October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, designed to raise awareness and greater discussion around this learning issue. This blog gives a voice to the many different types of dyslexia, and presents a unique solution to the underlying cause.
Firstly, a general definition: dyslexia is a learning disability diagnosis given to individuals who are reading below grade or age level due to difficulties with processing written words. However - it is rarely this simple. While people with dyslexia share certain characteristics - there’s a wide range of impact, severity, and symptoms.
Why? Because every person with a dyslexia diagnosis has a unique brain makeup. And, depending on their cognitive strengths and weaknesses, they may experience dyslexia very differently.
To give you a sense of the different types of dyslexia, let’s meet three individuals each with a dyslexia diagnosis. All were students who participated in the Arrowsmith Program.
By grade six Owen had learned how to read - barely. It felt exhausting, demoralizing, and even embarrassing. He was stealthy in class - escaping to the restrooms, the drinking fountain, the office to take attendance anytime his teachers introduced a “read aloud” activity. Reading in his head was hard enough, reading out loud was painfully embarrassing. Each word felt strange in his mouth. He could work out the meaning of the word especially if he knew the story, but to pronounce the words, to endure kids’ snickering, teachers softly (or not so softly) correcting him, was just not worth it. In fact when the whole lesson involved reading together from a textbook - forget it - snapping a pencil in half to get sent to the Principal’s office was a much lesser punishment.
Fernanda was seven when her teachers asked to speak to her parents about her reading. Did she not secure her letters by the end of kindergarten? Were they not spending 20 minutes daily with a book at home? What about the high frequency word list? Fernanda was probably better suited for the remedial program for next year. Maybe a different class, different school entirely. Fernanda’s parents knew they needed to do something – even the spelling of Fernanda’s own name proved a challenge. She would spell it three different ways, none quite right. They would read her most beloved stories, encouraging her to point at the word cat or boy when she saw it on the page again. She couldn’t recognize it. The words looked new each time.
Philip was an athlete. He was too busy with practice and competitions to read. He didn’t have time to “relax with a book” or a magazine. The whole school was relying on him to perform. Teachers knew it was too important for his future as a college, even professional, athlete, to demand he complete his assignments. Meanwhile, Philip was terrified. He couldn’t read. Words swirled on the page – a book, his coaches’ plays, a restaurant menu, his phone bill… Philip knew his family, his schoolmates, and his girlfriend understood he wasn’t a big “reader”. What they didn’t know, or want to know, was that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to read- it was that he couldn’t.
Do these scenarios sound similar? Get started in addressing dyslexia by learning more about your, or your child’s, cognitive profile. Get started with the Arrowsmith Cognitive Questionnaire today.
These Examples Showcase the Different Faces of Dyslexia
While Owen, Fernanda and Philip each have dyslexia – they effectively have different dyslexias. Owen struggles to pronounce, Fernanda struggles to remember and Philip can’t make sense of words.
These may all seem like completely different learning challenges, but they are all signs of dyslexia.
So, what is the reason why these three examples all have wildly different faces of dyslexia? It's because, like all individuals, they all possess different brains. Their brains are as different as their fingerprints.
In fact there are distinctly different brain areas, or “cognitive functions” causing each of their struggles. Reading is an incredibly complicated skill, which uses at least three distinct cognitive functions to simply decode the printed word.
Motor Symbol Sequencing: Our eye must track across the word and line of text to accurately scan each letter, each word, each phrase. If it does not, people miss a letter, a word, or their place on the page. It can feel dizzying; some individuals describe headaches and fatigue.
Symbol Recognition: We also must remember the look of the word - the ‘photo’ we’ve taken of that word when we first learned it - needs to appear in our mind’s eye. If it does not, words look ‘new’ at each presentation; it can take thousands of presentations of that word for it to finally stick.
Brocas Speech Pronunciation: If we don’t remember the look of the word, we rely on our phonetic memory, how a word sounds and how it’s pronounced. If we can’t do this then we can’t hold onto the sound-symbol correspondence of the word, we mispronounce words, unusual names or places; we avoid saying those words altogether if we can, and our verbal confidence takes a dive.
Keep in mind, these three cognitive functions are active simply to decode a single word or sentence. Beyond this, there lies the expectation that we hold onto the words (Lexical Memory), see their fluid connection (Predicative Speech), recall the details (Memory for Information/Instructions), grasp meaning beyond the concrete representation (Symbol Relations), as well as stay focused and identify the essence of the material (Symbolic Thinking). Each of these are distinct cognitive functions.
How Neuroplasticity Can Strengthen the Brain, Enabling Individuals to Overcome Dyslexia
Conservatively, 10 percent of the population has a learning disability. Out of those with learning disabilities, over 80 percent are diagnosed with dyslexia. Meaning simply, tens of millions of people around the world have this label.
Imagine - tens of millions of people understanding their dyslexia to be a “lifelong condition”.
Through years of experience working with the brain, Arrowsmith knows that this traditional way of thinking is wrong. The brain is changeable. Owen, Fernanda, Philip and any other individual in the world with dyslexia has the opportunity to create a very different reality for themselves.
As individuals we all have a varying degree of strengths and weaknesses in our core cognitive functions. If we have mild deficits or there is only one deficit, it may take more time to learn to read. If we have multiple deficits, we will require extra resources, be slotted into remedial reading programs, or be sent to tutors.
Someone with dyslexia will have a more complex combination of these cognitive deficits. Some will be significantly impaired, meaning not only is reading a terrible chore, but even with extra tutoring and intensive literacy interventions – they will continue to read well below their peers.
With a dyslexia diagnosis, many students are provided with strategies to lessen the impact of their learning issue. But these are only accommodations - these aren’t solutions. These approaches don’t actively strengthen the brain in order to help the individual overcome the cognitive causes of their dyslexia.
That’s where Arrowsmith’s cognitive programming steps in. By using the brain’s neuroplasticity - its ability to change itself by creating new neural pathways - we can strengthen brains to overcome learning disabilities that were once thought to be lifelong, such as dyslexia.
Through the sustained practice of these carefully designed cognitive programs, the power of neuroplasticity can challenge the brain to operate in new ways. Strengthening one’s cognitive profile transforms one’s capacity to learn.
How Arrowsmith Helps Strengthen the Individual Brain and Overcome Dyslexia
The Arrowsmith Program has been strengthening participant’s learning capacity through the science of neuroplasticity for years.
For many, the first step in this process is the Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment, where an Arrowsmith facilitator identifies the cognitive functions that are contributing to the individual’s dyslexia challenges.
The next, even more powerful step is targeting and strengthening these weak functions through cognitive enhancement, rather than compensating for them.
Imagine an alternate reality where:
- Fernanda participates in a program that changes her ability to remember the look of words, and another which enables her eye to track smoothly along a line of text.
- Philip empowers his core capacity to understand written and spoken material, to understand ideas and concepts.
- Owen targets the brain function responsible for phonetic memory – strengthening not only his ability to read, but also to spell, to learn new languages.
The brain truly is uniquely personal, individualized, and deserves to be treated that way. People with dyslexia deserve that consideration. Each individual diagnosed with dyslexia has their own cognitive profile which can be specifically changed with the power of neuroplasticity.
From this emerges a learner, a brain, without interference or obstacle.
Consider a different reality; one where dyslexia can be addressed and the rich worlds of literature, language and communication can be discovered by all who wish to experience it. Interested in learning more? Get in touch with Arrowsmith today.
October 27, 2023