Dyslexia Workarounds: Creativity Without a Lot of Reading
Actor Henry Winkler was told he was stupid. A teacher labeled Dan Malloy, the future governor of Connecticut, “mentally retarded.” Delos Cosgrove recalls “hanging on by my fingernails” in high school and college before becoming a thoracic surgeon and the Cleveland Clinic’s chief executive officer.
Each has dyslexia, a condition that makes reading difficult but has little to do with intelligence. Mounting evidence shows that many people with dyslexia are highly creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, and neuroimaging studies demonstrate that their brains really do think differently.
That helps explain the long list of entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, actors and other professionals, doctors and lawyers who have excelled despite, or perhaps because of, their affliction, experts say.
“There are people who are dyslexic that you could never imagine,” says Sally Shaywitz, co-director, with her husband Bennett, of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. When they give talks on dyslexia at high-powered gatherings such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, she says, “We can’t walk down the hall without people pulling us aside and saying they think they have it, too.”
The Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Cosgrove says he relied on memorizing texts in medical school, and reading hasn’t gotten easier for him. He says he has never read a novel and told his staff he’d rather hear about any problems in person than read a report.
But, he says, “I frankly think dyslexia is a gift. If you are supported in school and your ego remains intact, then you emerge with a strong work ethic and a different view of the world.”
As many as one in five Americans has some degree of dyslexia, according to Yale research, although only about 5% of children have been formally diagnosed. And it clearly runs in families; six gene variations have been linked to the condition to date. Dyslexia was long thought to be a vision-related problem, but there’s a growing consensus that dyslexics instead have difficulty associating letters with spoken sounds and blending them together fluidly to make words. Neuroimaging studies can even pinpoint what goes awry.
Reading typically involves three distinct areas of the brain, all on the left side. The parieto-temporal region, just behind the ear, and the inferior frontal gyrus, at the front, slowly analyze words. The occipital-temporal area farther back recognizes the whole word instantly. Scientists think a word’s meaning, pronunciation and spelling are stored there too.
Imaging studies show that the best readers have the most brain activity in the rear, instant-word-forming area when they read. Dyslexics have much less activity there and more in the two slower areas.
“Think of the word ‘bat,’ ” says Dr. Shaywitz. “If you are dyslexic, you have to retrieve the B and the A and the T separately each time. It’s exhausting.”
Dyslexia can’t be cured, but imaging studies show that some remedial programs that help children learn sequential sound-letter relationships can rewire those circuits. Without such help, dyslexics may become accurate readers, but they never read fluidly. They often have problems spelling, writing, reading aloud and pronouncing words.
That’s why experts urge schools to give students with dyslexia extra time on tests, waive foreign language requirements and grade separately for creativity and spelling. But many schools don’t, according to a federal report commissioned last year by the Congressional Dyslexia Caucus.
Among dyslexics who succeed, Dr. Shaywitz says many “give up their social lives and everything else to spend more hours studying. They are very bright, but they are terribly anxious and think, ‘I’ve just been fooling everybody.’ “
Other children with dyslexia become discouraged early on and continue to fall further behind their peers, even if their IQs are high.
Helping them access information in ways other than reading can be critical, experts say. Audio books and computer programs that can turn written text into spoken words and vice versa can keep their minds stimulated and vocabulary growing.
Gov. Malloy credits his mother for believing in his potential and giving him a radio to listen to at night. Having to read slowly helped him master complicated issues as he went from a New York City prosecutor to mayor of Stamford, Conn. He was elected governor in 2010. But even now, he says, “I have to stop and call each word up and do the best I can.”
At auditions, Henry Winkler memorized scripts in advance or ad-libbed if he forgot. “Some people got upset that I wasn’t reading the words, but I told them I was giving them the essence of it,” says Mr. Winkler, who played Fonzie on TV’s long-running “Happy Days” and many other roles. He is the co-author of 23 books for children in the series “Hank Zipzer, The World’s Greatest Underachiever,” about a resourceful fourth-grader with dyslexia.
Jack Horner’s reading ability is so poor that he says he bought shampoo for dogs instead of people recently. He left high school in the 1960s with all Ds and flunked out of college.
Mr. Horner also made some of the most spectacular dinosaur finds in the Western hemisphere. He won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, has two honorary degrees, inspired a character in “Jurassic Park” and is curator of paleontology for the largest Tyrannosaurus rex collection in the world.
How did he do it? He took a low-level museum job and worked his way up. And as he tells his students at Montana State University: “If you’re the first to do something, you don’t have to read about it.”
Other people with dyslexia find that they thrive only outside the world of reading and writing. “Find what you love and enjoy it,” says Piper Otterbein, a high school senior from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, whose talk at a TEDYouth conference has become a YouTube sensation. After years of tutoring and remedial classes, she dropped English, math and French and has found her passion, and self-esteem, in art and design. “I decided my creative brain is the one that suits me best,” she says.
Many adults with dyslexia say life does get easier, even if their reading skills don’t. Secretaries, co-authors, book editors and spouses can take dictation, spell and proofread. “There are very few times when adults are judged on being timed in reading,” unlike the standardized tests kids take in school, says Tyler Lucas, a New York-based orthopedic surgeon who realized he was dyslexic after his daughter was diagnosed with it.
The proliferation of smartphones, video chats and other technologies may also make the future easier for people with dyslexia, he adds. “Reading is just one way of communicating—and in the future, I think it won’t be as important as in the past.”
Try Being Me is the latest in a large library of browser games based on the BBC’s shows, including Horrible Histories and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
In This Alert …
June 5, 2012
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Pete and Pam Wright
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Call to Action from the International Dyslexia Association
Psychologists use DSM codes to diagnose conditions. In the revised DSM-5, dyslexia no longer has a diagnostic code of its own.
The latest revision, which now omits the term dyslexia, is a significant step backward. This omission will:
Act Now! Public Comment period ends June 15.
The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, directed by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, is asking you to support a much-needed Bill of Rights for Dyslexic Children and Adults that affirms the following:
Urge Congress to “Legalize Dyslexia: Grant Accommodations to Dyslexic Students.”
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The Reality of Dyslexia: Millions Struggle
Published: February 12, 2012
To the Editor:
“The Upside of Dyslexia,” by Annie Murphy Paul (Sunday Review, Feb. 5), rightly points out that while all people with dyslexia struggle with reading, some demonstrate unique strengths. What this research does not underscore is the extent to which this learning disability negatively affects millions of lives.
Nearly two million students in our public schools struggle with reading because of dyslexia. Learning to read with accuracy, fluency and comprehension greatly increases the likelihood of high school graduation, enrollment in college and career success. Dyslexia presents real obstacles to these students.
Twenty percent of students with disabilities drop out, and only 67 percent graduate with a regular diploma. These alarming statistics reinforce the need for additional research to further our understanding of the neurobiology of learning, particularly as it relates to students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
While the research featured in the article is welcome, we shouldn’t minimize the challenges that students with disabilities face every day.
JAMES H. WENDORF Executive Director, National Center for Learning Disabilities New York, Feb. 6, 2012
To the Editor:
The headline “The Upside of Dyslexia” raised my hackles, and I was prepared to attack what the author, Annie Murphy Paul, said in the article. I am the mother of a 12-year-old boy who is severely dyslexic, and this new wave of “dyslexia is a gift” drives me crazy.
It’s not a gift when my son goes to get a snack at a community pool and burns his hands because he cannot read the sign on the counter that says, “Caution: Hot.” It’s not a gift when after over $100,000 spent (and borrowed) to address his dyslexia, there are still days when he does not recognize the word “the.” It’s not a gift when friends laugh at his homemade sign on his door to keep his brother out: “Do not disterv.”
Nobody lives in his world, where his dyslexic demons play with his mind, making a trip to the movies stressful and doing homework an exercise in “how much more of this can I endure?”
But after reading Ms. Paul’s essay, I felt that she understood the complexity of it. Yes, saying dyslexia is a “gift” is patronizing and unhelpful, but it is also true that these children are gifted. I like this shift in thinking.
Now if only my son can get through school with his heart intact and find ways to share his gifts with the world.
KAREN BRODY Washington, Feb. 5, 2012
To the Editor:
Annie Murphy Paul highlights the exciting scientific research being done to change the way dyslexia is viewed. These experiments show that people with dyslexia possess learning advantages that go hand in hand with their learning difficulties. Perhaps these advantages help explain why, according to a 2007 study, 35 percent of entrepreneurs are dyslexic, a number far exceeding the 15 percent of the population thought to be dyslexic.
It is imperative that we keep these learning advantages in mind, and provide students with a flexible and multisensory education that highlights both their strengths and weaknesses. At Jemicy School, we have long recognized the importance of art, math, science and technology to tap into the strengths that dyslexic students possess.
Thanks to articles like Ms. Paul’s, our society is coming closer to recognizing that learning differences are just that: not better or worse, just different.
BEN SHIFRIN Owing Mills, Md., Feb. 8, 2012
The writer is treasurer of the International Dyslexia Association and head of school at Jemicy School, which specializes in educating students with dyslexia.
To the Editor:
For those of us in the field of reading, “The Upside of Dyslexia” was not a surprise. We know many smart and talented people with dyslexia. It is time for the federal Department of Education to recognize dyslexia as a specific diagnosis instead of using the broad and misleading diagnosis of learning disabled.
A diagnosis of dyslexia would pinpoint the problem and help children get the appropriate reading instruction to be successful in school.
The article states that an estimated 15 percent of the population is dyslexic. That translates to more than 45 million Americans. It makes you wonder how many scientists, lawyers, doctors, engineers and writers we have lost because they failed early on in school and no one knew how to tap into their talents and teach them how to read.
MARY BETH CROSBY CARROLL Brooklyn, Feb. 5, 2012
The writer is a reading specialist at a New York City public school.
*Helping classroom teachers understand your dyslexic child (Click on link)
Article written: September 20, 2011.
Study Sheds Light on Auditory Role in Dyslexia
By PAM BELLUCK
Published: August 1, 2011
Many people consider dyslexia simply a reading problem in which children mix up letters and misconstrue written words. But increasingly scientists have come to believe that the reading difficulties of dyslexia are part of a larger puzzle: a problem with how the brain processes speech and puts together words from smaller units of sound.
Now, a study published last week in the journal Science suggests that how dyslexics hear language may be more important than previously realized. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that people with dyslexia have more trouble recognizing voices than those without dyslexia.
John Gabrieli, a professor of cognitive neuroscience, and Tyler Perrachione, a graduate student, asked people with and without dyslexia to listen to recorded voices paired with cartoon avatars on computer screens. The subjects tried matching the voices to the correct avatars speaking English and then an unfamiliar language, Mandarin.
Nondyslexics matched voices to avatars correctly almost 70 percent of the time when the language was English and half the time when the language was Mandarin. But people with dyslexia were able to do so only half the time, whether the language was English or Mandarin. Experts not involved in the study said that was a striking disparity.
“Typically, you see big differences in reading, but there are just subtle general differences between individuals who are afflicted with dyslexia and individuals who aren’t on a wide variety of tests,” said Richard Wagner, a psychology professor at Florida State University. “This effect was really large.”
Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a director of the Center for Dyslexia and Creativity at Yale University, said the study “demonstrates the centrality of spoken language in dyslexia — that it’s not a problem in meaning, but in getting to the sounds of speech.”
That is why dyslexic children often misspeak, she said, citing two examples drawn from real life. “A child at Fenway Park watching the Red Sox said, ‘Oh, I’m thirsty. Can we go to the confession stand?,’ ” she said.
“Another person crossing a busy intersection where many people were walking said, ‘Oh, those Presbyterians should be more careful.’ It’s not a question of not knowing, but being unable to attach what you know is the meaning to the sounds.”
Dr. Gabrieli said the findings underscored a critical problem for dyslexic children learning to read: the ability of a child hearing, say, a parent or teacher speak to connect the auditory bits that make up words, called phonemes, with the sight of written words.
If a child has trouble grasping the sounds that make up language, he said, acquiring reading skills will be harder.
The research shows that spoken language deficiencies persist even when dyslexics learn to read well. The study subjects were mostly “high-functioning, high-I.Q. young adults who had overcome their reading difficulty,” Dr. Gabrieli said. “And yet when they had to distinguish voices, they were not one iota better with the English-language voices that they’ve heard all their life.”
Experts said the new study also shows the interconnectedness of the brain processes involved in reading. Many scientists had considered voice recognition to be “like recognizing melodies or things that are primarily nonverbal,” Dr. Gabrieli said. Voice recognition was thought to be a separate task in the brain from understanding language.
But this research shows that normal reading involves a “circuit, the ability to have all of those components integrated absolutely automatically,” said Maryanne Wolf, a dyslexia expert at Tufts University. “One of the great weaknesses in dyslexia is that the system is not able to integrate these phoneme-driven systems” with other aspects of language comprehension.
As a follow-up, the M.I.T. researchers have been scanning the brains of subjects performing voice recognition and other activities, and have found “very big differences in dyslexics and nondyslexics in a surprisingly broad range of tasks,” Dr. Gabrieli said. “We think there might be a broader kind of learning that’s not operating very well in these individuals and that in some areas you can circumvent it pretty well. But in language and reading, it’s hard to circumvent.”
One of the unusual aspects of the M.I.T. study is that it isolated the skill of processing vocal speech from reading and from skills involving the meaning of language, experts said. The sentences were basic, like “The boy was there when the sun rose,” and the Mandarin sounds meant nothing to the listeners.
Dr. Wagner suggested that something like the voice-recognition task might be used to identify young children at risk for dyslexia.
Often diagnostic tests require separating sounds from words. A child might be asked to say “cowboy” without the “boy” part.
“For young children, it’s a real difficult task,” Dr. Wagner said. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘cowboy without saying boy,’ because that’s exactly what you’ve asked them. The holy grail is to come up with tasks you can give to a 3-year-old.”
Dr. Shaywitz said the study also has implications for teaching.
If a teacher asked, “ ‘Oh, Johnny, what is the capital of New York State?,’ Johnny will go, ‘Uh, uh, uh,’ and the teacher will say, ‘Oh, gee, you don’t know it,’ ” Dr. Shaywitz said. “It’s more likely to be a problem of word retrieval than knowledge. If she reframes it as, ‘Is the capital Houston or Albany?,’ Johnny is more likely to answer correctly.”
|December 2010Poll Reveals Dangerous ConfusionA recent poll released by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation showed that parents and educators are dangerously confused about learning disabilities but also support greater government funding for intervention. It uncovered troubling misunderstandings about the definition, root causes, key influencers and interventions that impact public policy and legislation to support children who learn differently. Read More|
Parents…tell us about early intervention
and special education services in Utah.
This information is also available online in PDF format by visiting
Parents of children receiving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are being asked to help provide important information about how Utah is meeting the state’s requirements to provide programs and services for children with disabilities in early intervention and special education.
provide important information about how Utah is meeting the state’s requirements to provide programs and services for children with disabilities in early intervention and special education.
Each year the US Department of Education makes what are called “verification visits” to state education agencies and early intervention lead agencies around the country. Utah has been chosen for a visit on October 12th, 2010.
Parents who have had children participate in the early intervention programs (Part C of IDEA for infants and toddlers) or special education programs in preschool, elementary, middle, or high school (Part B of IDEA) can provide input in your choice of several ways.
1. First, follow the appropriate link below depending on whether your child isages birth through 2 (Part C) or is 3 or older (Part B) to a web based survey tool. Click on the link, complete, and submit your responses:
Survey for parents of children ages birth through 2 (Part C)
Survey for parents of children 3 or older (Part B)
Access the surveys through the Utah Parent Center’s website at:http://www.utahparentcenter.org
2. Second, you may print out the survey that relates to your child’s program, complete, and fax (801-272-8907) or mail it in. The links for PDF (printable) versions are here and instructions for submitting your responses are on the form:
Survey for parents of children ages birth through 2 (Part C)
3. Third, you may call the Utah Parent Center office at 800-468-1160 and complete it over the phone with one of our staff or volunteers. Spanish-speaking families can ask for Julie Moreno or Nancy Rodriguez for help in completing the surveys.
If your child is one of the many students who has a hidden disability and struggles in the general classroom but is not covered by a Sec. 504 Plan or an IEP Plan under IDEA you might be concerned. Over 80% of the students with learning disabilities are in the general education classroom without services. The bill is short and you can read it for yourself at http://le.utah.gov/~2010/bills/sbillint/sb0150.htm
Either call your Senator at the Utah State Capitol or email your Senator and Representative. You can look up your legislative districts and legislators at http://www.le.state.ut.us/
Here is the link…it does have exceptions for special ed and 504 children.
Basic but valuable information- 2/08/2010 (click on link below)