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Can Dyslexia be Cured?

Why such a Common Learning Difficulty has NO Immediate Cure.

21 December, 2015 THOMAS MULLALLY


FEW truly common learning disabilities receive as little attention as dyslexia. More commonly asked surprisingly when dyslexia is brought up in conversation is the question can dyslexia be cured? As opposed to what are the benefits of having it? For many years, and still today, dyslexia is seen as some sort of mystical learning impediment and very few actually understand it. What would you say if I were to ask “what do these people have in common?” (Sir Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Jamie Oliver and Kerry Stokes) Your response would probably be something along the lines of “they are all great business people in their respective fields”. AND, you would be correct. BUT, would you be surprised to know that they are all dyslexic too? Folklore has it that dyslexics will struggle to achieve. Though in actual fact dyslexics in all manner of fields; business, sport, acting, politics, they are celebrated for their triumphs.

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Surely the query can dyslexia be cured, common across the world, now seems strange if not absurd. In some ways the common attitude toward dyslexia has become the mirror image of the 20th century attitude to left-handedness. A time where being left-handed was considered a strange abnormality and was an annoyance to teachers and parents. But when Henry Ford started rolling cars off the assembly line on December 1, 1913, subsequently changing the industry, no one said that his dyslexic mind had to be changed. In actual fact it was because of how Ford structured his thoughts with his dyslexia that he was able to create such an industry changing machine.

So how common is dyslexia today? US statistics show evidence that it effects up to 15% of the population. Taking Australia alone for instance, that would mean that there are up to 3.5 million people with ‘the problem’. You would think then that someone by now would have come up with a magic pill that would solve all their ailments. But alas no. There is no pill, and there is no ‘cure’. The truth is… why would you want there to be one?

It is clear that there is so little understanding around the world, in proportion to its prevalence, about what dyslexia actually is and what having it actually is like. There are even those who take it upon themselves to preach the belief that /and it pains me to put this into text but here goes…/ dyslexia is a myth and some people are just born stupid who can’t learn… that dyslexia was made up so that parents would feel better about their dumb kids… /Let’s not name names Professor Joe Elliott!!/ Well, speaking for those ‘dumb kids’ (myself being dyslexic) I would say that yes, dyslexia is when someone finds it difficult to learn in the modern day classroom. But rather than giving up on teaching dyslexics and writing them off as ‘dumb’, why not try a different approach that works? The simple fact is for teachers a different approach to teaching some kids in the class, the 15%, as opposed to the other 75%, is considered a lot harder to do. Which translated means… more work! Perish the thought.

To the lay man, it would seem that there is no ‘one size fits all policy’ to learning. But in actual fact how we educate children is indeed that. Little wonder then why people ask can dyslexia be cured because these kids are failing to even get the opportunity to learn. “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” – Ignacio Estrada, Director of Grants at the Gordon & Betty More Foundation bestows a pearl of wisdom upon us which we now can recognise as differentiation. As the common saying goes ‘the world would be a very boring place if we were all the same’, and so it would. It would also probably be centuries behind without the likes of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, just a few more ‘dumb kids’.

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Leaving the cookie cutter educationalists who refuse to comprehend the slightest deviation from the rule aside, there are some very good teachers out there. These are the ones who exude authority, their less talented colleagues resort to totalitarianism, and rely on their own ability to tailor their own teaching style to the learning needs of the class. Otherwise known in the playground as the good teacher at school. Funny that these are the same teachers who quite often are the ones whose students achieve far better results.

So what of the popular image of the dyslexic child dumb and lost at the back of the classroom staring out the window. What do you do with them? Well let’s first try to understand what dyslexia ACTUALLY is. Dyslexia is not an illness or a disease. Nor is it something that comes and goes. Dyslexia is a cognitive setup. That is, the way the brain is wired. (Ever heard of the term ‘some people are just wired differently’?) As it relates to how the brain is wired there is simply no ‘cure’, like there is no cure for left-handedness. Dyslexics today have less to fear when thrust into the big bad world than they do in the classroom.

Since most people before the 19th century hardly went to school at all, the average dyslexic lived a relatively un-trampled dyslexic life in a town, farm or factory. The change for dyslexics has only come about with the flourishing of modern psychology and its notion that nature could, and would, take a back seat to nurture. A child’s mind became a clean slate, not an unassailable given, and could be shaped and moulded to suit. There became the concept of normality with the ugly premise that minds could be shaped, and they could be shaped well or poorly with respect to this ‘norm’. The blossoming of abnormality – undesirable by definition – could then be resolved, with respect to the greatest common denominator – the norm. Dyslexia then became an illness that needed curing.

In reality, dyslexics just learn differently. If you were to teach me how to use a hammer, the best way to do it would be to show me its function and its operation – experiential learning. The classroom of today though has become lazy in how children are taught. The emphasis today is for me to read a book on hammers teaching me how to use them and for me to ask questions that may come to me like an epiphany from reading the text.

The painful experience of being taught to read using phonics in the classroom, for many dyslexics, has left deep scars. Even for me a near two decades later. The notion we, dyslexics are the ‘special’, people who quite often can be found roaming the school corridors aimlessly looking for the special ed classroom, has left us with the unwillingness to even try to learn. Constant failure to conform leaves us knowing that we are dumb and stupid with little hope for a future, reminded of that fact by our peers when asked to read out aloud in class. To us the classroom has become a dismal place without mercy. Our shortcomings are noted and put up for show. Our willingness to try all but abandoned.

Or is it?

Dyslexics cannot be cured of dyslexia – we know this. But they are able to be taught, and they are able to learn. You just have to teach them using a style that suits them and remarkably, they do learn and they do just become like another normal kid. While it’s true that education has become a better place for most over the past few decades, ignorance still abounds among them – researchers, mostly word thinkers, who imagine problems in dyslexics where there are none; educationalists who keep pushing the common failings of dyslexics; teachers who remain ignorant of how to instruct dyslexics correctly in reading and writing; and those who still try to pressure little dyslexics into the ‘right’ way of learning.

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