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Demystifying Dyslexia

These mountains you were carrying, you were only supposed to climb.

-Najwa Zebian

Kids with learning disabilities work hard. In fact, they are working too hard. Their brains, built to learn, are working infinitely harder than the brains of peers without learning disabilities. 

In one study, children with dyslexia were reported to be using their brain five times harder than those without. Why? Because the networks responsible for reading were not doing their jobs This makes the process inefficient, sometimes impossible. This also makes the brain exhausted; the child exhausted.  

Dyslexia is a known brain disorder and defined by the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) as a “an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding and poor spelling abilities”.   

Arrowsmith describes it like this:  Dyslexia is a symptom of a range of weak cognitive functions. The functions impacted may include motor tracking of letters, visual memory of symbol patterns, memory for words, phonological awareness, conceptual understanding. When these functions are weak, essential skills such as reading (or writing, or mathematics) are difficult to acquire.

Like fingerprints, each of us have our own cognitive makeup. This mean that a person with dyslexia will be uniquely different , even when they might have the same diagnosis.

This explains why some children with dyslexia respond to a phonics-based reading program, but not all. Those “non-responders” or even those slow to respond, will have an underlying phonological or Broca’s deficit, so cannot rely on this capacity to access this approach.

This also explains why some with dyslexia eventually learn to read – with herculean effort, hours and hours of remedial intervention. It is unlikely that they will ever deeply enjoy reading, feel relaxed by it, choose to do it.

Now consider this: dyslexia is not a permanent condition. Our brains can change. Neuroplastic intervention can target and improve the specific cognitive functions that are at the core of those dyslexic symptoms.

Of course, if our brains are so distinctive, so too must be the method of improving them. To understand each person’s dyslexia, we must first understand their unique learning profile. This enables a program of specific cognitive exercises to be calibrated: truly individualized program design. One size does not fit all. 

What does this mean for people with dyslexia? It means their brains change and in turn, begin to learn in the way it was designed to do. Research indicates that with stronger cognitive capacities in these key networks, the brain doesn’t have to work as hard; it takes in, learns, understands, remembers and applies information efficiently.

Children with dyslexia do not need to suffer trying to make sense of the written word, spend years in remedial programming, or develop avoidance tactics in school. Adults do not need to see reading as a chore, give up academic or professional ambitions, or never know the fulfillment of the world contained in literature. The solution is to understand their unique, complex profile and then, ideally, transform it.  

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