Language is a key tool humans have created to interact with each other but there are still those, like people with dyslexia, that struggle with interpreting the written symbols, words and letters. And a common mistake is correlating dyslexia and lack of intelligence
“These kids are really bright. Some just need to be taught in a different way,” states Stacey Smith, co-founder of Rocky Point Academy, a Calgary centre for learning disabilities.
Studies show that between 15 and 20 per cent of people have dyslexia, but experts believe many more are living with it and have no idea.
In Smith’s case, she didn’t receive a diagnosis until after she completed a university degree. Growing up she always assumed dyslexia was simply an issue of misreading letters and numbers.
“I memorized everything and worked extra hard to get through. I got good grades but I had to read and read and read to comprehend things,” she says.
Though considered the most common learning disability, those who have it often report feeling like they are inadequate or stupid.
This is why early intervention is key to unlocking their full potential.
Dyslexia can present itself as early as Grade 1.
It is important that educators develop responsive teaching methods to activate those areas of the brain that are brimming with possibilities.
While the left temporal lobe controls language, other areas, including the occipital lobe, are responsible for visual learning and perception. This then kick starts development in a variety of areas and can help unlock the individual’s full potential.
According to Smith, a key strength that accompanies dyslexia is the ability to think three dimensionally.
Three dimensional thinkers can often hold two conflicting ideas in their head simultaneously, and among a number of other traits, are said to use both the left and right side of the brain.
“A lot are architects, engineers, inventors — they are the ones that can see what they are creating in their head without putting it on paper,” she says.
Some of our world's most influential, creative and intelligent figures have lived with dyslexia. They include famed theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, John Lennon, Thomas Edison and John F. Kennedy.
“I can always understand something that I can see. I am a visual learner. Words confuse me and can feel overwhelming at times, but pictures speak the words to me,” says dyslexic Chinook Learning student Erin Hutton, 23.
Diagnosed in Grade 2, Hutton attended Rundle Academy for students with learning disabilities, which she says helped her substantially.
“I have always been super creative. I was in advanced art in high school and ended up with a 91 per cent in the class. It was the one class that I didn’t feel stupid in,” she says.
Misconsceptions about dyslexia
“People, unfortunately, often confuse slow reading with slow thinking, and that is not the case,” says Sally Shaywitz, co-founder and co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.
She describes dyslexia as a difficulty getting to the sounds of spoken language.
“You are surrounded by a sea of strengths and higher-level cognitive function – like thinking, reasoning, analyzing,” Shaywitz says.
She says the U.S. Senate defines dyslexia as an unexpected difficulty in learning to read.
“The ‘unexpected’ part of that is very important because what that means is you can struggle to read and still be very smart,” says Shaywitz.
She and her team have put together a list of correlated strengths and weaknesses that set individuals with dyslexia apart from “typical” learners.
You may have dyslexia if you:
- Read slowly with tons of effort
- Are often the one to solve the problem
- Can’t spell and/or have messy writing
- Write with terrific imagination
- Have trouble remembering dates/names
- Think outside the box and grasp the big picture
Starting young: The importance of recognition and diagnosis
“The worst thing is when children are struggling, and they don’t know what it is, and they think that they are stupid, which they are not,” Shaywitz explains.
Shaywitz has developed a screening tool, called the Shaywitz Dyslexia Screen, which is given to the child's teacher to complete.
The teacher who knows the child best fills it out in less than ten minutes. It helps to identify students in need of intervention.
“I think there should be universal screening for every child, so they don’t end up struggling one year after another,” states Shaywitz.
- By Holly Maller