The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain is written by Brock L. and Fernette F. Eide. London: Hay House, 2011.
As the title suggests, Drs Brock and Fernette Eide’s main concern in this book is to examine dyslexic people in terms of what makes them distinctive, capable and unique, as opposed to looking at their limits, deficits and general helplessness. For that reason alone, I feel that there is cause to celebrate this book.
Thinking about dyslexia in the context of what is possible is an innovation. One need not do too much reading around on the subject to discover the fog of negativity that has always surrounded dyslexia research. Traditionally, it is seen as a learning disability which has no hope for change. Conversely, this book seeks to explain the two sides to every coin. In fact if anything it is obsessed with finding polar opposites: dyslexic vs. non-dyslexic; big picture thinking vs. fine detail processing; episodic vs. semantic memory…I could go on.
One of the most interesting oppositions they look at has to do with the neurological make-up of those on the autism spectrum and those with dyslexia. Alongside detailed analysis using a combination of trials and MRI scans, the writers discuss the fact that: “the make-up and circuitry of the cells in the cortex shows that they are almost polar opposite” (pg. 41). To use their analogy; someone with autism cannot see the wood for the trees. On the other hand, a person with dyslexia can see or intricately imagine the forest as an interconnected whole.
What makes this interesting is that it forces us to think about dyslexia in terms of what causes it, and the fact that in most cases, the cause is rooted in a person’s visual strengths. This is something we have also found to be true in our work with children.
Eide & Eide draw on case studies extensively to provide evidence that being a big-picture thinker can lead to great success, in spite of the unresolved difficulties such people faced with their reading and writing as children. I’m sure a person who has been told they are dyslexic would be proud to discover that: “The percentage of dyslexic professionals in fields such as engineering, art and entrepreneurship is over twice the percentage of the dyslexic individuals in the general population” (pg. 5).
However, something crucial being ignored here is the fact that although there are many success stories associated with dyslexic individuals, there are thousands more that aren’t. The on-going stress and trauma that comes from never learning to read with confidence dominates many lives, and can lead to unemployment, anti-social behavior and emotional problems.
To say that dyslexia offers ‘advantages’ might be too strong a word in my view. There is clearly a value in examining what has lead a person to sight read and not decode, and a synthetic phonics approach can usefully draw on those skills in redirecting the reading pathway. However, we cannot deny that the crippling disadvantages for a child that never learns to read far outweigh the compensations.
The brain is an amazing thing, and there is some fantastic detail in this book about what makes us tick, and how different we all are in our own ways.
Having said that, there is another issue with the Eides’ characterization of dyslexics apart from the obvious dangers of ignoring disadvantages. I do feel there is a danger in separating the population into two opposing camps: ‘dyslexic’ or ‘non-dyslexic’. Aptitude for map-reading, the ability to view concepts and solutions in a three dimensional way, and creative innovation are attributes not exclusively and entirely possessed by people who are dyslexic. A person whose difficulty with reading cannot be explained by their intelligence might be more likely to display these skills, but everyone is unique.
Furthermore, in spite of their positive outlook on the topic, even these writers cannot deny that unless symptoms of reading and writing difficulty are dealt with, preferably at a young age, a child will not outgrow their difficulties. Therefore, no matter their additional strengths and skills, living in our highly literate modern world can be very difficult indeed.
With that in mind, my feeling is that this book is less about the advantages of being dyslexic, and more about the wonderful diversity within every human mind. When viewed within this broader remit, this is a highly interesting and enjoyable read.
Of course you will know that with Easyread we are entirely focused on ways to make learning to read possible, and even easy, for dyslexics. So then someone with the potential to be dyslexic can have all the advantages with no disadvantage!
Laura O’Sullivan is a Program Coach and the UK Office Manager for Oxford Learning Solutions, publisher of the Easyread System. Find out more about Easyread and how it has been helping dyslexics fix their reading problems for over a decade at www.easyreadsystem.com