By Ronald D. Davis with Eldon M. Braun
First Printed in The Dyslexic Reader. ©1995
Having been functionally illiterate for the first 38 years of my life, and having overcome the problem sufficiently to write a book and read it onto tape, here is what I've found out: dyslexia is not the result of brain damage or nerve damage. Nor is it caused by a malformation of the brain, inner ear or eyeballs. It is the product of a special mode of thought and a natural reaction to confusion.
Before the invention of written language, dyslexia didn't exist. People with the gift of dyslexia were probably the custodians of oral history because of their excellent ability to memorize and transmit the spoken word.
Dyslexics inherently perceive more and formulate mental concepts faster than other people. They excel in the arts, architecture, engineering, strategy and invention. They can perceive imagination as reality. This form of intuitive thought is the foundation of genius. It is a nonverbal mode of thinking, so it can cause difficulty in learning written language. Literacy problems are often compounded during the first few years of school. Our educational system relies mainly on reading and writing to convey information and measure achievement, so dyslexics are often seen as having low intelligence.
This is really a disability of our language and the educational process. From my experience in working with more than 1,000 dyslexics, this is how the syndrome develops during childhood.
Restoring a person's self-esteem is truly the most important part of undoing dyslexia and other learning problems, including ADD and hyperactivity. The procedures described in The Gift of Dyslexia generally enable a "learning disabled" person to gain basic literacy skills during a 30-hour program. After a few months of part-time home tutoring, most can read, write and study normally. Unlearning the lesson that they are stupid is the most valuable result of the training.
How can we prevent children from losing their self-esteem? As my colleague Dr. Ali has said, erase words like "dumb," "stupid" and "challenged" from your vocabulary. Never criticize them for mistakes or imply something is wrong with them. Gain an understanding of how dyslexics think and emphasize their strong points. Find appropriate methods to help them learn to read, write and study. Remember that some bright kids aren't ready to start reading until they're eight or nine. They will catch up faster without the burden of self-doubt.
In tutoring kids, treat symbols and words as games or puzzles to be solved. Make language fun. This is covered in Chapters 28 and 29 of The Gift of Dyslexia.
Language skills are dandy, but there is much to be said for real life skills and experiential learning. Give dyslexics credit for these abilities, and you may discover that their "learning disability" is really genius in disguise—or at least a high level of intelligence and ability, which they had since the day they were born.