Difficulties with literacy and numeracy are a common feature of dyslexia, and the most immediate attribute is a problem in decoding words and their meanings. However, this is still only one aspect of a broader spectrum of difficulties affecting skills such as auditory and information processing, planning and organising, motor skills, short-term memory and concentration. Some of these can make it especially challenging for individuals to follow instructions, turn thoughts into words and finish work on time.
Brain research, including studies from Yale and Auckland universities, has shown that while it is common to use the ‘verbal’ left side of our brain to understand words, dyslexic people use the ‘pictorial’ right side – making them slower to process and understand language, but stronger in creative areas like problem solving, empathy and lateral thinking.
International dyslexia expert and Dyslexia Foundation consultant Neil Mackay notes that MRI technology shows that the dyslexic brain works differently – not wrongly but definitely in a different way. In a typical brain, most of the modules for writing, spelling and aspects of reading tend to be in the left brain, with the right brain having modules for more visual process, like recognising words quickly without needing to break them down. The brain of a dyslexic child or adult may not have this typical “left/right” organisation, with various modules appearing in different places.
This different organisation is probably the reason for the well established tendency for dyslexic people to “see” things differently and it may explain the numbers of successful entrepreneurs and inventors who are dyslexic. But it can also explain the problems many dyslexics experience in acquiring basic literacy skills – the different organisation makes it harder for some tasks to be done automatically – effectively the brain has to re -route and change direction in order to use some of the modules. In consequence learning to read and spell at an ability appropriate level may take much longer. On the flipside, these different “journeys around the brain” often result in many more links and connections which may, in turn, result in enhanced creativity and problem solving ability.
Dyslexic children often exhibit a pattern of good days and bad days. On good days difficulties may almost disappear and the child will be able to work effectively and achieve success. However, on the bad days even familiar words may appear strange and need to be worked out from scratch.
As dyslexics think in an atypical way, dyslexia can be characterized as a learning preference. This means appreciating that a child with a differently wired brain naturally prefers to receive, process and present information in the way that makes the most sense to him or her. It is also good to understand that dyslexia is for life, it is therefore inappropriate to talk about ‘cures’. Rather it is about tapping into potential and making the most of the incredible creative possibilities that properly addressed dyslexia can offer.