Dyslexia

Definition

Dyslexia is a kind of learning disability noted for spatial reversals and shifts and is sometimes described as a neurological disorder. It manifests as difficulties with reading, writing, spelling and sometimes math. Occasionally, balance, movement, and rhythm are affected. Persons with dyslexia frequently display above average to superior intelligence, gifted creativity and genius. Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, and the Olympic multi-Gold Medal diving champion, Greg Louganis, are noted examples of persons with dyslexia.

Description

Genetics is believed to be a deciding factor in whether or not a person develops dyslexia. The condition may appear as early as three months. One report suggested that as many as 5–15% of Americans are affected. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that up to 8% of American elementary school children may have the unique characteristics described originally in 1920 by Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton. Believing it first a condition of "cross lateralization of the brain," by which he meant that functions normally processed on the right side of the brain are processed on the left side in the person with dyslexia, Dr. Orton later modified his description of the condition as being a "mixed hemispheric dominance," by which he meant that the alteration of functions to the opposite side of the brain occurred sometimes, but not all the time.

Since the advent of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs), scientists have been able to view dyslexia from

Dyslexia
SYMPTOMS OF DYSLEXIA
inability to associate symbols with sounds and vice versa
frequent word guessing
confusion with verbal instructions without visual cues
confused handedness
difficulty sequencing items
slow, soft spoken reading
frequent mispronounciation of words when reading
misperception of words, letters, and numbers moving or disappearing on a written page

another vantage point, ironically, a process imitating what happens inside the mind of a dyslexic individual, according to one educator with dyslexia, Ronald D. Davis. He describes the ordinary ability of the person with dyslexia to visualize an object from multiple points of view, a process which has a moving point of view and which is spatially unanchored. When presented with a word that is easily visualized as a known object, like horse, the dyslexic mind easily imagines the horse from multiple perspectives, and, so rapidly—somewhere between 400 to 2,000 times faster than those without dyslexia—visual cues are processed 'almost intuitively,' demonstrating great mastery of the objectified visual world. However, when it comes to processing sound, language, speaking, handwriting and understanding verbalized communication not associated with an object, like the words the or and, a series of non-image disconnections leads to confusion, disorientation, and an inability to adequately make sense of key pieces of visual information. To the person with dyslexia, a simple seven word sentence may look like a three word sentence with four blank spaces here and there.

Causes & symptoms

Although an exact cause has not been identified, studies have identified differences in the way sound and visual information are processed between persons with and without dyslexia. In the dyslexic individual these differences create what one NIH scientist refers to as a "physiologic signature"—a unique brain pattern—perhaps the result of emphasized activity along dopamine related neuro-pathways. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical substance acting in the brain that facilitates certain kinds of messages. According to one author, when dopamine levels are high, the person with dyslexia experiences time as moving very slowly outside themselves, and very fast inside. As if time stands still. This author also notes that when the person with dyslexia experiences episodes of disorientation, when words or sounds do not create a visual picture for them and their mind continues to try and solve the confusion visually, dopamine levels shift and change. This would seem to be consistent with some of the symptoms of dyslexia, such as inaccurate perceptions of time and a lot of day dreaming.

Symptoms may include:

  • poor ability to associate symbols with sounds and vice versa
  • frequent word guessing when reading, and an inability to retain meaning
  • confusion when given verbal instructions unaccompanied by visual cues
  • confused sense of spatial orientation, especially by reversing letters and numbers, and losing one's place frequently while reading, or skipping lines
  • having the perception that words, letters and numbers move around, disappear, or get bigger or smaller
  • overlooking punctuation marks or other details of language
  • slow, labored reading and speech may be difficult to understand, words often mispronounced and softly spoken
  • confused sense of right and left handedness
  • math concepts are difficult to learn, excessive daydreaming, and difficulty with time
  • difficulty sequencing items
  • difficulty with jigsaw puzzles; walking a chalk line straightly or other fine motor skill tasks.

Other more positive characteristics common with dyslexia include:

  • primary ability of the brain to alter and create perceptions
  • highly aware of their environment, intelligent, and above average curiosity
  • intuitive, insightful, and having the extraordinary ability of thinking in pictures
  • multi-dimensional perception (from various viewpoints almost simultaneously)
  • vivid imagination
  • experiencing thought as reality (confusing what they see with what they think they see), thereby being abundantly creative.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is difficult in part because symptoms can also result from other conditions and because no two individuals display the same symptoms. As a result, dyslexia can be viewed as a developmental condition, a "self-created condition," rather than as a disease. As each individual baby interprets visual data, and adapts to the environment accordingly, developing their own individual and unique brain patterns. It is that developmental pattern that is consistent among people with dyslexia. When the individual's mind cannot make sense of the data, confusion and disorientation result; incorrect data is incorporated, causing the individual to make mistakes that leads to emotional reactions, primarily frustration. A behavior is adopted that constitutes a learning disability because it disables future learning and, ultimately, affects self esteem.

Sometimes the learning disorder of dyslexia is inaccurately paralleled to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In a 2003 study, distinguishable differences between the two learning disorders were readily apparent. Comparing 105 boys between the ages of eight and ten, from three different schools and cross divided into three different groups—35 boys diagnosed with ADHD not taking stimulant medication, 35 boys with dyslexia, and 35 boys without learning disabilities—the study found clear and diagnostically useful differences in speech related patterns between all groups. However, since diagnosis of a learning disability may be made between parents and teacher or other school administrators on the basis of symptoms rather than clinical diagnostic testing, careful diagnosis, as always, is advisable.

Treatment

Ronald D. Davis, writing in The Gift of Dyslexia outlines an alternative and complementary treatment consistent with the "moving point of view" model. According to this model, and the reason why letters seem to change shape and float, why lines of print appear to move, and why words appear to be other than they are is that the dyslexic individual sees the world predominantly through his or her "mind's eye," rather than through his or her physiologic eye. In other words, the person with dyslexia more than all others, sees what he or she 'thinks' they see, rather than what their eyeballs see. To further complicate matters, they do this so quickly, they easily become confused when the multiple facets do not produce a solid view. The object of treatment proposed by Ronald Davis, a dyslexic individual himself, is to train the mind's eye to return to a learned, anchored, viewpoint when they realize they are seeing with their mind, and not with their eyeballs. This is accomplished with assessment testing, followed by one-on-one exercises that retrain mental perception pathways. Using the gifts of the dyslexic individual—their imagination and curiosity—these exercises involve creative physical activities, including the use of modeling clay, "koosh" balls, and movement training. Davis founded the Reading Research Council's Dyslexia Correction Center in 1982, and the Davis Dyslexia Association International, which trains educators and therapists, in 1995.

Another alternative treatment option seeks to address unmastered learning skills needed for reading and math. This system, called Audioblox, may be used one-on-one (especially for children) or in groups, and involves a series of mental exercises that address learning, focussing on the "deficits" of dyslexia. Treatment involves the purchase of a kit online that contains a book entitled The Right to Read, a supplementary manual, a computer program on CD to supplement Audioblox training, and teaching materials. The book is in two parts; first, an explanation of theory; second, the program itself, with exercises. The supplementary manual contains specialized programs for areas of deficit, including handwriting, spelling, math, pre-school readiness, and high school or adult learning. The teaching materials include 96 colored blocks, representing each of six colors on each of the six sides of the block; a view blocking screen; colored cards with preprinted patterns; letter cards; a reading book with a story written in the 800 most common English words, and word cards; and, a demonstration video. The kit originates in England; pricing in America ranges approximately between $135 and $150.

Special education recommendations include helping a child stay organized and on task by keeping their desk and workplace free of extraneous, distracting materials; making more frequent, shorter assignments to increase confidence; providing positive, "immediate gratification" feedback; and short conferences or work contracts as needed.

Allopathic treatment

Allopathic medical treatment for dyslexia includes use of anti-motion drugs, addressing the symptoms of balance and coordination which results from visual perception alterations; stimulant drugs such as Cylert or Ritalin, to address symptoms of low self esteem, restlessness, and distractibility, and 'nootropics' drugs, a class of drugs believed to improve cognitive function. The stimulant drugs may be more effective for learning disorders related to ADHD or ADD than for dyslexia. The drug Piracetam, a nootropic, although reported as a possible treatment for dyslexia, is also reported to have legal issues because it has not been approved for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Reported potential side effects of the stimulants include nervousness and insomnia, and are contra-indicated with epilepsy, allergies, blood pressure problems, or with use of monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. Long-term use of stimulants in children are reported to adversely affect growth, may ironically depress the nervous system or lead to loss of consciousness. By reducing natural levels of stimulants in the brain, they may also cause dependence. The stimulants and nootropics are said to increase the effects of alcohol and amphetamines. Other possible interactions include use of anti-convulsants or anti-epileptics; tricyclic anti-depressants; anti-coagulants, like Coumadin; and "atropine-like drugs" that blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Prognosis

If left unaddressed, a person with dyslexia may become "functionally illiterate," able to function limited by their ability to read, spell, have their handwriting understood, or do arithmetic. Recognizing that dyslexia is a developed learning disorder affecting people of extraordinary curiosity, imagination and intelligence—people of genius, often—from a productive or functional point of view, dyslexia may contribute significantly, positively or negatively, to performance levels. From an emotional or psychological point of view, dyslexia affects self esteem, and promotes confusion and frustration, that may contribute to under achievement.

Prevention

No method of preventing dyslexia is currently known. However, existing methods of treatment may prevent or reduce the secondary or indirect losses to individuals, society and culture that might otherwise occur. As the genetic aspects of dyslexia are revealed, genetic chromosomal modifications may prevent the expression of dyslexia in future generations. Wise use of present and future understandings will allow individuals with dyslexic gifts, individuals such as Leonardo daVinci, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney and Greg Louganis, to continue to contribute their genius and talents.

Resources

BOOKS

Clayman, M.D., Charles B., ed. The American Medical Association Guide to Prescription and Over-The-Counter Drugs. New York: Random House, 1988.

Davis, Ronald D., with Edlon M. Braun. The Gift of Dyslexia, Why Some of the Smartest People Can't Read and How They Can Learn. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1997.

Pierangelo, Ph.D., Roger and Robert Jacoby. Parents' Complete Special Education Guide. New York: Simon Schuster, 1996.

Thomas, M.D., Clayton L., ed. Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 16th edition. Philadelphia: Davis Co., 1989.

OTHER

Audioblox U.K. Audioblox Program [Cited May 12, 2004]. <http://www.audiblox2000.com/uk/program.htm>.

Audioblox U.K. Dyslexia [Cited May 12, 2004]. <http://www.audiblox2000.com/uk/dyslexia.htm>.

Breznitz, Zvia. "The Speech and Vocalization Patterns of Boys with ADHD Compared with Boys with Dyslexia and Boys Without Learning Disabilities." Journal of Genetic Psychology. 164.4. December 2003. [Cited May 10, 2004]. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/HWRC>.>

"Dyslexia" The Dyslexia File, Center for Current Research. [Cited May 12, 2004]. <http://www.lifestages.com/health/dyslexia.html>.

Schoon, Chris. Piracetam FAQ Version 0.6. Dated 2/1/03. Last modified, March 14, 2004. [Cited May 10, 2004]. <http://www.erowid.org/smarts/piracetam/piracetamfaq.shtml>.

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