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I do love it when another piece of a learning puzzle like dyslexia appears.  I am always looking for more information on how to help the students with learning disabilities, for they represent a sizable percentage of my college reading and writing classes.

While I knew there was a connection between dyslexia and visual thinking, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Unlocking Dyslexia in Japanese,” has given me much more.  When a 12-year-old boy with dyslexia transferred to a school where Japanese was a required course, his mother noticed that dyslexia did not have the impact on his Japanese coursework that it did in English.  His Japanese writing was clear (unlike his English) and he did well in the class.

The article goes on to explain that learning the ideograms of Asian languages triggers a different part of the brain than the one that is used to learn phonetic languages such as English, where the letter symbols represent sounds, not ideas.  The “image-interpreter” part of the brain that understands ideograms works well for people with dyslexia.  Aha.

I was introduced to the frustrations and struggles of students with dyslexia in a GED class many years ago. I had a student who was articulate, sharp, funny, artistic and a joy to know.  And yet, as soon as he put pencil to paper, chaos reigned.  His words and sentences made no sense and looked as if they had been written by a first-grader instead of an intelligent man in his twenties.

We tried everything I knew to stabilize his writing enough to pass the GED test, to no avail.  We set up learning disability testing at the University (an unholy tale I will save for another post), we tried memorization, visualization, every suggestion in every article I could find.  The student was so patient, so willing to try anything, so gracious in such a frustrating situation, and I had nothing but my belief in him to offer him in return.

I did find one book, The Gift of Dyslexia, that gave us both a new perspective.  The author, Ron Davis, learned how to turn his dyslexia off when he needed to deal with printed language and back on when he wanted to be an artist.  This was a breakthrough concept for both my student and I, and I have shared this book with every dyslexic student I have had since.  Dyslexia is so often found in creative, artistic people, and now, with this insight about the dyslexic brain’s need to think in images, I have an even clearer way to help my students understand the link between their dyslexia and visual thinking.   Hurrah.

“Unlocking Dyslexia in Japanese” by Linda Himelstein.  Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2011.

The Gift of Dyslexia by Ron Davis.  Ability Workshop Press. 1997.

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