Mad About Science: Dyslexia

By Brenden Bobby
Reader Columnist

Have you ever experienced a moment in school where you drifted off into a daydream, just to be snapped back to reality by your teacher asking you a question? If you were anything like me, you had no idea what the answer was and the entire class would proceed to laugh at you. The internet, in its infinite sarcasm, would say: “Feels good, man.”

What might be a momentary and accidental loss of focus for some can be a constant uphill battle for those suffering from things like ADHD and dyslexia. These moments of fragmented focus and “spacey-ness” are sometimes just as frustrating to those around us, as it can damage friendships and relationships when it’s perceived that we’re not listening. 

Dr. Edward Hallowell approached this phenomenon from a really interesting perspective in a video online, referring to it as, “Race car minds with bicycle brakes.”

Having suffered a lifetime of judgment, missed deadlines and the frustration, ire and bullying of my peers for being “stupid” and “inconsiderate,” I can attest that “racecar mind with bicycle brakes” is an accurate description of who I am as a person, suffering from an issue wildly out of my control bequeathed upon me by the cruelty of circumstance. My mind goes very fast, but it’s hard to slow it down, and sometimes you’ll end up being the Subaru I pass while you offer a single-finger salute — sorry!

Though they share some very similar issues, primarily in the ability to retain focus, there is a distinct difference between ADHD and dyslexia. However, they are not mutually exclusive, and it’s possible for someone to have one, both or neither. These things being part of who we are is not our fault, much of it was chosen for us before we were even born thanks to the randomized difficulty sliders in this game of life.

It’s likely that you’ve encountered misconceptions about dyslexia at one point or another. The most common mistaken notion is that people with dyslexia are just uneducated or not very smart. This is absolutely false, as dyslexia has absolutely nothing to do with someone’s intelligence, even though it makes their ability to learn much more difficult. A vast number of very successful and intelligent people have dyslexia. Some Oscar-winners you might recognize are Billy Bob Thornton and Goldie Hawn.

Another common misconception about dyslexia is that those who have it view letters bouncing all over a page, or reversed as though you look at them through a mirror. There is no visual impairment involved with dyslexia, as the problem is rooted squarely in the language centers of the brain or how the brain interprets visual information. I can imagine this is extremely difficult to convey to those of us who don’t have dyslexia. It might be easier to describe it in a way that the letters just don’t always make sense.

Dyslexia doesn’t only affect a person’s ability to read. Depending on the severity, it may be difficult for someone with dyslexia to totally comprehend what’s being said in a spoken conversation. This can even go as far as having difficulty with remembering sequences of numbers, letters or words — an issue I’m all too familiar with and have been shamed for since before I was in kindergarten.

Evidence shows that similar to ADHD, autism and other forms of neurodivergence, dyslexia displays across a spectrum and some people may go their entire lives without realizing they have it. It’s estimated that as many as 17% of the human population may have dyslexia. We do know that dyslexia is genetic, and that a parent with dyslexia is likely to pass it on to their children. 

The severity of the effects of dyslexia can be mitigated through intervention and specialized instruction. This can occur at any age, including adulthood. Children have a plethora of resources through their schools from counselors and special education teachers that can help them build good reading habits to overcome the challenges they face from dyslexia. Teens and adults with dyslexia are able to get help through our local library, working one-on-one with language tutors within a dyslexia-friendly literacy program. 

This not only helps eliminate the stress and pressure of a classroom setting, but gives individuals the attention they need to overcome their challenges at their own pace, and potentially make lifelong friendships with their tutors in the process.

The importance of reading through childhood and into adulthood cannot be overstated. Reading changes how our brains work, creating new neural pathways that help with comprehension and critical thinking. These things allow us to make better decisions in life and to enjoy our experiences as humans more fully. Being able to write and express ourselves is a freeing experience, and it gives us the ability to leave a part of ourselves behind well after we’re gone. Being able to communicate with others is the essence of the human experience.

If you or your kids are struggling with reading or writing, the library supports numerous wonderful people willing to tutor folks of all ages, to give them the opportunity to experience the benefits of literacy at any age. 

If you would like to volunteer as a tutor for reading and spelling, and be trained to tutor utilizing a dyslexia-friendly program, then the easiest way to connect with us is to fill out a volunteer application. You can do so by clicking on the volunteer link on the library’s website by scrolling down to the bottom of the page. On the next page you will see a button to “Apply To Become A Volunteer” where you can fill out the volunteer application form, and the volunteer coordinator will contact you shortly.

Stay curious, 7B.

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