Although the concept has been known, discussed, and studied since as far back as the late 1800s, dyslexia is still a widely misunderstood condition, marred by incorrect perceptions that can often be harmful to children during key emotional and cognitive developmental phases. In this article, we do our best to shine a proper light on a few of the most widely circulated myths and misconceptions about dyslexia in children and hope to help you better understand what dyslexia is and — perhaps most importantly — what it is not.
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is represented in roughly 20% of the population and is among the most common types of neurodiversity. In her book, Read This to Get Smarter, author Blair Imani summarizes a balanced and easily approachable working definition of dyslexia, in that it is related to the cognitive functions of processing, recalling, communicating, and applying information. Dyslexia is loosely labeled as “difficulty with reading” and has been linked to neurological differences in phonological processing, which is to say they are wired differently in identification, appreciation, and use of the individual sounds of a language.
Dyslexia Is Not a Disability. Dyslexia Is Neurodiversity
The number one myth that must be dispelled is that dyslexia is a disability. This common misconception stems from an antiquated, underinformed, and rigid frame of reference, which was built around a rather narrow and restrictive model of neurotypical ability — processing information in a way that society has come to expect.
Referring to dyslexia as a “learning disability” is incorrect and can be quite harmful to a child’s perception of self. In fact, being dyslexic does not mean a child is not able to learn to read, much like being left-handed does not mean a child is not able to learn to write. In both instances, the child is perfectly capable of learning, as well as of achieving a high level of performance at either task — it is just that they need to be supported in learning differently.
Nature or Nurture? Nurture with Nature
Despite the wealth of knowledge that science has accumulated so far regarding the natural complexities of the human mind, we still often come across this question: “Nature or nurture?” This is an overly simplified and incorrectly restrictive framing of the concept as a matter of choice. In fact, rather than competing, both nature and nurture contribute greatly to the formation of a person, and they should complement each other harmoniously in the process.
Acknowledging neurodiversity and accounting for it in education — both at home and in school — means nurturing with consideration for nature. In other words, instead of suppressing a child’s natural diversity in order to ensure conformity of method, the objective should be to support them in achieving their desired level of performance at any given task by opening up and adapting the learning method to their nature — for example, the objective is for the child to learn to write, not to learn to write with the right hand.
Dyslexia Is Not an Indicator of Cognitive Ability or Future Success
The notion that being dyslexic is a sign of inferior intelligence is wrong and harmful. In fact, one of the most common elements that help diagnose dyslexia is the discrepancy between a child’s written language processing speed and their otherwise neurotypical capabilities. If supported in learning to their nature, dyslexic children have every chance of performing quite excellently at any academic path they may choose to pursue.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman rightly proposed that we change the rigid-thinking “how smart are you?” to the better informed and less restrictive “how are you smart?” This small adjustment takes us a long way toward recognizing and supporting a child’s entire persona and the value of their differently wired cognitive skills. Richard Branson, one of the most successful people on the planet, has attributed a great deal of his achievements to the unique advantages of dyslexia.
In fact, dyslexic thinking skills have come to be recognized as highly valuable in some of the most challenging professional fields, such as national security. Dyslexic thinking skills include: the ability to recognize patterns of interest that neurotypical peers may miss in large sets of data; a unique ability to “zoom out” and evaluate “the big picture” in innovative ways; and identifying “out-of-the-box” problem-solving strategies that drive significant leaps in innovation.
There is More to Reading Than Meets the Eye
Struggling with a task does not mean that you are failing at it or that you are not capable of completing it. Instead, it means that the way in which you go about it might need some fine-tuning. Dyslexia does not mean a child cannot achieve literacy. In fact, depending on the support they receive at home, at school, and through any additional tutoring (optional), dyslexic children can even become fluent in more than one language.
It is essential to understand that dyslexia is not a vision issue; it is not an ailment that can be treated with medication; it is not a matter of laziness — in fact, children with dyslexia are often the first to notice their struggle and take initiative by working harder “to keep up;” and it is not a matter of giving the child more time to tackle the task by the same conventional methods.
Dyslexia is a different way of thinking. It means the brain is wired differently with respect to processing language — they use different parts of their brains when working with language. Therefore, dyslexia-supportive learning should seek to teach to their strengths and incorporate multi-sensory methods, such as structured phonics coaching (sounding out exercises), which helps children correctly appreciate individual sounds and letters.
After all, reading and writing do not come to us as naturally as speaking. Science has demonstrated several times over that humans tend to process written language letter by letter and sound by sound, and that we are more likely attuned to recognizing facial movement and auditory cues than we are primed to recognizing written sounds.
If your child is struggling with dyslexia, reach out to the Da Vinci Collaborative team and let’s see how we can overcome this challenge together and improve your child’s academic performance and personal wellbeing.