Friday, May 7, 2010

Understanding Dyslexia

The Background
In 1896, W. Pringle Morgan, a UK medical practitioner, provided one of the first descriptions of dyslexia. Prior to that, the disorder was thought to be a form of mental retardation and unfortunately that ghost has not been completely exorcised.

Published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) was Morgan’s case of a 14-year old boy who had extreme difficulty in reading, but he excelled in sport and achieved the same level of his peers.

This intrigued many scientists who had been studying the disorder for years. They finally realised that those who have the disorder could actually possess above average to exceptional intelligence.

Some, they found out, even excel in sports and the creative arts, because of this, the distorted opinion that dyslexia is a form of mental retardation, was finally ruled out in academic circles.

The Root of the word
From the Greek words “dys” meaning difficulty and “lexia” meaning verbal language, dyslexia can be defined as a specific learning disorder resulting from neurological and genetic causes.

It affects one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding spoken or written language.

This results in the difficulty of the brain in stringing words, numbers, and symbols at least average intelligence. Dyslexia may show up as a problem in listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, or spelling or in a person’s ability in math.

Letter and word reversal and disorganisation of word order are common symptoms. Problems with coordination, memory, depth, perception, and discerning left from right may arise.

This explains why most dyslexics find it difficult to transfer information exactly from what is heard to what is seen and vice versa.

Much research has been carried ou on Dyslexia and some researchers have determined that a specific gene is responsible for dyslexia. This supports their claim that the condition results from a brain difference and site that the right hemisphere of the brain of dyslexics is larger than that of normal individuals.

This may be the reason why dyslexics excel in areas controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain – such as artistic and athletic; 3D visualisation ability, musical talent; and creative problem solving skills but are poor in perceptual, motor, linguistic, and adaptive—areas controlled by the brain’s left hemisphere.

The Organic cause
For years, the organic cause of dyslexia has puzzled doctors who have been studying the disorder.

A significant breakthrough, however, was provided in 1998 by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a researcher at the Yale University of Medicine and author of the book Overcoming Dyslexia.

Dr. Shaywitz’ s findings revealed that areas in the back of the brain that are usually activated when readers sounded out words are significantly less activated in dyslexics.

Areas in the front of dyslexics’ brains show more activity than in those of the brains of normal individuals.

Dyslexia and Science
The Science pertaining to Dyslexia has seen great progress, aiding better understanding. Despite the extensive research that has been done, there is still no 'cure' or specific scientifically-based programs that work, reliably.

Finding the right school with the proper reading programs and well-trained teachers and supportive parents, is certainly essential. Dr. Shaywitz, in an interview, stated that “there’s a huge need to educate our parents and our teachers.”

Long Term
Though dyslexia is seen as a permanent condition, it does not mean that we should leave dyslexics unsupported or unaided, for the rest of their lives. Recognising the nature of their Dyslexia, discovering and accepting their limitations, form part of the first steps in dealing with the disorder.

Dr. Shaywitz’s advice is, “go get help. It’s remarkable. The news is so good. We’ve learned so much (and are learning more all the time) and people who go and get help can totally turn their lives around.”

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