The advantages of Dyslexia
One of the best books I have read is called “The Dyslexic Advantage”, written by Doctors Brock and Fernette Eide. It changed my mindset from ‘dyslexia is a problem to be fixed’ to ‘dyslexia comes with challenges, but also significant advantages’. As I read, I felt they were describing my family exactly.
They break the significant advantages of dyslexia into four areas - calling them M.I.N.D. strengths:
Narrative reasoning, and
Because their descriptions are so good, I will use some of their words when they were interviewed by Wired Magazine in September 2011. They describe how each area is a “different but related way in which dyslexic brains are especially good at putting together big pictures, or seeing larger context, or imagining how processes will play out over time.”
“Some dyslexic individuals are especially good at spatial reasoning. Putting together three-dimensional spatial perspectives is easy for them.” These are the people that can look at a set of plans, and see the final design in place. They may be able to look at a contour map and actually be able to see the hills and gullies. People with this particular strength are often found in the fields of design, architecture, engineering, building, and computer software architecture.
Interconnected reasoning is the next of the M.I.N.D. strengths. Simply stated, it is an ability to spot connections or relationships between different objects, concepts, or points of view. “These connections can be relationships of likeness — analogies for example — or causal relationships, or the ability to shift perspective and view an object or event from multiple perspectives, or the ability to see the gist or big-picture context surrounding an event or idea”. It’s one of the reasons many dyslexic students find multi-choice test questions so difficult - they can see so many different ways to interpret the questions.
These are the dyslexics that work in “highly interdisciplinary fields or fields that require combining perspectives and techniques gained from different disciplines or backgrounds.” They could also be multiple specialists, or their work history can be unusually varied. People may comment that these individuals can see connections that other people haven’t seen before.
Many dyslexics remember facts as experiences, examples or stories, rather than abstract information. This pattern is known as narrative reasoning, the third M.I.N.D. strength.
“These kids have a very strong ability to learn from experience. It’s very common for their families to describe these kids as the family elephant. They’ll be the go-to person when someone wants to remember who gave what to sister for her birthday two years ago. They might be the family historian, but they can’t remember the times tables or which direction the three goes.” They have great episodic memory, but this strength also often results in weak rote memory – a memory paradox, and perhaps a reason these children often struggle so much in the school scenario.
These dyslexics often show excellence in fields where telling and understanding stories are important. You’ll find them in careers such as sales, counselling, trial law or teaching; and many writers or novelists are also dyslexic.
The fourth of the M.I.N.D. strengths is dynamic reasoning, or “the ability to reason well in dynamic settings when the facts are incomplete or changing. People strong in this area often work in the business field, in financial markets or in scientific fields that reconstruct past events, like geologists or paleontologists. These people are comfortable working with processes that are constantly changing, and in making predictions.”
The Difficulties can also be an Advantage
“Most of what is done in the classroom in the early grades focuses on acquiring the kind of rote skills that are dependent on perceiving visual or auditory things very clearly, and learning skills automatically to the point where you don’t have to think about them. These are just the kinds of rote and fine detail skills that dyslexic kids tend to have difficulty learning. But because that’s where the focus is in the early grades, their strengths in big-picture processing or remembering personal experiences tend to get overlooked.”
“But over time, what we see is that this same lack of ability to over-learn things so well that they no longer need to be thought of keeps dyslexic individuals more in touch with or mindful of the tasks they’re engaged in, and as a result makes them more likely to innovate and tweak and modify.”
Where to from here?
One of the important tasks for parents and teachers of the dyslexic child is to identify and build these strengths - they will be their super power of the future. Instead of only focusing on fixing what is wrong, it is equally important to build on, nurture and celebrate the things that are right.