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The Flip Side

Dyslexic Processing

We have long known about the difficulties associated with dyslexia. Because this condition was first diagnosed as a disorder, however, we have paid less attention to the benefits also associated with it. That is beginning to change.

In their acclaimed book, The Dyslexic Advantage, Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide advocate seeing dyslexia not as a disorder, but as a learning or processing style. Research has accumulated to show that dyslexics tend to have significant strengths in concept formation, critical thinking, vocabulary, and three-dimensional spatial reasoning. They also have strong perceptive abilities for relationships and subtle patterns.

Recent research from eminent neuropathologist Dr. Manuel Casanova is beginning to reveal how dyslexic brains work the way they do. Think of the neurons in our brains as stacking vertically to form a series of tiny telephone poles. Imagine that nerve fibers, called axons, link one telephone pole to another. In brains that easily execute detailed, sequential tasks, the telephone poles are close together, connected step-by-step by short lines. In dyslexics the lines traverse greater distances, connecting information from many different areas. This explains why dyslexics have difficulty learning by rote sequence in areas such as reading, spelling, math facts, fact retrieval, and handwriting. It also explains why dyslexic brains see connections that others might miss.

The dyslexic brain's gift for recombining elements into a new and different whole is undeniably integral to society. Perhaps this is why the incidence of dyslexia among U.S. entrepreneurs is three times that of the general population. We must wonder whether dyslexia is a processing mode critical to society at large, ensuring in yet one more way, the propagation of our species. So perhaps, like two sides of a coin, a dyslexic processor and a non-dyslexic processor are both necessary in society to maximize our potentials in the broadest way possible.

Having previously worked as a classroom teacher for fifteen years and now as an educational consultant for ten years, I've encountered many young people with dyslexia and witnessed the intrinsic value of their unique brain wiring. It is exciting to see how the latest research supports educational strategies that serve the strengths, as well as the challenges, of dyslexic students. As Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a pioneer in the field of dyslexia, said so clearly, "Dyslexia is a learning disability, not a thinking disability, and in the world, thinking is prized over learning."

Audrey Noyes Ludemann helps families seek independent school education, ranging from day schools to boarding schools and from elementary to secondary grades. She also is an invaluable resource for planning across different learning styles—serving families whose students are gifted and/or have moderate learning differences. She can be reached