Neurodiversity and Dyslexia: Appreciates Differences, Skills, and Talents
Labels and diagnosis Helpful or Not, when Traits of Dyslexia, ADHD, or Autism Spectrum Appear
Dyslexia, autism spectrum, and ADHD have some characteristics that relate to myself and some of my family members. As a child, I had difficulty reading, mispronouncing words, and struggling in areas such as math and foreign languages. With prodigious effort and over-learning, I gained improvement and a certain level of mastery.
The gifts and challenges of language, information processing, and communications differences
The full article was originally published on Mind Wise.
However, today I still make or insert incorrect words or cite a saying in the wrong word sequence. My wife, for years, has been my vital partner and the dedicated corrector. Growing up, I was the target of ridicule sometimes for my overzealous recitation of information. In my early grade school years, I thought that I was a pretty average kid and tried my best at the challenges put in front of me. I had difficulties when first learning to read, mispronouncing words, or injecting the wrong word.
My classmates would usually find it funny or laugh at it when I would make an error. As I got older, I occasionally said the wrong names or terms when talking. In school, I almost got beat up as I more than once called a fellow student by the incorrect name. I knew what I intended to say very well, but the wrong name or term would slip out. Fortunately, a wise teacher at the time realized my gifts and intelligence in most other areas and encouraged me by moving me from the lowest reading group to the highest reading group to enable me to work harder at some skills to be a better reader.
I almost got fired from a job when I would inadvertently call people by the wrong names. I had to use all kinds of schemes to focus on encounters to remember the correct name. When we started into math, I had difficulty with doing word problems, especially when they required any memory of sequences. I had trouble with foreign languages, as it was hard to hear and repeat unusual words or sentences without extraordinary effort. The music teacher said I was tone deaf as I had trouble singing back parts of songs, the music, or the lyrics.
When I reached thirteen, I was required to do a sacred religious ceremony that represented a child’s passage into adulthood. By the orthodoxy standard of the religious school I attended, I had to learn a long Hebrew recitation to a sacred tune and chant it back in front of the congregation. The very old and wise teacher who taught me saw how I struggled to remember and repeat the melody, words, and sequence of phrases with the proper intonations. With great wisdom and experience, the teacher had me bring a tape recorder and record his voice performing the sacred melody. I took it home, played, and practiced with it for months until I could recite the piece with perfect phrasing and melody. My teacher was very proud and told me I had only made one mistake, which was very good by his standards. I guessed when my ceremony was successful, my trial by fire, I was ready for my journey into adulthood.
The plus and minuses of names and diagnoses
Names and defining terms, such as dyslexia, have a valuable and practical side but can be negating, belittling, or problematic for a person. Labeling is part of separating oneself from all the perceived outside “others.” During the development of individuals, the characterizing and naming of traits and characteristics come from parents, siblings, peers, and early life teachers. There is also the self-labeling that results from critical comments or evaluations received from others which are taken in or interjected during identity development.
In his development into an adult, the infant seeks security, self-sufficiency, mastery, dominance, or submission to others. There is an innate drive to belong, requiring acceptance and conformity to the expectations or demands of significant others, superiors, or caregivers.
Suppose unique differences cause difficulty in early life affiliations or fitting into social units. In that case, the developing youth often takes on or gets a defining name or label. The definer or label giver is usually a significant other, peer, or healthcare provider. A descriptive name or diagnosis can be self-imposed by the person when picked up or taken on after being influenced by a significant external source.
Sometimes a label affords the person some way of navigating ridicule or self-deprecating from others who are the more uniform or conforming people in a group. It may give a special status when some skills of the different individuals can benefit the group or be incorporated into the expected work needs of the team. In more modern or developed social systems, accommodations may allow skills and abilities to flourish, supporting harmonious relationships and the group’s success.
Life can have unique challenges for the talented and creative to participate in community settings. Problems occur when developmental, genetic, physical, emotional, behavioral, or mental processing abilities become noticed as being at variance with others, resulting in adversity for the individual identified. Persons without intellectual impairment or significant disability can still have their talents and abilities stifled, ridiculed, or discriminated against while trying to work with or fit in with the neurotypical advantaged members of the group. The neurotypical person often referred to as the normal, are the average performing individuals in a group setting. The determinations are from statistical testing studies that show characteristics falling within the majority or average ranges of others.
The family heritage
When my son, years later, was thirteen, he had the same daunting task. My son had the same genetics I had from my family and my wife’s family, so he struggled with the same language, learning, and information-processing difficulties as I had experienced. We belonged to a much more liberal and reformed congregation. The leader of the congregation, also someone with great wisdom, gave my son the choice of writing a creative story and presenting that to the community instead of having to master and recite the long and challenging Hebrew recitation. My son was talented and gifted in original creations and opted for the story.
I remember when he presented his story to the congregation, it strongly resonated with everyone with its brilliance, originality, and profound meaning. There were a few tearful eyes that day, including mind, and everyone else was amazed at the powerful impact of the story and words coming from one so young. I remember that story somewhat today.
As I remember, the story was of a child suddenly and mysteriously appearing in a classroom with colorful graffiti all over the walls. The sometimes-oppressive elderly and revered Rabbi, who often was strict and by the book in teaching his students, was shocked when he entered the disorderly and graffitied cover wall of the classroom with the unknown, otherworldly student sitting there. The serene student, vaguely reminiscent of something lost, took the hand of the elderly teacher and led him through a wall that became like a veil into brilliant light and a beautiful natural-like garden with rich colors and all forms of life. The elderly teacher had a powerful awakening and, with a deep feeling of awe and completion, died in a peaceful state of well-being.¹
I remember playing on the football team as a speedy half-back in high school. During one of the early season games, the coach sent me in with a play. It turned out I confused the series of numbers of the intended play and ended up giving away a secret formation the coach was saving for a future game with our big school rival. I was thoroughly shamed and yelled at, and the coach kept me on the bench for most of the remaining season.
In college, one of the required courses I needed to pass to get into medical school required the manipulation of complex and serial formulas. Fortunately, one of my older brothers, who learned similarly to me, had failed the course until he realized a workaround: over-learning and repeatedly writing everything on notepads. I followed his advice, used an excessive number of tablets of paper, and surprisingly came out with one of the highest grades in the course. Part of it was related to my talents in seeing patterns and thinking creatively to solve problems and come up with unique solutions required in organic chemistry.
Some of the unique learning characteristics I had and still have to this day would fall mainly in the realm or descriptive category of dyslexia. But not entirely, as each person has unique patterns that may cross the line into other defined learning, perceptual, and information processing formats.
The value of discovery and knowing about dyslexia traits
Estimates of dyslexia in the populations range from five to twenty percent, with the more disabling affected individuals representing a much smaller part of the population. The origins are thought to be mostly of genetic heritage. Our educational system is more structured to support children with typical learning styles, the neurotypical child. Generally, school programs are not as supportive or self-esteem-enhancing for the child with dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or autism spectrum traits.²
There are many childhood signs, difficulties, and behaviors parents and teachers associate with dyslexia as learning challenges to read, write, or spell. Other presentations are:
- Takes longer to complete work or tests;
- Avoids reading or slow reading and makes reading errors;
- Mispronouncing long, unknown, or complicated words or confusing words that sound alike;
- Difficulty remembering details, such as names and dates or sequences of numbers or phrases as in poems, songs, or repeating back song tunes;
- Difficulties with math problems, especially when they have to figure out mentally vs. on paper;
- Difficulty memorizing and repeating or interpreting back what is read;
- Messy handwriting;
- More difficulty than peers with coordination as with sports and physical activities;
- Family history of dyslexia or other learning problems as a parent or sibling;
- Underperforms what appears to be their ability and difficulty expressing what they read or know;
- An increasing difficulty occurs with advancement, growing demands, and workload, with trying to keep up or succeed in tasks given;
- Feels stupid or dumb even though succeeding in school;
- Anxiety and problems with self-esteem and moods become more apparent, including not enjoying or avoidance of school activities;
- Confusing or different labels from evaluations or screening tests, healthcare providers, or teachers;
- The child is subject to ridicule or bullying from peers.³
In adults, dyslexia may appear with some of the same difficulties or challenges as seen in children or young adults that haven’t had remediations or interventions when younger, such as challenges with reading, writing, or speaking. Other possible presentations are:
- Rarely reads for pleasure or does public speaking, reading, or writing when not required for work or school;
- Avoids or struggles with reading out loud;
- Difficulty understanding jokes, puns, turns of phrase, sarcasm, or stories when not enough context is given;
- Difficulty with tasks that require memorization or repetition or summarizing things read;
- Problems with retaining series of numbers, information, or instructions and making errors when recalling them;
- Disorganization and time management issues;
- Taking longer to complete a task, or at least longer than the expected time required;
- Problems with focusing on one task;
- Overreacting to mistakes;
- Easily affected by stress or time pressure;
- Over-controlling with imposing strict rules on oneself to the point of appearing obsessional;
- Maybe a better visual or hands-on learner;
- Difficulties with math and calculations;
- Underperforms at work or in a school for unclear reasons and has never been tested;
- Has dyslexic children, grandchildren, or other family members and recognize similar features in themselves;
- Has difficulty with anxiety, worry, moods, low self-esteem, irritability, anger eruptions, or obsessiveness.⁴
Masking and fear of discovering
In part of a neurology rotation in medical school, I feared the discovery of my felt inadequacies because of my different way of retrieving and processing information. I understood little about it then and thought it was a vulnerability I had, with maybe some intelligence problem or not being smart enough. I had no name or label for it, but I often felt I was not as intelligent or able as the others.
The fear of being discovered peaked when a rigorous neurology teacher called on us to take part in mental status exams. Discovery at that time would have probably been helpful for me to get some understanding and help with my dyslexia traits. But I feared there might be consequences for me in the school I was attending. You would have to recall strings of numbers and serial items or repeat things backward. I avoided the bullet by staying in the back of the group. As I got a little surer of myself and perhaps bolder, I timidly presented a neurology grand round in front of the head of the department. It was funny as he got tired of listening to my long precocious recitation and told me to shorten it so we could finish.
In my family, genetic traits like the autism spectrum, dyslexia, and ADHD were familiar; I was not too noticed, especially as I was capable and generally did well in school. I remember my mother’s difficulty with names and processing information, but she was very intuitive and always had a larger perspective on life and spiritual matters. I know she could write what was in her thoughts as she would send me ten to fifteen-page letters while I was away at school telling me everything happening.
As I was the youngest of four, my mother, when trying to find me, would go through all my brothers’ names before connecting with mine. My older brother, with significant autism spectrum or dyslexic traits, would always be most criticized for doing poorly in school, misunderstanding the information he had read, and incorrectly repeating it. Several family members were exceptional as developers of businesses, scientists, and academics but displayed some of the autism spectrum or dyslexia characteristics. Some members had significant struggles in their life, academic, and work settings because of their unique ways of processing information and language.
I do not, with my personal examples, want to diminish the difficulties, pain, and suffering that occur in the many where the severity of these difficulties may be overwhelming and disabling, even where there are no intellectual problems or deficits. In many of these diagnosed or labeled conditions, there can be the silver lining of benefits that come with the unique learning, thinking, and information processing that makes the person exceptionally talented to excel in an optimal work setting or conditions.
Article by Ron Parks, MD
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¹Shan Parks is a writer and editor and assists Dr. Parks with some of his writing and editing
²See Justin Garson, Ph.D., article https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-biology-human-nature/202207/seeing-dyslexia-unique-cognitive-strength-rather-disorder; Justin Garson, Ph.D., is a philosopher and author of Madness: A Philosophical Exploration (Oxford, 2022) and The Biological Mind: A Philosophical Introduction, Second Edition (Routledge, 2022: About the author and his books https://www.amazon.com/Madness-Philosophical-Exploration-Justin-Garson-ebook/dp/B09RBBS4HT/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3HHRHSRNDS4JR&keywords=justin%20garson&qid=1647962426&sprefix=justin%20garson%20%2Caps%2C100&sr=8-1
⁴https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dyslexia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353552 https://cdn.bdadyslexia.org.uk/uploads/documents/Dyslexia/Adult-Checklist-1.pdf?v=1554931003 https://www.readandspell.com/us/dyslexia-in-adults