February 6, 2012

Dyslexia — "a bias in favor of the visual periphery" — is also an aptitude at grasping the whole picture quickly.

Whatever special abilities dyslexia may bestow, difficulty with reading still imposes a handicap. Glib talk about appreciating dyslexia as a “gift” is unhelpful at best and patronizing at worst.
So then... the expression "differently abled" can only be used patronizingly. Because if you really meant it, that would be patronizing!

An amazing paradox!


tim maguire said...

I think it's patronizing because nobody really believes it. It's a fiction we're supposed tovplay along with so the fragile egos of our relatives, the children of a lesser god, don't have their poor feelings hurt.

Nathan Alexander said...

Someone's got to say it:

The dyslexic atheist:
"There is no dog"

Dan in Philly said...

How about the dyslexic meglomaniac, who stove for a new word order?

ricpic said...

I often see pictures out of the corner of my eye (this happens especially when driving) much more clearly, in more detail and more lastingly (they stay in my mind's eye) than the stuff right in front of my face. Not sure if this relates or how it relates to dyslexia, since I've never been dyslexic.

Scott M said...

Tim nails it right off the bat. Aside from the linguistic tyranny that political correctness imposes upon us, it gums up the gears of truth, causing paper jams all over our shared discourse.

Unfortunately, I don't even think turning the machine off, waiting thirty or so second, then turning it back on will fix the problem.

Peter said...

This is either bad science or very bad reporting.

They found a correlation between those who can "rapidly take in a scene as a whole"-- the "visual gist" and dyslexia.

The ability to do this is ... an ability. Dyslexia is a (mild) disability.

There seems to be a correlation. But (as the Times writer should know) that does not mean that one causes the other, or even that both have a common cause.

DADvocate said...

ricpic - this has to do with the structure of the retina and the sensitivity to light of the rods and cones. Rods are more sensitive to light and they are in greater numbers in the areas of the eyes that pick up peripheral objects. Cones see color and most see the areas in front of you. This is why you, and I, sometimes see something out of the corner of your eye and when you turn to look at it, you can no longer see it. Obviously, this happens more often in low light situations.

Amexpat said...

Their r a lot of reely smart peepel with dsylexia. I no, I'm won of them.

sydney said...

Dadvocate beat me to it, but the ability to see better out of the periphery of your eye is a matter of physiology. Sometimes as we age, the center of our visual field becomes less responsive. Now in middle age, when I look at the night sky, I can only see the Plaeides out of the corner of my eye.

DADvocate said...

ricpic - I hadn't read the article when I made my first comment. Now, I'm curious if there's a difference in the distribution of rods and cones in the eye of a dyslexic vs a non-dyslixic.

ricpic said...

Thanks, DADvocate and sydney.

Original Mike said...

Political correctness. The only way to win the game is to decline to play.

DADvocate said...

Reading the article makes me curious if athletes, especially football and basketball players have a higher rate of dyslexia than the average popultion. Having sharper peripheral vision translates into "seeing the field" in football and "court presence" in basketball, both a distinct advantage to a player. The percentages of dyslexia in NBA, NFL and college level players would be interesting.

rhhardin said...

ordre, as the French say.

Hagar said...

Drafters used to dislike me because I could walk by their tables and catch misspellings on their drawings out of the corner of my eye without intentionally looking or thinking about it.

How does that match with the article?

ErnieG said...

Having dyslexia can have its dangers, too. Recall the unfortunate naturalist who brought a knife to a gnu fight.

edutcher said...

Mother Nature does have a way of compensating, doesn't she?

Dust Bunny Queen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dust Bunny Queen said...

Big news discovered by the NY Times:

We are all different

(cue Monty Python)

Bruce Hayden said...

Add me to those proving coincidence, and not correlation, or anecdotal evidence here. And, maybe it is because dyslexics don't learn as quickly the way the rest of us do. But, the dyslexics I have known in my life truly have been differently abled - for example, being able to watch a complicated mechanical operation once, and then being able to reproduce it the first time, or being a high school state athletic champion.

I really do believe that this is one of those places where some people learn in one way, and others in another, and we, as a society, have determined that only the one that many of us can utilize well (book learning) is legitimate. Most of the dyslexics whom I have known have suffered in school, and then did just fine when they went their own way.

What may be interesting is to see how new modes of learning may help. For example, online learning may make audible, instead of visual, learning more easily possible.

traditionalguy said...

This "discovery" is an old truth about some people that I have known well.

I believe that it is a brain processing of data issue.

The super fast ones seem to remember every detail in a room full of activity that they glanced at briefly. This skill would require a faster CPU in their brain.

It is correlated with their failure to focus on word order. They see written words scrambled and often put them in at the wrong places in their own sentences. Concentration on words is hard for them, but they can learn to overcome that.

Since GBS wrote Pygmalion about Professor Higgins' fair dyslexic lady's trouble with words, the educated folks should know better than to still call dyslexics handicapped...Liza ended up with a victory over the higher classed wordsmiths once she added their skill to hers.

Carol_Herman said...

Reading, today, for me, is a piece of cake. Learning to read, however, was extremely difficult, because I reversed word flow.

I could stop my mom in her tracks, when she'd had me a "reader." And, I'd read: DICK WAS JANE. And, those reversals made sense to me. (Back then.)

I fell in love with reading.

Where the dyslexia shows up, however, is in the difficulties I have with numbers. Can't remember a sequence of numbers for beans. And, I wasn't encouraged, as a kid, to play with numbers. (The way reading took hold as soon as I opened Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.) I loved those stories so much ... I went up on my dad's work table ... and finding a comfortable bolt of fabric to lean into ... read to him out loud.

Now, tell me what you can do with numbers that's really interesting? Memorizing the multiplication tables? I could never do it well. And, doing fractions? Or percentages?

Carol_Herman said...

Heck, even for cooking stuff ... which does involve math ... I thought the best instruction belonged to Mimi Sheradan. Who wrote the food page years ago, for the NY Times.

She wanted to include some of her mom's recipes. But her mom worked instinctively. So, Mimi followed her around the kitchen, while she prepared food. And,she tried to weigh everything.

OOPS. In goes some water into a cake batter. So Mimi asks her mom "who much water did you just put in?" And, her mom responds, "About a mouthful."

Pogo said...

Alertness to the periphery of vision is a key to survival, via the threat surveillance mode within our flight-or-flight response, thereby telling us if something is coming at us from the side.

Seeing the abnormality in a pattern is part of that ability, like spying the wild animal in the brush.

This makes much more sense as a plausible explanation for "dyslexia", instead being a relatively reduced ability to focus on central vision and tune out the periphery.

It would be more common in younger humans, I would guess.

John Lynch said...

My wife is dyslexic but notices everything. I have autism spectrum and amazing reading skills and notice nothing. This plays out in our daily lives every time I can't find something that she can see in a second. It's one the many ways we complement each other.

I send my son to find things all the time. He's great at it, but also has language problems.

I think the ability to focus on the abstract comes at the cost of sensory processing. We can filter out what we see and hear in order to think, but it comes at a cost.

Modernity puts a premium on verbal IQ. That's why verbal IQs rise so quickly after a country industrializes (the Flynn effect). The ability to read isn't very important until people need to read in order to make a living. Between me and my wife I'm pretty sure she would have been more valued 100 years ago. I probably would have been kicked in the head by a horse or burned down the barn through inattention. But the modern world insists that I'm smarter because I can read a test...

The modern world probably puts too much emphasis on verbal intelligence. Many educated people seem to think that the ability to put words together is more important than making things happen in the physical world.

Scott M said...

My wife is dyslexic but notices everything.

As a married couple, how often would you say you two have sxe?

John Lynch said...


Methadras said...

dyslexics of the world, UNTIE!!!

TMink said...

I have a spot of dyslexia and a heaping helping of add, so this is in my neighborhood.

My dyslexia is mostly a problem in terms of spelling or reading aloud. Both endeavors can lead to really funny mistakes. But the bias in favor of the periphery helped me to be a fast reader at an early age by allowing me to recognize word shapes instead of letters. I do confuse words that are shaped in a similar fashion, but for me the benefits outweigh the deficits.

And my ADD which makes it so difficult to find my keys makes it just as difficult to carry a grudge and also makes me a real asset in terms of thinking outside the box.

So I consider them both features rather than bugs for me while recognizing the diffiuclties it causes people, especially in the school system.

Maybe it is one of those things that people think you have to have to appreciate! Everyone else needs to call it a disability, but those that are disabled can call it "differently abled."

Or something silly like that.


TMink said...

John Lynch, what a great post. I appreciate you taking the time to write it.


Carnifex said...

@ Dan in Philly

How about just the megalomaniac whom thinks he deserves to be re-elected because he's not done yet?

I do have to wonder though, I assume everyone here knows about the experiments where they jumble up the letters in the middle of a word, but leave the first and last letters where they are, but people can still read the message quite easily. What that says about how we "see" when we read, and what if what I see is different than what you "see". By that I mean our eye's receive the light in the same wavelengths, but what my mind interprets as green, appears as red to you, but because we agree that that certain wavelength will be called green, even though you see it as red, will be "green".

Regardless, the mind is an amazing organ, and I expect more and more that scientist will decode it, and we will be able to "program" it.

Terri said...

I have a kiddo with dyslexia and another kiddo with the lesser known cousin, dysgraphia.

The difficulties/disability of reading and writing with my children are real and difficult to manage. However, it does help my children to realize that there are gifts that come with the costs.

Would it be patronizing to a blind person to highlight their increased sensory abilities. No. BUT it would be patronizing to tell a blind person that it's not so bad to be blind because they can hear better.

As my daughter says - being dyslexic sucks! To not acknowledge that truth minimizes the very hard work that she has to do to remain at grade level in school.

To not notice her strengths in other areas would be equally wrong.


Chip Ahoy said...

This is assume.

I mean awesome. Thank you for not calling it ironic, but dare a poxes do abound when you presume to prescribe the vocabulary to be used and then proscribe its usage.

Two days ago on the veetee I heard a millennial ask an old guy, "So, how many years young are ya?" I was so hoping the old guy in coveralls would go, "Well, you patronizing little punk, I poop turds older than you." But no, he said instead, "Ninety-two." But that perverse choice of wording does not cover the gaff of asking about age in the first place.

Therefore, dxsleyics and geezers should untie and moont a fruntal assault.

Roux said...

My son has it and since everyone has a standardized test to get or do a job it is a huge problem.... He has many special abilities but passing a written test isn't one of them. Actually doing a job is much easier for him.

carrie said...

Having a son with dyslexia, it my opinion and the opinion of others who teach kids with dyslexia that they are good visual and auditory learners because they have to develop those skills in order to compensate for the inability to read--those skills are learned. I think just about everyone who studies dyslexia agrees that the brains of people with dyslexia are "wired" differently and that a different method of teaching needs to be used to teach them to read (i.e., whole language doesn't work but phonics based Orton Gillingham or Direct Instructions methods work great). However, having the brain be wired differently is only a disability when the wrong methods are used to teach a person with dyslexia to read. If I recall correctly, the whole language approach was developed in Europe and included a phonics component. It was imported to America by teachers who wanted to make reading fun and they left out the phonics component because it wasn't fun to teach phonics and the result was devastating to people with dyslexia. Words are codes and people with dyslexia will always use different techniques to decode words than people without dyslexia, but their techniques can work just as well.