Wednesday, 19 November 2008

What is Dyslexia?

The below text is taken from :

No single definition currently exists to adequately define dyslexia,
including our own definition. The truth is, at present nobody
really knows exactly what dyslexia is or what causes it. However,
we do know much about the dyslexic condition and as a consequence
dyslexia tends to be described in terms of its symptoms or
alternatively in terms of what it is not. For example 'Dyslexia is
not due to low intelligence' or 'Dyslexia is not a disease, it has
no cure'

In your search for information you will discover many definitions
and proposed causes of dyslexia. Writers will put forward their own
views and theories, which will generally differ from the views and
theories of others. Understandably, this is often confusing.
However, if you find yourself in this position and are wondering how
on earth you can begin to understand a condition that has no single
definition, do not despair.

Those who work with dyslexic children and adults on a day-to-day
basis quickly learn to recognise the signs of dyslexia. Although no
two dyslexics are the same, all dyslexics share enough common
symptoms to make recognising the condition possible.

Unlike others, we do not wish to attempt to impose one single
definition upon you. Instead we have listed below a few of the
common definitions currently in circulation.

Whichever definition you identify with, if you suspect that you are dyslexic
yourself or that your child may be dyslexic. Be totally honest with yourself,
because deep down inside you will known that some kind of problem exists
and that is the first step to resolving it.

Definition 1)

Our own simple definition of dyslexia is 'Intelligent, bright or
even gifted individuals, that for no obvious reason, struggle to learn through
the medium of written or spoken language'.

Definition 2)

The World Federation of Neurology defines dyslexia as
'a disorder manifested by difficulties in learning to read, despite
conventional instruction, adequate intelligence and socio-cultural

Definition 3)

Dyslexia is not just a severe reading disorder
characterised by reversals. It is a syndrome of many and varied
symptoms that affects millions of children and adults.

Definition 4)

Dyslexia is the ability to see multidimensionally,
all at once, or from any one place at a time. The ability to think
in pictures and to register those pictures as real. Thus, you mix
in creative thinking with reality and change what is seen and heard.

Definition 5)

a) To read and spell requires co-ordination of many brain
functions. Problems arise at one or more functional levels.

b) Developmental dyslexia is a neurobiologically-based deficit in
acquiring reading and spelling skills, relative to the person's
general intellectual abilities.

c) Dyslexia is a discrepancy between a high score on intelligence
tests and low scores on reading/spelling tests.

Definition 6)

Dyslexia is a disability that alters the way the
brain processes written material. Affects vary from person to
person. However, all dyslexics read at levels significantly lower
than is typical for their age or intelligence.

Definition 7)

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty characterised by
problems with written or spoken language such as reading, writing,
spelling, speaking, or listening. The word dyslexia describes a
different kind of mind, often gifted, over-productive, and that
learns in a different way.

Definition 8)

Dyslexia is a congenital disturbance of brain
function causing a variety of learning difficulties, especially
relating to reading, writing and spelling.

1 comment:

Anna Derbyshire said...

Brilliant! At last someone else is openly recognising that dyslexia and its counterparts are not a disease; that it is a learning concern.

I considering myself to be mildly a dyslexic thinker, I don't experience the depth of challenge that many experience.

What follows is my approach to helping non-dyslexic thinkers to understand what dyslexic thinking is like. I do hope that it helps.

For ease of reference I refer to dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and ADHD with the term ‘dyslexic thinking’ because they are very closely related and those who identify with one area usually identify with elements of one or more of the other areas, (the names are just convenient labels for the insufficiently educated / inexperienced / uninitiated to make it easier to talk about). The lines are blurred, for example, is a person who does not understand what they have read, or writes poorly and also has difficulties with balance/motor control dyslexic/dyspraxic or is it because their mind works so fast they have never implanted the necessary pictures which reading/writing is based on? Even with the writing bit, is it due to poor picture taking or underdeveloped fine motor movement?

To help you we’ll start by gaining a common position of understanding and to do that, I’m taking you on a short journey into language.

Understanding the Dyslexic Thinking Style

Choose a language that you don’t speak any words of. If you were to meet a native speaker of this language who also doesn’t speak your language(s), how effective is your conversation going to be?

If you were then to meet someone who can speak a small amount of your language(s), you would be able to have a low level of conversation but this time, how effective is your/their understanding? Did you both understand every word; pick up the gist; or lose the thread altogether?

And if I suggested that one or both of you were disabled because you can’t communicate effectively I’m sure you would feel indignant, maybe even outraged by my judgement.

Spoken language is an expression of thought. Written language is a different approach to expressing thought - maybe the same thought, but the language is a different media completely, requiring a different skill set.

A dyslexic thinking person often has difficulty in using the written language either because they don’t associate their thoughts with the individual marks on the page; because they can’t link the written marks with the audio marks (phonetical sound); or because the collective of these marks don’t connect with their thought patterns (pictures or other sensory elements).

At its most simple, they haven’t developed competence in using this form of language, in much the same way as many people have not learnt a second spoken language to the level of fluency.

The key difference in levels of acceptability is that our societal values require competence in written language but not in a second spoken language. If it did the difficulties experienced by all those who don’t achieve fluency in the second language would be highlighted and maybe regarded as failures and subjected to being labelled disabled.

I have to ask, who’s inability is it that’s causing the learner not to learn? It is the learner for not thinking in such a way as to respond positively to the process they are being taken through or is it as a result of teaching methods not being sufficiently effective?

To demonstrate this point I’m now going to take you onto another short journey of language learning.

For three years I went to weekly 2 or 3 hour lessons to learn sign language (BSL). During this time I learned hundreds of word signs; was told uncountable numbers of stories by my teacher (in BSL); and was encouraged in every lesson to converse with fellow students (who didn’t know any more than I). After three years of in- and out- of class practice I still couldn’t converse effectively in BSL. What I could do was to put a string of words together in the hope they would be understood.

So what went wrong? Was it my inability to learn or was there something else happening?

I had demonstrated, by learning so many word signs that I have the ability to learn; by forming the signs I demonstrated dexterity; and by following one sign with another in sequence I showed intelligence.

When I look at what was missing it was grammatical structure. I received a small amount of instruction on grammar delivered in the language I did not understand. As BSL structure is completely different to the structure of the English language I had no idea of how to put those hundreds of words together effectively. I also didn’t have anyone who speaks my language to explain it to me. It remained, indeed remains to this day, a mystery to me.

Coming back to the dyslexic thinking learner, this style of thinking is as different to non-dyslexic thinking learning as the BSL grammatical structure is to the English language structure.

How is it then that non dyslexic thinkers believe that teaching dyslexic thinkers using non dyslexic thinking learning methods will be effective?

The dyslexic thinking style has significant differences at a fundamental level that require to be taken into account, these include:
• Thinking media - non dyslexic thinkers do the majority of their thinking (and learning) in words, be it spoken or written, whereas dyslexic thinking and learning is usually in pictures and other sensory media.
• Confusion - the dyslexic thinking style has a lower confusion threshold due to there being no one prescribed and learned way of looking at a picture.
• Speed - with auditory based thinking being estimated at 500 words a minute and picture based thinking running at 32 pictures a second there is little ground for communication as one can be prone to bore the other rigid.
• Emotional sensitivity - whether stemming from picture thinking being closely aligned with other sensory thinking ability or whether as a result of a build up of exposure (similar to food sensitivity) is unclear, but it is real and has its impact.

It is important for dyslexic thinking individuals seeking assistance in learning to find a teacher who understands these factors and uses methods that accommodate them in facilitating learning. When a dyslexic thinker learns how to learn using their way of thinking they learn just as effectively as non dyslexic thinkers: some will be more motivated to learn; some will learn more effectively than others.


Celebrating Dyslexics