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MAIN Arrow to Education Education

Dyslexic Isn't Stupid
Some of the Smartest People Are Dyslexic

albert einstein
Brilliant dyslexic: Albert Einstein.

Remember the kid in grade school who struggled to keep up with the others when it came to reading? Every time the teacher called that name for reading out loud, the whole class groaned. Maybe you were that embarrassed young person.

Everyone assumed the poor reader just wasn't as smart as the rest of the class. That may have been a big mistake. The problem may have been undiagnosed dyslexia. People who have this brain disorder are usually as smart, or even smarter, than average. Historians report that George Washington had dyslexia and so did Albert Einstein.

What is dyslexia? The word comes from the Greek words for difficult and words.

Basically, that explains dyslexia. People with dyslexia have difficulty understanding language sounds, recognizing the meaning of written words, and spelling words accurately. It is a learning disability that stems from the brain's inability to process written words and symbols normally.

The parts of the brain that are active in the processing of written words in most people are different than the areas that the dyslexic's brain uses.

Dyslexic people tend to be creative and are often gifted performers in areas that do not require reading. Many gifted artists are dyslexic. One young girl who was severely dyslexic was a talented dancer and choreographer. The written symbols that she needed to use in her dance notation were not a problem. She explained, " I just think of the notation as pictures. I've never had a problem with it!"

Other dyslexics, like Einstein, excel in mathematics and physics. These fields depend more on abstract reasoning and other talents that are not involved in the word processing problem. Untreated dyslexics often suffer in school and have extreme problems with self esteem.

Many dyslexics can train their brains to use the normal pathways if the condition is diagnosed early. Even if it cannot be reversed, there are many tools to help work around the problem so that the dyslexic child - or grownup - can achieve the success that is blocked by the condition.

Here are some signs to look for in children who are in kindergarten through 4th grade from the journal Neurology:

  • May be slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds.

  • Has difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation).

  • Has difficulty spelling phonetically.

  • Makes consistent reading and spelling errors such as letter and word reversals.

  • May confuse small words: "at" for "to," "said" for "and," "does" for "goes."

  • Relies on guessing and context.

  • May have difficulty learning new vocabulary.

  • May transpose number sequences and confuse arithmetic signs (+ - x/ =).

  • May have trouble remembering facts. May be slow to learn new skills; relies heavily on memorizing without understanding.

  • May have difficulty planning, organizing, and managing time, materials, and tasks.

  • Often uses an awkward pencil grip (fist, thumb hooked over fingers, etc.).

  • May have poor "fine motor" coordination.

Remember that children are individuals and they develop at their own pace. All of these symptoms can be normal at some stage in a child's development. If you see a three year old who is holding a pencil in an awkward grip, it may be a normal stage. Even some perfectly normal kindergartners will still have some of these traits.

If some of these signs are present and they are not consistent with the child's age and other intellectual abilities, a trained professional should administer a test for dyslexia. Self diagnosis or diagnosis by untrained people - even teachers - will not help. The diagnosis of dyslexia has specific causes and treatments.

If you suspect that a child you know is suffering from dyslexia - get a professional assessment. Learning disabilities are true physical disabilities. A child with a broken leg would not be ridiculed for not being able to keep up in gym. Just because you can't see the problem doesn't change the reality. With the proper therapy, the dyslexic will be able to join in and may even enjoy reading!

Source: Neurology 2003;61:E5-E6

More about dyslexia around the Web:

The International Dyslexia Association

The British Dyslexia Association

 

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