up to now.Spatial abilities — the ability to understand how objects or ideas fit together. 
Recognizes incoming information and responds to the important stuff with short-cuts called scripts, instead of having to think everything through every time.Can handle independent streams of information from different senses flowing into our brains at the same time — the big picture.
Strings separate moments together in succession to give us a sense of time — important for putting words in the right order.Lets us remember isolated incidents amazingly well, everything happens in the here and now.
Sees precise descriptions.Sees ambiguities or inconsistencies — things that don’t fit together as a whole. This includes metaphors, jokes and inferences.
Understands the grammar of sentences, and the meaning of words and letters.Understands tone of voice, facial expressions, body language   and other social languages.  
Thinks in words.Thinks in pictures.
Limits possibilities to get faster responses.Sees possibilities, notices and explores.
Categorizes and organizes information and compares what is the best way to do things —  is very judgmental.Thinks outside the box, is very intuitive, spontaneous, imaginative and judgment-free — anything is possible.

Just like a roll-playing game, the mix of strengths that you get is as random as a roll of the dice.

References

Eide, Brock, and Fernette Eide. 2011. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Kounios, John. 2017. Per. Comm. “Re: Insights as Related to Dyslexia,” July 11, 2017.

Kounios, John, and Mark Beeman. 2009. “The Aha! Moment: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 18 (4):210–16. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01638.x

Taylor, Jill Bolte. 2008. My Stroke of Insight : A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. New York: Viking.

Shaywitz, Sally E. 1996. “Dyslexia.” Scientific American, 1996:98-104.

———. 2003. Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. 1st ed. New York: Knopf.

UW News. “Dyslexic Children Use Nearly Five Times the Brain Area.” Accessed March 5, 2019. http://www.washington.edu/news/1999/10/04/dyslexic-children-use-nearly-five-times-the-brain-area/.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2007. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Harper.

What You Need To Read Fluently

WHERE READING GOES WRONG

This is a hard topic. There is a lot that experts don’t know yet about the brain or how people read. This is because…

THE BRAIN IS A COMPLICATED PLACE.
Because the brain is so complicated, nobody’s brain is wired perfectly for all of the jobs we need it to do.

But here is what experts agree on so far when it comes to reading:

● Speaking is natural, reading is not
● Fluent readers are good in three areas:
○ Sounding out words (decoding)
○ Recognizing words fast enough to read smoothly (rapid word recall)
○ Understanding what has been written (comprehension)
● Dyslexia is a problem with the first two reading areas:
○ Decoding — Breaking words into their sounds
○ Rapid Word Recall — Recognizing words quickly

SPEAKING IS NATURAL, READING IS NOT

All humans talk. Even non-verbal people “talk” using sign language or gestures. Speaking is natural.

But reading is not natural. You have to learn how to do it.

For 90% of human history, nobody was dyslexic. That’s because nobody had invented writing yet. Everyone’s brains were all wired a little differently. But early people hunted and farmed and wove and cooked without any trouble.

Even after writing was invented, only a very small number of people could read and write. Medieval kings often had official scribes to read and write for them, because even royalty didn’t know how. They didn’t learn to read because it took so much time and effort, and there were so few books — it just wasn’t worth it.

It was only as printing became widespread in the last three hundred years that more people learned to read and write. And so it was only in the last three hundred years that more people began to have the problems that we now call dyslexia.

SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

To learn to read, the brain has to link together many different areas of the brain. None of these areas evolved to read. They all have other jobs already. When we make the brain do jobs it was never meant to do, the wiring can get crossed.

And that is exactly what we do when we read and write. Writing is a way of recording sounds and turning them into something that makes sense of sounds when you look at letters – mixing two different systems together.

Two Problem Areas

Remember at the top of this post that I said that fluent readers are good at recalling the right word, sounding the word out, and then connecting the word with the correct meaning.

And I said that two of these skills give dyslexics problems: recalling words and sounding words out.

Poor Word Recall

The first challenge for dyslexics is recalling the right words in the right order. Poor or slow word recall can be a toughie anytime a dyslexic uses language. It can show up when you are just talking, but it is especially common when you are reading. People who have trouble quickly remembering the right word may not do well answering questions in class, on oral tests or presentations, as well as anything that requires reading.

What does poor word recall look like?

Like everything else about dyslexia, poor word recall can have a lot of different looks. William James (Harvard professor from 1873-1907) was the first to describe when a word is just out of reach of your memory. A word being on the “tip of the tongue” is something that he, as a dyslexic, may have experienced a lot.

My daughter has the same trouble. When she was young, she would stop talking in the middle of a sentence. I would wait for her to start talking again. When she didn’t, I’d start in with my side of the conversation. My daughter would hold up her hand: “I’m not done talking.” When I asked her why she stopped talking in the middle of the sentence, she said that she was trying to remember the right word.

Carolyn Greider won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for her research on how cells in the body age. Her poor word recall looks a little different. While Carolyn was in school, sometimes the wrong words came out in place of the words she meant to say. My husband has the same problem. He might say “sweet” when he means “sweat”.

“When the time comes for your brain to process the information, the second word comes up faster than the first one. So when it’s in your head, all of a sudden, it comes out backwards and you think of the word backwards”.

— Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner, Olympic Gold Medalist.

Can’t Sound it Out

The other puzzle for dyslexics is that you don’t hear the separate sounds of the words.

Fluent Readers Sound It Out

To learn to read, everybody must learn to break words down into their separate sounds. That’s why beginning readers say “duh o g” for “dog”. People call this decoding or sounding it out. Putting letters together to create a word is called encoding or spelling. Most people learn to sound out and spell words easily.

Terminology

Decode means to sound a word out by breaking it into its sounds. It is also called sounding it out.
Encode means to spell a word. It is also called spelling.
The separate sounds (“duh o g”) of the word are called phonemes.

Dyslexics Don’t Hear the Parts

But most people with dyslexia don’t hear the separate parts of a word. If you can’t hear it, you can’t sound it out. And you can’t connect the sounds to letters so you can read. For example, people in my family might hear “batter” as “badder” or “canned” as “can’t”. Even if they can break the word apart, they hear the wrong sounds.

“When I was in elementary school I was considered a poor speller and somebody who couldn’t sound out words, so I was taken into remedial classes…”

— Carolyn Greider, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine for research on how cells age.

Dyslexics Don’t Become Fluent Readers

Fluency is when a reader is able to sound out and remember a word easily enough that you have brain power leftover to understand the story. The end result of fluency is that wonderful feeling of being pulled completely into a book.

“I, myself, was always recognized . . . as the “slow one” in the family. It was quite true, and I knew it and accepted it. Writing and spelling were always terribly difficult for me. My letters were without originality. I was . . . an extraordinarily bad speller and have remained so until this day.”

— Agatha Christie, writer of Murder on the Orient Express and other mysteries, whose books sold over one billion copies.

Probably like most people with dyslexia, you have managed to learn to read by working harder than the fluent readers around you. You use lots of tricks to make up for your poor reading skills.

But because people with dyslexia have trouble sounding words out or remembering words quickly, you don’t become fluent readers. This can slow down your understanding of what has been written.

And not reading fluently can be very frustrating.

References

Allen, Scott. 2009. “11 Celebrities Who Overcame Dyslexia.” Mental Floss. October 9, 2009. http://mentalfloss.com/article/22968/11-celebrities-who-overcame-dyslexia.

Armstrong, Thomas. 2003. “Coming to Grips with the Musculature of Words.” In The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing: Making the Words Come Alive.
Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/102280/chapters/Coming-to-Grips-with-the-Musculature-of-Words.aspx.

Crockett, Kathy. “Carol Greider, Scientist, Nobel Prize Winner.” The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. Accessed November 9, 2017. http://dyslexia.yale.edu/story/carol-greider-ph-d/.

Jenner, Caitlyn. n.d. “Caitlyn Jenner Quotes.” BrainyQuote. Accessed November 9, 2017a. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/caitlynjen362264.html.

Eide, Brock, and Fernette Eide. 2011. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Fisher, Jennifer Engel, and Janet Price. 2012. Take Control of Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties: The Ultimate Guide for Kids. Waco, Tex: Prufrock Press.

James, William. “Principles of Psychology.” Classics in the History of Psychology, 1890. http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/James/Principles/.

Lawrence, Denis. 2009. Understanding Dyslexia: A Guide for Teachers and Parents.
Maidenhead [England] ; New York, NY: Open University Press.

Nicolson, Rod, and Angela Fawcett. 2008. Dyslexia, Learning, and the Brain. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Shaywitz, Sally E. 2003. Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. 1st ed. New York: Knopf.

DYSLEXICS WANT TO KNOW “WHY ME?”

“Why me?” is the big question for most dyslexics. But people also want to know if it is something genetic, and if it is something that happens in other writing systems too. We’ll talk about:

● All cultures have people who are dyslexic
● Dyslexia runs in families
● Both boys and girls can be dyslexic
● Clinical or educational psychologists can diagnose dyslexia.

DYSLEXICS ALL OVER THE WORLD

Cultures all over the world have dyslexics. People who read Japanese characters are just as likely to be dyslexic as people who read English, Polish or Arabic.

But the English language has lots of words that don’t follow the spelling or pronunciation rules. That means English-reading dyslexics have a much harder time than people reading Spanish or German, for example.

DYSLEXIA RUNS IN FAMILIES

Because reading is such a new skill for humans, there is no single “reading gene”. That means that there are several genes that can cause dyslexia.

But the different genes that cause dyslexia do run in families. If one of your parents or a brother or sister has trouble reading, you are more likely to be dyslexic, too. If a father is dyslexic, his son has a forty percent chance of being dyslexic — if you had nine brothers, you and three brothers might be dyslexic.

Dyslexia affects adults as well as children. But we don’t hear about adults being dyslexic as much. For a long time, many dyslexics slipped through the cracks. If your parents or grandparents were dyslexic, they learned how to cope with their learning difference on their own. In fact, many adult dyslexics only find out that they have a learning difference as they listen to a teacher explain their child’s diagnosis and realize “That’s how I read!”

BOTH BOYS AND GIRLS

Both boys and girls can be dyslexic. But dyslexia is noticed sooner in boys because they tend to act out more when they’re frustrated. Girls tend to withdraw from activities to cope with their learning problems.

WHO DECIDES IF YOU’RE DYSLEXIC?

Medical doctors can’t diagnose dyslexia, because it isn’t a medical condition. It’s a learning difference.

To get a diagnosis of dyslexia, you need to be tested by a clinical or educational psychologist. Your public school might be able to test you, or they can give you the names of people in your area who can. Or you can go to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Provider Directory web page. https://dyslexiaida.org/provider-directories/ For adult testing, you might find some good information at the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) Adult Testing web page. https://ldaamerica.org/category/adult-testing/?audience=Parents

REFERENCES

Cell Press. 2009. “Dyslexia Varies Across Languages.” ScienceDaily. October 13, 2009. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091012121333.htm.

Eide, Brock, and Fernette Eide. 2011. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Helmuth, L. 2001. “NEUROSCIENCE: Dyslexia: Same Brains, Different Languages.”
Science 291 (5511):2064–65. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.291.5511.2064.

The International Dyslexia Association. “Promoting Literacy through Research, Education and Advocacy.” The International Dyslexia Association, November 12, 2001. http://www.interdys.org/FAQWhatIs.htm.

LD Online. “LD OnLine: The World’s Leading Website on Learning Disabilities and ADHD.” Accessed January 21, 2019. http://www.ldonline.org/.

“Learning Disabilities Association of America – Support. Educate. Advocate.” Accessed January 28, 2021. https://ldaamerica.org/.

Reid, Gavin. 2011. Dyslexia: A Complete Guide for Parents and Those Who Help Them. 2nd edition. Chicester: Wiley.

One-Minute World News. 2005. “Scientists Discover Dyslexia Gene.” One-Minute World News. BBC. October 28, 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4384414.stm.

Shaywitz. 2003. Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. 1st ed. New York: Knopf.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2007. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Harper.