The Dyslexic Brain

The Dyslexic Brain

Dyslexia is a learning disability, but new research suggests there might also be benefits: Challenges and possible advantages of the dyslexic brain.

For kids with dyslexia, learning to read can be tough going. The disorder afflicts an estimated 15% of Americans. Dyslexics typically have trouble associating letters with sounds and words. Many learn to work around the challenge, but there’s an intriguing new twist: some who work with dyslexics believe that the disability may also confer certain advantages. Specifically, anecdotal evidence suggests that dyslexics have sharper peripheral and three dimensional vision. Please join us to talk about the special challenges and possible advantages for people with dyslexia.


Dr. Brock Eide

clinician and co-author with Dr. Fernette Eide of "The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain"

Laura Kaloi

National Center for Learning Disabilities

Jeffrey Gilger

professor, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts
University of California, Merced

Guinevere Eden

director, Center for the Study of Learning
professor, Department of Pediatrics
Georgetown University Medical Center

Program Highlights

People with dyslexia often have trouble reading, spelling and other academic skills, challenges that can be clear disadvantages. But Doctors Brock and Fernette Eide argue dyslexics often have particular abilities as well. Their new book on the subject is titled "The Dyslexic Advantage."

What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that affects an individual's ability to read, write, and spell, as well as other activities that require our brain to process information. It affects nearly 2 million school age children in public schools in the U.S. It's estimated that up to 15 million people, including adults, are dyslexic. There are sometimes some very early warning signs that a child may be developing dyslexia, like when a toddler isn't gaining early speaking skills at the appropriate rate, Kaloi said. Intensive early intervention could help a child gain the speaking skills they need.

Is Dyslexia Heritable?

There are micro differences in the brains of dyslexic people, Eden said, and it is now known it is a heritable disorder. This doesn't mean that the environment isn't also important, Gilger said. But in families where any one individual has dyslexia, the odds that it will appear again in that family go up anywhere from four to ten times over the base rate, Gilger said. Researchers are beginning to be able to identify some of the genes that might be involved.

Advantages To The Dyslexic Brain

Eide and colleagues found four basic advantages that dyslexic people have in common, and they use the acronym "MIND" to represent them. "M" is for material, or spatial, reasoning; "I" is for interconnected reasoning, which allows the ability to see connections between objects and concepts and to fit these into a big picture; "N" stands for "narrative reasoning," the tendency to understand factual information as cases or examples rather than in the abstract; and "D" stands for "dynamic reasoning," or the ability to use remembered information to make predictions about processes that change over time. Kaloi believes that teachers need more resources to help them harness some of these strengths in dyslexic students. The dropout rate among dyslexics, she said, is currently about 20 percent.

A Caller's Perspective: "It's Not That You Can't Learn. You Just Learn Differently"

A caller named Ben talked about his own experiences as a dyslexic and said that people often think of dyslexia as a problem where people "reverse their letters." "It's not just about reversing letters. It's really about the acquisition of reading, which is something we created," he said. Kaloi responded by emphasizing again that teachers need to develop a better understanding of how dyslexic students learn. "You don't do what we call 'drill and kill' with kids with dyslexia," she said, "where they just get the worksheets and the same stuff over and over....we have to have a different approach for these students and how they learn," she said.

You can read the full transcript here.

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