There is absolutely no doubt dyslexia is viewed by the traditional education establishment as a learning disability. But in this case, and from a slightly different perspective, the more pertinent question might be who is most disabled by dyslexia, the student exhibiting it or an education system inept in dealing with it.
In the past ten years, dyslexia has become much better understood. Two researchers at Cardiff University Julie Williams and Michael O’Donovan have identified a gene called “KIAA0319” pinpointing the biological nature of the condition. (Science Daily May 20, 2005) Neuroscientist have made equally interesting discoveries about how dyslexia is manifest in the brain.
Dyslexia is most often diagnosed when children display difficulty in the development of reading skills. Since first diagnosed in 1896, and up until very recently, dyslexia has been wrongly viewed as some sort of visual perceptive abnormality. Indeed, just a generation ago, dyslexia was often deemed by teaching professionals to be a case of mental retardation. In fact, dyslectics as a group display normal visual perceptive ability, but interestingly, the group exhibits slightly better then average intelligence. Is dyslexia, then, a gift?
The notion dyslexia is a gift may be just as absurd as the notion it represents a form of mental retardation. Maybe when education professionals quit assessing students through subjective value judgment, and we start to break away from the assembly-line mentality that has overtaken primary, secondary, and yes, even our post-secondary institutions of learning, we can begin to consider students in terms of individual prowess rather than perceived learning disabilities. Until that happens, however, if viewing dyslexia as a gift provides some emotional advantage or consolation to the dyslectic, then by all means lets consider them gifted as opposed to learning disabled.
One needs not look far on the Internet these days to find lists touting noted personalities who have lived with dyslexia and displayed genius in their area of expertise. But the reason for such genius may have much less to do with any gift, presumably endowed through genetic polymorphism, and a lot more to do with neurological developmental reassignment, a simple case of self-accommodation. A perfect analogous example of such self accommodating adaptation occurred on ABC’s Good Morning America last week. In this case, a man without arms who learned to play the piano with his toes. In the same way, dyslectics lacking compensatory accommodation in traditional education venues, indeed shunned by them, if they are to learn must use other sagacious resources to overcome the phonological disparities of dyslexia. In short, they have to think outside of the proverbial box, and most of them become dam good at it.
If you had to describe how this neural programing patch for dyslexia comes about in the brains of those possessing the condition, the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” comes to mind. If there is one trait that seems to define dyslectics, no matter in what vein they excel, be it physics in the case of Einstein, Henry Fords prowess for sequential organization, Thomas Jefferson’s and Winston Churchill’s political genius or Robin Williams comic brilliance, the ability to visualize different scenarios and consider issues from diverse perspectives, provides dyslexics with a rare intuitive ability. They are able to essentially put puzzles together in their minds, carefully examining each piece individually and assembling a neural facsimile of the big picture in their brains, before ever assembling any of the puzzle pieces physically. According to Harvard University physicist and historian Gerald Holton, a key factor of Einstein’s ability was “A deep intuition into the essential elements of a problem.” http://whyfiles.org/052einstein/genius.html Einstein could understand very complex issues by disassembling them in his mind, developing an understanding of each conceptual construct, and then rationally extrapolating an overlying fundamental principle. Another dyslectic who exhibited this uncanny intuitive ability but in a different vein, was World War II general, George S. Patton.
There are many military historians today who tout Patton as the greatest General of WWII, but the fact that the German High Command bestowed the same respect for his abilities says even more. Eisenhower knew the Germans thought Patton was the allies best General and by giving command of the D-day invasion forces to Omar Bradley, he convinced the Germans the D-day preparations were simply a decoy and that Patton would obviously be in command of any real invasion force. It was, perhaps, the German General Staff’s greatest logical miscalculation and certainly Eisenhower’s greatest strategic ploy. But why was Patton so highly revered by the Germans?
If you think about it, Patton had the very same military assets and resources at his command as any other general of the war, and often incurred some disadvantage. And yet, he prevailed in battle after battle decimating his foe. Patton’s secret was his intuitive ability, his prowess to consider, indeed, to visualize a multiplicity of battle scenarios in his mind and then develop a foolproof strategy to win. They called him “old blood and guts” but “dyslectic intuitive genius” would have more accurately reflected Patton’s secret abilities.
But there is a new way of looking at dyslexia, evolving today in the minds of some neuroscientists and geneticists, which may someday relegate the notion of the condition as a learning disability to the scrap heap of misguided educational assessment. It is a theory positing dyslexia may well be an instance of the newly discovered status of human “hyper-evolution,” an occurrence of human minds adapting to the relatively new tasks of reading, writing and the relationship of both to language and phonological memory attributes. You see, writing and reading, among populations of western culture at large, is an occurrence that has come about in only the past century. Dyslexia may well be a facet of evolution switched on by environmental stimulus, in this case the necessity of literacy in today’s world.
It’s not that dyslexics can not learn to read and write, its only that they must develop these skills through unconventional methodologies. But in this developmental process they also learn- or must teach themselves- how to use their brains in unconventional ways. Any educational professional who in light of recent discoveries still sees dyslexia as a learning disability is not worthy of their credential, and just like an outdated text book should be marked for “obsolete discard.” On the other hand, educators who embrace dyslexics as gifted students, working to maximize the potential of their gift, will be preparing the next generation of enlightened humans. Any dyslectic can learn and succeed intellectually.
Albert Einstein and other dyslectics rejected by conventional institutions of education, succeeded and even exceeded through processes of self learning. Imagine the degree of genius which could be achieved and resulting benefit to all humanity, should children of dyslexic potential be identified and their minds cultivated through a special program of education aimed at developing their sagacious gift? On the other hand, should we consider the possibility that humans lacking the genetic allele for dyslexia are to become intellectually extinct in a world where the intuitive genius of dyslexia becomes the norm?