Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Book Review: The Gift of Dyslexia

For the past two months I've been reading and doing math with children at a nearby school. For some, it's their second, third, or even fourth language; for others, it's their mother tongue. A few, however, are showing early signs of dyslexia, a dysfunction that has interested me for years.

It is easy to see dyslexia as a huge liability. How does one survive, never mind succeed, without such an essential life skill? In their book, The Gift of Dyslexia, Ronald D. Davis and co-author, Eldon M. Braun argue that the perceptive abilities that contribute to the development of dyslexia are indeed a gift, though a gift not especially conducive to interpreting symbolic language.

Persons with dyslexia are capable of conjuring multiple perspectives in their 'mind's eye' using the same visual input as the rest of us. Imagine being able to mentally see something from both the front and side simultaneously. Sculpting, painting, or assembling Ikea furniture might come rather easily; reading might not. Words require a single perspective. They cannot be read backwards, upside-down, or from the middle outwards. Add to this the ability to think visually and their difficulties multiply. Try to conjure a clear mental image that defines the word 'the,' 'and,' or 'because.'

Not easy, is it?

Davis and Braun go on to describe procedures for overcoming dyslexia which include Orientation Counseling, Symbol Mastery, Symbol Mastery with Words, and, finally, Spell-Reading.

During Orientation Counseling, the individual gains conscious control of their perspective or 'mind's eye.' As a former physiotherapist, I found this portion of the procedure to be the least valid or reproducible. I am also not convinced that it's necessary.

Symbol Mastery assures the person can form and identify letters without using compulsive, non-constructive habits like The Alphabet Song. The dyslexic individual forms the letters of the alphabet out of clay and in reverse order. This tactile process increases the likelihood of the person latching on to a single correct perspective. The individual then learns to identify the letters out of order until they can do so faultlessly.

Symbol Mastery with Words allows the individual to form a single, concrete mental image for words that trigger his or her perspective to vary. This portion of the procedure appears to be the most challenging. Again, imagine forming a clay sculpture that illustrates the word 'because.' Luckily, the dyslexic individual is quite handy at creating mental images and comes up with such senarios himself.

Finally, Spell-Reading trains the eye to read from left to right. With this fixed perspective, recognition of words on sight is possible.

As you can probably tell, I am fascinated by this process despite my misgivings about Orientation Counseling. What incredible minds we have... I can hardly wait to try these techniques out.

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