Sunday, February 5th, 2012
This article from Sunday’s NYTimes, is I think, a continuation of a fascinating argument as to whether the learning disability called dyslexia is also a learning style that has built-in skills and attributes.
I’ve heard many times over, some well-argued points against this notion that dyslexia carries its own set of built in, hard-wired talents. Richard Wanderman, founder of this site and my good friend, can always be counted on to dismiss the notion and point out that people develop talents based on how much they work at it. I may be oversimplifying his and others’ similar points of view on this, but I think it’s close. Proponents argue that such things as “three-dimensional thinking’ for example, are often skill-sets that people with dyslexia possess.
Others claim this is nonsense; that there’s no way to categorize all dyslexics as having a consistent set of benefits or associated neurologically-based strengths.
For me, as is my nature, I think the truth lies more towards the middle. While it’s true that not all people with dyslexia have the same profile of weaknesses, there are general things we know about what’s hard for them, and can see them both operationally (in the real world), and neurologically (through testing and brain imagery). By the same token, while we can’t claim that all dyslexics are “holistic thinkers” or artists, or creative, etc.; if I had a dime for every dyslexic kid who I test or work with, that was a phenomenal “Lego” kid or builder of some kind, I’d be a rich guy. The persistence of the conversation that dyslexics have certain visual skills does not in itself mean that it’s likely to be true, but research such as discussed in this NY Times article, is finally specifying specific attributes that may in fact be true.
Intriguing evidence that those with dyslexia process information from the visual periphery more quickly also comes from the study of â€œimpossible figures,â€ like those sketched by the artist M. C. Escher. A focus on just one element of his complicated drawings can lead the viewer to believe that the picture represents a plausible physical arrangement.
Of course, all styles of information processing have, hopefully, by their very nature, strengths that are very real. But, having inherent strengths that we may be born with, doesn’t mean the old axiom “use it or lose it. isn’t true.” It also doesn’t mean that you can’t develop skills that you just weren’t born with. I sometimes describe myself a mechanical dyslexic in presentations, to make a certain humorous point, but that doesn’t mean that with enough focus, and enough persevering through mistakes, aka the learning curve, that I didn’t put together a very tough outdoor basketball stand and hoop when my kids were going up.
Genetic tendencies, potential talents and weaknesses, all need fertile and supportive environments to gain traction, and bloom, or become somehow less impactful, in the case of weaknesses. Being sleuths or detectives for strengths in children is as important as being clear about their problems.
In the second study, Mr. Schneps deliberately blurred a set of photographs, reducing high-frequency detail in a manner that made them resemble astronomical images. He then presented these pictures to groups of dyslexic and nondyslexic undergraduates. The students with dyslexia were able to learn and make use of the information in the images, while the typical readers failed to catch on.
Know any photographers who are dyslexic?