Facts and statistics

5-15% of the population can be diagnosed as suffering from various degrees of dyslexia.

Studying dyslexia is very valuable for understanding intelligence and creativity. Dyslexia illustrates the power of inborn wiring of the brain in developing mental skills. At the same time it can show how inborn limitations can be overcome by using the compensatory power of the brain. While it has been said that: “the Dyslexic is often highly creative to compensate for their inborn liability”, this statement is difficult to prove.

Dyslexia’s main manifestation is a difficulty in developing reading skills in elementary school children. Those difficulties result from reduced ability to link up visual symbols with sounds. In the past, dyslexia was mistakenly thought to have a motivational background. Contrary to that erroneus belief, modern research has shown that dyslexia is a condition largely inborn. In other words, dyslexia is a condition that children are born with and not the result of poor parenting or the environment. Some have disagreed with these findings, however, and believe that while dyslexia may sometimes be inborn it is often attributable to lack of phonics training when learning to read and the preponderance of the whole language system.

Researchers studying the brains of dyslexics have found that in reading tasks dyslexics show reduced activity in the left inferior parietal cortex. Otherwise, dyslexics are known to often show higher than average intelligence. There are marked anatomical differences between dyslexic brains and normal brains.

Famous dyslexics

A number of eminent scholars throughout history have suffered from varying degree of dyslexia. Among those speculated to have been afflicted with dyslexia are: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Michael Faraday, and many others. Walt Disney was dyslexic.

Was Einstein dyslexic or not? YES. Although many biographers claim to have disproved that Einstein was dyslexic, their arguments are based on the premise that because he actually excelled in school, he could therefore not have had a learning disability. Just because Einstein was reading Immanuel Kant at the age of 13 does not mean he was not dyslexic. Many people who suffer from dyslexia are actually avaricious readers of extremely heavy academic material. The truth is that the Einstein was known to do many of the things that were symptomatic of people suffering from dyslexia, such as to frequently transpose and omit letters, numbers, and formulas in his writings and to scramble sentences. NO. Einstein excelled at most subjects at school and did not exhibit any signs of a learning disability. Where dyslexics have difficulty with symbolic objects, such as letters and numerals, Einstein did not; samples of his handwriting show exceptional clarity in both flow and form. There is no evidence he ever substituted, omitted, reversed or transposed his words, nor did he ever have trouble with complex formulae. Other symptoms of dyslexia, including trouble with abstract concepts and a difficulty summarizing thoughts, require little explanation. It should be noted that Sir Winston Churchill, another supposed sufferer, is described as “not dyslexic” and having “no learning disability whatsoever” by The Churchill Foundation (Source: http://www.winstonchurchill.org ). It is not that uncommon for dyslexics who have trained themselves to cope with their affliction, to develop uncannily efficient visual memories which aid in reading and comprehending large quantities of information much faster than is typical. Adversely, some dyslexics may show a natural dislike of reading and, in consequence, compensate by developing unique verbal communication skills, inter-personal expertise, and leadership skills. Different people adopt different strategies for living with the same affliction.

Hence many prominent corporate leaders list minor to severe dyslexia among their childhood disabilities. Those include Richard Branson (Virgin Enterprises), Henry Ford, Jay Leno, Ted Turner (AOL Time Warner), John Chambers (Cisco), and Charles Schwab (brokerage), as well as prominent statesmen: Winston Churchill, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, and successful actors: Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg and Keira Knightley.

The list above indicates that those who show reading difficulties in childhood can also cope well with their deficiency later in life and become avid readers and skilled writers. Research shows that intense training in dyslexics helps them use the right part of their brain to take over the limited functionality in the left part.

Physiology and treatment

Even a few weeks of intense phonological training (e.g. breaking down and rearranging sounds to produce different words) can help noticeably improve reading skills. Unlike in normal adults, phonological training shows an increase in the activity in the right temporoparietal cortex.

This part of the brain works in spatial tasks and may be the main compensatory structure in phonological training. This is the sister region of the left temporoparietal cortex responsible for visual motion processing which is underactive in many dyslexics. The earlier the phonological regimen is taken on, the better the overall result. Advanced brain scans could identify children at risk of dyslexia before they can even read, although it is thought that simple tests of balance could do the same. It has also been shown that early diagnosis and treatment can almost completly redidiate the symptoms of dyslexia.

One hypothesis for some of the phenomenological symptoms of dyslexia is a lack of overall short term memory. Typically a dyslexic will not remember your name, and will suffer an undue amount of difficulty in transcribing (for example) a phone number. These problems could be attributed to difficulty in laying down short term memories.

A popular hypothesis for the reading difficulties experienced by dyslexics is difficulty in bringing both eyes into focus on the same point. Such problems explain why dyslexics often confuse the sequence of written letters or numbers, as the end of the word is literally being seen first by one eye, then the beginning of the word is seen by the other eye. Studies involving a technique as simple as teaching reading skills to children with an eyepatch have shown very promising results, the theory being – reading is much more important for young children than being confocal is, so lets worry about that problem later.

In 1979, anatomical differences in the brain of a young dyslexic were documented. Albert Galaburda of Harvard Medical School noticed that language centers in dyslexic brains showed microscopic flaws known as ectopias and microgyria. Both affect the normal six-layer structure of the cortex. An ectopia is a collection of neurons that have pushed up from lower cortical layers into the outermost one. A microgyrus is an area of cortex that includes only four layers instead of six.

These flaws affect connectivity and functionality of the cortex in critical areas related to sound and visual processing. These and similar structural abnormalities may be the basis of the inevitable and hard to overcome difficulty in reading.

Several genetic regions on chromosomes 1 and 6 have been found that might be linked to dyslexia. In all likelihood, dyslexia is a conglomeration of disorders that all affect similar and associated areas of the cortex. With time, science is likely to identify and classify all individual suborders with benefits to our understanding of how low-level genetic flaws can affect the wiring of the brain and enhance or reduce a particular component of human mental capacity.

Some studies have concluded that speakers of languages whose orthography has a strong correspondence between letter and sound (e.g. Korean and Italian) have a much lower incidence of dyslexia than speakers of languages where the letter is less closely linked to the sound (e.g. English and French). (Source: http://www-tech.mit.edu/V121/N12/shorts2_12.12w.html )

Whether today’s models of dyslexia are correct or not, the main lesson of dyslexia is that minor genetic changes affecting the layering of the cortex in a minor area of the brain may impose inborn limitations on the overall intellectual function. At the same time, dyslexia shows that the brain exhibits a strong ability to compensate for its inborn or acquired limitations, and intense training can often result in miraculous turnabouts.

Lack of public support

In the United States and in the United Kingdom, some people say that there is a lack of adequate support and a general disinterest in the learning disabilites of children in public schools. This has recently lead to legal action by private parties against public schools in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

In English law, the failure of schools to diagnose and provide remedial help for dyslexia became grounds for personal injury litigation in 1999 following a House of Lords decision in the case of Pamela Phelps.

The British Disability Discrimination Act also covers dyslexia.

“In some cases, people have ‘coping strategies’ which cease to work in certain circumstances (for example, where someone who stutters or has dyslexia is placed under stress). If it is possible that a person’s ability to manage the effects of the impairment will break down so that these effects will sometimes occur, this possibility must be taken into account when assessing the effects of the impairment.” [Paragraph A8, Guidance to the Definitions of Disability]