The Challenges and Advantages of Dyslexic Traits
Neurodiversity, in a more modern application, describes the unique and multivariate differences in all people. Looking at all individuals, we can see vast differences in the brain and mental functioning with the processing, retrieval, and abstraction of incoming information. Variability appears in ideas and concept formation, adaptability to change, and accomplishing tasks.
The value of seeing differences as natural neurodiversity
The full article was originally published on Mind Wise.
Neuroscientists and researchers have given different labels according to the principal defining characteristics of unique individuals, compared to the more common or average functioning individuals — defined by neuroscience testing and statistics as neurotypical or normal. The neurodiverse descriptor, in the past, has been applied to different identified groups, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), dyslexia, and dyspraxia. The former application and usage of such terms have separated people into minority grouping.
The intention was to separate individuals with traits and characteristics that were disabling and significantly compromising for the affected individuals to get the attention needed for research and support. Unfortunately, the names and labels have encompassed people in categories associated with mental disorders and pathologic diseases. Underplayed is the worth and value of people with unique differences, talents, and abilities.
ADHD is similar to dyslexia and its traits and has been described as an exploratory cognitive specialization learning style, as is dyslexia. It’s challenging to separate ADHD from dyslexia because of some of their commonality. The same holds in separating autism spectrum disorder into its separate category. As there is such a crossover and variation in presentation and neurocognitive mental/brain functioning between categories and diagnostic types, it would be more helpful to see these categorizations in terms of a spectrum or neurodiversity.¹
Our brain’s mental apparatus is built to abstract a bunch of data into a workable unit to accomplish a specific goal or critical operations for achieving things such as problem-solving and task performance. The brain’s left hemisphere works to create more precise designations and names from the amorphous perceptions and data from the brain’s right hemisphere. Reducing a broader contextual array of information into more discrete abstractions by the left brain creates a workable block of material for practical applications and actions.²
It is interesting to look at dyslexia as a diagnostic category used in the neurosciences, psychology, and medicine that emphasizes the disease model with the difficulties, disadvantages, and adversity for persons identified with symptoms or abnormalities. When investigated in greater depth, there has been a strong association between those with dyslexic characteristics with creativity, open-mindedness, and unique problem-solving abilities. These strengths and skills have been essential for the survival and evolution of humankind and in the success of organizations, businesses, research, and advances in science and technology.
I must insert a disclaimer here, as I associate with some dyslexic attributes to a certain extent; I may be biased, but I acknowledge the benefits, disadvantages, and related struggles of anyone with these identified challenges. People with dyslexic characteristics are frequently present in successful entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, healthcare professionals, architects, and engineers. The person with these unique attributes can often see beyond details to the bigger picture or patterns and develop novel solutions.
My unique ability to grasp, see patterns, and put together perceptual information and ideas allowed significant benefit in being good at problem-solving and putting together programs, and advising others. My wife has been my bedrock and a perfect complementary match for me as she is very observant and is quick to correct me when I slip with a wrong word, improper sequencing of a cliché or saying, or mispronunciations. Though I’m sure she gets frustrated as I often have a brain that can do some deep thinking and problems solving but frequently will inadvertently make similar mistakes.
As a medical student, I often did as most students identify with whatever new teaching about a condition or disease and believe that we were affected. Eventually, with knowledge and discernment, there was a better understanding of the degree and severity of illnesses and the resulting impact on individual lives, capabilities, and functionality. The realization came that any symptom, trait, or attribute of any classified disease or condition may appear in anyone, including ourselves, with slight impairment to difficulties with significant disease. In the brain and mental processing of information and cognitive functioning, there were infinite variations in neuro configurations from person to person and, therefore, the possibility of a range of no impairment to some disadvantage to major disabling problems.
Seeing Dyslexia as a Unique Cognitive Strength, Rather Than a Disorder
Besides the difficulties presented here and elsewhere, there needs to be equal attention to the unique strengths and abilities of persons with dyslexia attributes and traits. Children with different learning and information processing abilities need equal respect and support, as occurs with the more typically functioning children in educational and training programs.³
If schools have tutoring, special education, or courses designed to be helpful, at least in the past, the orientation was to fix the child or teach skills so that he would be like everyone else. Rather than efforts to help a child’s natural ways of learning and processing information, teaching acceptance and workarounds to achieve the same learning goals would be supportive and not damage self-esteem and suppress natural abilities and talents.
The purpose of outdated programs was to correct the child’s difficulties so he could be more like the other children. There was little acceptance that actual and legitimate learning differences existed and that those unique differences in learning and expression needed to be supported and guided. Each child requires integration into the learning environment with their peers to avoid further stigmatization because of natural differences. The challenge is to empower talents and creativity without the pressures of conformity.
There is an essential need for children to have early recognition and intervention when signs of dyslexia appear during the years when language and communication skills are developing. Adults can also benefit from some of the support and help available to understand and get assistance when needed when dyslexia is discovered later in life. It is helpful to be aware of signs and symptoms that may alert you to dyslexia presence at any life stage. More specific screening tests and resources are available from healthcare professionals specializing in evaluations and interventions as available from education programs, school psychologists, and speech or reading specialists in the community and schools.⁴
Appreciating and nurturing the abilities and talents of individuals with dyslexic characteristics
Dr. Helen Taylor, a research scientist at the Universities of Cambridge and Strathclyde, and Martin David Vestergaard, a neuroscientist at Cambridge, studied dyslexia and developed a theory of Complementary Cognition. The model leads us away from the disease model and “explains how humans evolved to specialize neurocognitively in different but complementary ways of searching for information that works together as a complex adaptive system.”⁵,⁶
1. If you think you might have dyslexia advantages or disadvantages? Find resources in your community or search online to get evaluated. See the online test at Dyslexic Advantage.⁷ Do you think you might have dyslexia?
2. If you suspect that you might have dyslexia difficulties, seek help, as all can benefit. Educational programs specific to age can be very beneficial and improve skills and abilities. Check with your healthcare provider, community resources, or educational institutions to identify other potential problems. There may be the need to seek or get a referral to a clinical or educational psychologist in the community who does testing, a speech pathologist, neurologist, audiologist, hearing specialist, eye doctor, or learning disabilities specialist.
3. Be equally aware of exceptional talents, problem-solving skills, and unique abilities that you or your children may have, as you would for difficulties, so necessary encouragement and support are provided. A person can be targeted, bullied, or discriminated against when they are not in conformity with the larger group, even with unique talents to share with the group.⁸
4. Be aware of other difficulties that may co-occur or be associated with other illnesses. Some of these may include attention deficit disorder (ADHD), problems with coordination (dyspraxia), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), short-term or working memory problems or organization issues, trauma, abuse, parental neglect issues, low self-esteem, mood or emotional issues (depression or anxiety), victimization by bullying or discrimination.
5. If you or a child has dyslexia challenges, look to holistic approaches that enhance natural ways to ease stress and anxiety or overly reactive, rigid, or obsessive thinking or behavior. The programs to consider might include yoga, exercise, music, dance, movement programs, and more natural programs with diverse settings and activities — all support better integration of body, mind, and spirit.⁹
6. Aids for dyslexia, when identified, might include help in:
- Improving reading skills;
- Occupational therapy to help improve skills in a workplace setting;
- Getting accommodations so there will be no disadvantage in school or the workplace, as with untimed tests, and having note-takers;
- Have instructions be given orally or with visual aids;
- Added tutoring or coaching for subjects or tasks that are challenging to learn or remember;
- Recordings of class material or meetings to review again, learn, and retain critical information;
- Use new technology, such as speech to texts apps if difficulties with writing out or typing things, and organization, calendar, or note apps.
Article by Ron Parks
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² The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western, by Dr. Iain Gilchrist, is available at Amazon and most bookstores; at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07NS35S76/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i1
³ http://dyslexia.yale.edu/dyslexia/signs-of-dyslexia/ see Sally Shaywitz’s book, Overcoming Dyslexia, pp. 125- 127 in her book: https://www.amazon.com/Overcoming-Dyslexia-Complete-Science-Based-Problems/dp/0679781595
⁵ You can learn more about dyslexia and projects spearheaded by people with dyslexia in the resources section of Helen Taylor’s Web site. https://complementarycognition.co.uk/complementary-projects/ Complementary Projects are a movement made up of people from many fields to transform views around dyslexia.
⁶ Dyslexic Advantage is a landmark book about dyslexic strengths first published in 2011 by Drs. Brock & Fernette Eide. https://www.amazon.com/Dyslexic-Advantage-Revised-Updated-Unlocking/dp/0593472233/ref=asc_df_0593472233?tag=bngsmtphsnus-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=80470624769053&hvnetw=s&hvqmt=e&hvbmt=be&hvdev=c&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=&hvtargid=pla-4584070160682687&psc=1
⁹ See related Mind Wise posts: Unlocking Artistry and Creativity