Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Different Look at Dyslexia

I wanted to blog today about dyslexia and the fact that when you're talking to someone about dyslexia it is almost necessary for each person to discuss what their concept of dyslexia is before you start. It is very easy when talking about dyslexia to assume that the person you're talking to has the same understanding about dyslexia as you do. This is often not the case.

This isn't meant to be a serious formal discussion about dyslexia but rather an acknowledgment that when you hear that somebody is dyslexic what that means depends a lot upon who says it.
There seems to be a general confusion about dyslexia and its cause. Partly the confusion is caused because of a lack of vocabulary that differentiates dyslexics by their symptoms and partly it is because dyslexia is often written about as if the latest finding applies to all dyslexics and all prior information about dyslexia is now null and void.

Cultural anthropologists and psychologists have both written about how cultures and individuals who lack words for a particular idea or concept act as if they do not exist. Cultures that lack the word for war never get large amounts of people together to fight other large amounts of people. Dyslexics have individual problems that need to be treated in an individualistic way. Thinking of dyslexia as a single condition with a single cause leads to a belief that a particular intervention should benefit all dyslexics. This does not seem to fit the available data.

In much the same way people of the Arctic have many words that differentiate types of snow and use that information for travel, hunting and other uses, dyslexia needs to be broken down into defined subgroups that lead to different effective interventions based on those subgroups.

A numerical scale for ranking the severity of impairment for each subgroup would also be useful as it appears the severity of dyslexic symptoms vary for any individual and may require a combination of interventions for that individual.

In an overly simplified analogy to fertilizers where 3 numbers indicate the amount of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in order, such as 23-8-14 or 2-12-10, and the gardener knows which fertilizer ( intervention) to use for a particular plant problem I propose a similar system for dyslexics.

A 0-10 scale could be used where 0 indicates no effect on reading ability and 10 indicates the most severe effect on reading ability.

The order of the numbers would be:

1) processing problems ( treated perhaps by multi-sensory instruction) let us call this Brain Structure Induced Dyslexia.

2) auditory problems ( treated perhaps by phonics instruction) let us call this Hearing Induced Dyslexia

3) visual problems ( corrected by See Right Dyslexia Glasses ) let us call this Visual Dyslexia

In my analogy a dyslexic that was evaluated as 8-5-1 would likely benefit most from processing intervention followed by auditory intervention. This dyslexic would also be able to understand that 1 type of program very well might not be all he or she needs.

A dyslexic evaluated as 1-2-8 might only need visual correction.

I find the idea that there is one answer for all dyslexics to be hype and believe that all the evidence shows that there are many different types of dyslexia that respond to different interventions. I would argue that a primary step in dyslexia research is missing that doesn't evaluate a dyslexic's problems as they relate to different interventions.

Others might suggest that other categories or subcategories need to be included also. I have no problem with that. It does seem fair to include brain, eyes and ears as possible sources of dyslexia symptoms at the minimum based on information available today.

For those who take issue with giving a numerical value to impairments I would like to suggest that eventually those numbers would likely be able to be correlated to success with their associated interventions.