Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dyslexia: There is an upside

THE word “dyslexia” evokes painful struggles with reading, and indeed this learning disability causes much difficulty for the estimated 15 percent of Americans affected by it.

Since the phenomenon of “word blindness” was first documented more than a century ago, scientists have searched for the causes of dyslexia, and for therapies to treat it. In recent years, however, dyslexia research has taken a surprising turn: identifying the ways in which people with dyslexia have skills that are superior to those of typical readers.

The latest findings on dyslexia are leading to a new way of looking at the condition: not just as an impediment, but as an advantage, especially in certain artistic and scientific fields.

Tucker Nichols

Dyslexia is a complex disorder, and there is much that is still not understood about it. 

But a series of ingenious experiments have shown that many people with dyslexia possess distinctive perceptual abilities. 

For example, scientists have produced a growing body of evidence that people with the condition have sharper peripheral vision than others. 

Gadi Geiger and Jerome Lettvin, cognitive scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), used a mechanical shutter, called a tachistoscope, to briefly flash a row of letters extending from the center of a subject’s field of vision out to its perimeter. 

Typical readers identified the letters in the middle of the row with greater accuracy. 

Those with dyslexia triumphed, however, when asked to identify letters located in the row’s outer reaches.

The discovery of such talents inevitably raises questions about whether these faculties translate into real-life skills.

Although people with dyslexia are found in every profession, including law, medicine and science, observers have long noted that they populate fields like art and design in unusually high numbers.

Five years ago, the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity was founded to investigate and illuminate the strengths of those with dyslexia, while the seven-year-old Laboratory for Visual Learning, located within the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is exploring the advantages conferred by dyslexia in visually intensive branches of science.

The director of the laboratory, the astrophysicist Matthew Schneps, notes that scientists in his line of work must make sense of enormous quantities of visual data and accurately detect patterns that signal the presence of entities like black holes. 

A pair of experiments conducted by Mr. Schneps and his colleagues, published in the Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society in 2011, suggests that dyslexia may enhance the ability to carry out such tasks.

Read more of this article here at NY Times

No comments:

Post a Comment