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Understanding Dyslexia/Dyslecsia by Lynn Matthews

Updated: Jan 30

As an adult with dyslexia, the most important thing I have learned is that rather than try learning (and living) in a way that plays to other people’s strengths, understanding and accepting that I have a unique learning style (way of thinking and view of the world) has enabled me to manage my dyslexia positively, take control and learn in ways that are most effective for me.


In this blog spot, I hope to help raise awareness and normalise conversations about dyslexia and other neurodivergent conditions.

Neuro Family Terms

The term "Neurodiversity" is relatively new and is used to explain the unique ways people's brains work. Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many ways and that while everyone's brain develops similarly, no two brains function just alike. Being neurodivergent means having a brain that works differently from the average or “neurotypical” person, and encompasses all specific learning difficulties (SpLD), many of which co-occur or overlap.


Dyslexia is a neurodivergent condition characterised by a combination of strengths and weaknesses. Dyslexia predominately affects the skills involved in processing information, (receiving, holding, retrieving, and structuring information). It therefore impacts skills such as reading, writing, using symbols and musical notation, which in turn impacts learning throughout our lives in educational settings, workplaces, and all other aspects of life.


Information Processing


We all absorb information from the world around us and process it. Working memory is used when small amounts of this information are held temporarily in the mind used to perform a task.  To understand and retain information, it must be moved from a working- to long-term-memory store.  However, for people with dyslexia, the process of moving new information from the working- to long-term memory store holds many challenges.


I have spoken with other dyslexic people who agree that learning in a group/classroom is challenging, even online. If you are a parent of a dyslexic child, here are some things about your child's day - it can take 3 times longer for a person with dyslexia to process new information, they may not be able to take notes of new information/instructions when it's written on whiteboard/ presentation, and probably will not remember what their teacher instructed them to do. So, don't take it personally when they say they can't remember what they "learned at school" today. Your child will recall something about the day, so move the conversation along to what they remember - find out what was special about that situation that helped them learn, and allow a couple of days to process the subject information. Trust me, I remember the most random facts from my school days for no other reason than the teacher taught me in a way that was different enough to make it memorable. You'd also benefit from developing a good relationship with your child's teacher and asking them what is important to learn.



The working memory becomes overloaded when bombarded with new information. We are all familiar with the term information overload. For a person with dyslexia, information overload can lead to vital information being 'lost', and at worst, when repeatedly placed in the situation, can bring feelings of stress, anxiety, avoidance, and the worst-case trauma.


Metacognition means being aware of your thought processes. It is important as it enables us to monitor our comprehension levels and to apply lessons learned from one task to new problems and contexts. People with dyslexia tend to be less aware of their thought processes than others. For example, a commonality between my daughter and myself (both dyslexic) is that we can instantly see a solution to a problem without recognising the steps involved, which can either be a weakness or a strength depending on the situation.


Dyslexic thinking is an approach to problem-solving, assessing information, and learning. Current research has shown that dyslexic thinkers have the exact skills needed for the workplace of today, including:


  • Leadership and social influence

  • Creativity

  • Complex problem-solving

  • Analytical thinking

  • Emotional intelligence


A recognised strength of dyslexic thinking is creativity and inventiveness, and the capacity to think outside of the "box" and see a solution before other people.


When looking through the lens of the information process model, and applying it to my own experience, I'd say that my brain quickly processes new information straight to long-term memory where it is recalled as "knowledge".


It's like the "Go straight to jail and do not pass Go" card in Monopoly. The difference is that in Monopoly, other players follow the same instructions of how you arrive “in jail”, so don’t ask questions about how you got there.


With the dyslexic brain, it just is the right answer, and it will confuse everyone to try to navigate the winding path that leads to how the answer was arrived at, or worse still can cause deep-rooted mental health problems by trying to force that creative lateral thinker to follow linear instructions or explain their methodology.


A perfect example of this is maths, where your dyslexic child just knows the answer, but then gets told they need to show their working out. It makes children think they cannot do maths when what they cannot do is show how they got to the answer.


These challenges are why so many dyslexic children’s behaviour changes when they start school. Dyslexia is not a measure of intelligence, and children are not stupid. They realise they are different, and things are not working for them. Because of the stress and anxiety created, they withdraw, daydream, doodle or become disruptive.


Think Einstein, school and maths. The 3 did not go together.


Today, with more inclusive classrooms dyslexia does not need to be a barrier. Personally, to learn I need to see the whole picture and have no qualms about using text-to-speech to read through all written work.


Many people do not get assessed for dyslexia until they are in further or higher education - as they realise that what was working for them, is not anymore. Others still are unaware of the challenges they face with dyslexia until they have children themselves.


It is therefore important for:


1.      dyslexics (at all ages) to understand their differences and to be encouraged to develop meta-cognitive skills by reflecting on how they approach a task, considering what went well/less well, and reflecting on how they learn best.

2.      educators (including parents) to understand and appreciate that learning is personal, not all brains are typical and that some teaching and learning methods create negative environments.

3.      employers (and workplaces) to nurture Dyslexic Thinking.


What to do if you are a concerned parent:

If you are a parent who is concerned about your child's speech and language development, speak to your GP or health visitor. If you think your child may be dyslexic, discuss your concerns with the school Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo). Early help is vital to reduce the chance of loss of confidence and low self-esteem. A child can only be diagnosed with dyslexia through a Diagnostic Assessment but these are usually only carried out from 7 years old.


Learning more:

If you would like to learn more about dyslexia and Dyslexic Thinking.


Free Informal Dyslexia Screening Assessment (not a diagnosis)

Free online Dyslexia Screening Davis Dyslexia Association International Free, secure and confidential informal screening assessment will give a profile of learning strengths and weaknesses, including a measure of severity of symptoms - https://www.testdyslexia.com/


Learning

1.      Neurodiversity: What is it and what does it look like across races – Open University OpenLearn https://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/mental-health/neurodiversity-what-it-and-what-does-it-look-across-races

2.      Diversity and Inclusion in the Work Place – Open University OpenLearn - https://www.open.edu/openlearn/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=135521&section=5

4. Dyslexia Thinking Skills test https://www.madebydyslexia.org/quiz/


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