The Gift of Dyslexia


Ronald D Davis


Souvenir Press






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There are numerous books on the subject of dyslexia, but relatively few that have been written by people who are dyslexic themselves. What makes this book special therefore is that the subject is seen through the eyes of a dyslexic and that the author is able to describe the techniques that they developed to help themselves, and that he now uses to help others.

Dyslexia is commonly understood to be difficulty with reading and writing. For this reason it is seen by many as a disability as these skills are considered essential and 'normal' in our society. Davis, rightly in my opinion, takes a different view. In his opinion dyslexic are not 'slow' or 'disabled', they simply have developed a different set of talents to non-dyslexic people. To illustrate the point Davis refers to a time when he was asked by an interviewer to describe the positive side of dyslexia. As part of his answer he listed the names of several famous and successful people who are dyslexic, people such as Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Walt Disney. The Interviewer replied "isn't it amazing that all those people could be geniuses in spite of having dyslexia". As Davis points out, she completely missed the point. Their genius did not occur despite their dyslexia, it was because of it!

The key gift of dyslexia is the ability to alter and create perceptions. In effect, to distort the information presented to the brain by our senses. To explain this Davis uses the concept of 'the Mind's Eye'. He points out that the brain does not see by simply looking through the eyes as though they were windows on the world, we see by taking the visual information into a form of 'visual buffer' where the visual images are combined with our own mental images. This is why two people can see the same thing but interpret the information in different ways. When we recall memories that are stored as mental images, they too are sent to the 'visual buffer' for processing, which is why we can have vivid dreams even though our eyes are closed.

For dyslexic people this visual dexterity is greatly enhanced to the point where they think in pictures and are able to mentally manipulate images within their mind's eye. The reason that this causes a problem in areas such as reading is because this requires a form of linear and sequential processing of information that dyslexic people are not so good at. Because they think in pictures words such as the, and, because, cause confusion as there is no visual image associated with them. Words such as dog, tractor or house are less problematic as the person can form a mental association between the word and an associated image. The problems for dyslexic people occur therefore when their visual thinking process hits a stumbling block. This causes disorientation as their brains work overtime to try to make sense of the situation. The result is that they get stuck, stressed and may even experience dizziness, blurred vision and nausea.

On the positive side, thinking in images is vastly quicker than the more structured form of narrative thinking practiced by most people. Davis points out that if you speed up a recording of someone speaking the fastest it can go before we lose the ability to comprehend it is about 250 words per minute - which is faster than any of us can speak. However experts believe that thinking in images is anything from 200 to 2,000 times quicker. This explains why a dyslexic person may struggle to read a short text but can spatially analyse a situation vastly quicker than a non-dyslexic person. It may also go some way to explaining why many dyslexic people have excelled as scientists, artists and engineers as these are subjects that require strong spatial skills but where the linear skills of reading and writing are less important.

As a result of his own experiences Davis established the Davis Dyslexia Association International (DDAI) to assist other dyslexic people. In the last part of this book he provides an insight into the work of the DDAI with instructions in the techniques they adopt for teachers, tutors and coaches who are working with dyslexic people.

I enjoyed reading The Gift of Dyslexia and I would happily recommend it anyone who wants to better understand the condition. However, I would also add a cautionary note. This is one man's story of how he learned to deal with the condition and how he has then managed to help other people. This does not mean that the type of dyslexia he experienced or that he has proved successful in treating is necessarily suitable for everyone. I also feel that that to describe dyslexia as a 'gift' is overstating the point. In my experience, most strengths carry with them commensurate weaknesses and in this regard dyslexia is no different to any other condition.