Health Talk: Dyslexia

“My frenbs bot me meny qresents.” That sentence probably does not make much sense.

It would be quite normal for a 5- or 6-year-old child to write a sentence like that, and expect people to read it as, “My friends bought me many presents.” But one would not expect a 9- or 10-year-old to write like that. Such a child would probably be termed as a “slow learner” or in blunt words, dumb. However, such children are far from dumb; in fact, many have IQ levels that are higher than the average.

The only difference between children who write sentences like the one above and children who can write with fewer errors is that they suffer from a disorder called dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty in reading and writing. However, dyslexia is not limited to reading and writing problems.

Dyslectics tend to be dreamy and lose focus easily. They also tend to have poor motor skills. For example, they might find it hard to catch a ball thrown at them. Giving directions is difficult as well, as dyslectics often confuse left and right. Although the disorder manifests itself in many ways, understanding letters and numbers is the prime difficulty faced by dyslectics.

Dyslectics have trouble spelling words that are not spelled the way they are pronounced. Since many languages, including English, are filled with such words, people with dyslexia tend to make many spelling mistakes.

Remembering the spellings of words is very difficult for dyslexic individuals, and they tend to spell words differently each time they write them. That is why “island” may be written as “iland” once and then “ilund” in the very next sentence.

Letters and numbers appear to be disfigured, unclear, or even “dancing” to dyslectics. They often get confused with the curvatures of letters. So, “b” could be confused with “d” or “p” could be confused for “q.” Likewise, 14 could be 41 or 54 could be 45; even when individuals know what to do with the numbers, without knowing what the numbers are it is virtually impossible for them to perform operations.

Organizational skills are also a major problem in the life of a dyslectic. If a non-dyslexic individual were told to open a specific page in a book and highlight the fifth word of the second sentence in the third paragraph, he or she would probably be able to do it. A dyslectic, however, would be dumbfounded by the rapid flow of instructions.

Scientists studying dyslexia were initially baffled by all these symptoms. Even today, the exact neural mechanisms that cause dyslexia are unknown. However, recent research has led to some insights about the disorder.

Researchers at the Yale University school of Medicine have conducted numerous fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) studies on people with dyslexia.

The studies show that the Wernicke’s area, a region at the back of the brain that partially makes up the cortex, is not activated in dyslectics. The Wernicke’s area is associated with language comprehension. Furthermore, areas of the visual cortex that process vision are not activated at a normal level.

These areas are known to help in deciphering written or printed letters; low activation of these areas matches many of dyslexia’s symptoms.
Scientists also discovered that the areas of the brain that are inactive in dyslectics are the same areas that caused reading problems in adults when damaged due to a stroke or an accident.

This discovery strengthened the link between dyslexia and brain function, but further research needs to be carried out to discover the exact areas of the brain that are affected.

Scientists also suspect a genetic link to the disorder. According to an article in the online journal Science News, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have identified a gene called DYXC1 on chromosome 15 which may be linked to dyslexia. The genetic link to the disorder still cannot be generalized to all cases and scientists are continually researching this field.

As of today, our knowledge tells us that dyslexia has no cure and the only way to deal with the disorder is to adapt certain special teaching strategies when it comes to dyslexic students.

Teachers of dyslexic students employ a “multi-sensory” approach while teaching. The students do not have to learn to read by using just their eyes, but also auditory devices like cassettes or CDs that read the words to them. This helps dyslectics better understand the phonics behind the words. Similarly, making letters and numbers physically by using clay or tape helps the students understand the curvatures of letters.

Given time and proper attention, people with dyslexia can overcome the disorder and read and write at a fairly normal level. The severity of the disorder is also a key factor in determining the recovery rate.

Additionally, if dyslexia is not recognized early on, many dyslectics who have a multitude of hidden talents may fail to discover them because of their disability.

Some of the most influential and intelligent people of our time have been diagnosed with a form of dyslexia. Albert Einstein is probably one of the most famous examples of someone who overcame such a learning disability. According to an article in NeuroPsychiatry Reviews, researchers have proposed that Einstein suffered from developmental dyslexia.

Thomas Edison also showed similar symptoms. Edison was quoted saying, “My teachers say I’m addled ... my father thought I was stupid, and I almost decided I must be a dunce.” Other examples of childhood “dunces” include Leonardo Da Vinci, Agatha Christie, and Tom Cruise.

These examples show that dyslexia cannot stop a person from learning and fulfilling their dreams. It may be an inconvenience, but it certainly doesn’t prevent a person from leading a purposeful life.