What if We Look at the Positive Aspects of Dsylexia?

Students with dyslexia often feel inferior and not as smart as their peers (Burden, 2008). One of the first educational concepts for young children is learning how to read. If this first feat is met with difficulty and a lack of understanding from teachers and among peers, the young student may begin to feel discouraged (Glazzard, 2009).  Even if a teacher or parent can identify the problem early enough to intervene, the child often becomes labeled. Children with dyslexia are identified as “learning-disabled” and often suffer from low self-esteem and under-achievement ( Gibson & Kendall, 2010). Further complicating the matter is the fact that research in the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia remains controversial (Smythe, 2011). Some researchers define dyslexia as being developmental and possibly hereditary, experimenting with genetic mapping (Smythe, 2011). With confusion over the definition of dyslexia, schools differ in their understanding of it and their methods of intervention (Smythe, 2011). A 2010 study examined pre-service teachers’ knowledge of and beliefs about dyslexia, finding that there was confusion and misinformation about it (Ness & Southall, 2010).  Only 4% of the pre-service teachers were aware that dyslexic students had normal or above normal intelligence (Ness, 2010). When a Texas school system learned that students with dyslexia had normal or above average IQs they decided to keep them on task within the regular classroom, adding an additional class for dyslexia intervention (Culbertson, 2012).
Researchers report that teachers have an influence in their students’ confidence level – and negative treatment of pupils with dyslexia lowers self-esteem (Glazzard, 2010). Studies have found that students with dyslexia have suffered teasing and bullying when they cannot read well, further contributing to problems of confidence (Glazzard, 2010). Dyslexic children who have supportive and good relationships with their parents have been shown to have a high level of self worth (Terras, et al, 2009).  There seems to be a strong connection between self –esteem and academic success as noted by Rhodes & Nevill, 2004; Pollak, 2005 in Gibson & Kendall (2010).
The literature on dyslexia has not addressed the possibility of improving self-esteem and scholarly performance of dyslexic children by omitting the classification of dyslexia as a disability and calling dyslexia a different way the brain processes information that requires a different learning style for reading, but has positive aspects in other areas of learning. Studies that measured the spatial ability of children in a real-life spatial test, found that dyslexic children performed statistically higher than children without dyslexia (Attree, et. Al, 2009). By looking at the giftedness of dyslexia, and approaching reading and spelling as requiring more training, perhaps those with dyslexia will learn to read, write and spell without the stigma of feeling stupid or disabled. What is the impact of labeling kids with dyslexia as being intelligent, with a different learning style instead of classifying them as having a learning “disability” in school settings? There’s a possibility that treating them as “gifted” in some areas of processing data, rather than handicapped in all educational pursuits may positively influence a dyslexic child’s self-esteem and improve his confidence. The purpose of this proposed study is to explore the impact of treating kids with dyslexia as not “disabled” as part of the dyslexic intervention in education. What if teachers begin to see dyslexia as a different way that intelligent children process information, requiring reading intervention from traditional methods? What if students with dyslexia are taught that dyslexia requires different learning methods for reading, but also has positive attributes in areas of spatial learning? What if parents of children with dyslexia learn that their children are gifted in some areas and yet require different methods of learning for reading? How will students with dyslexia feel about their ability to be successful when they view it as a difference instead of a disability? How will teachers see their dyslexic students when viewed in light of being gifted in other areas of learning?
Burden (2008) reviewed the literature associating dyslexia with negative feelings of self-worth and noted that while there is strong evidence that there is a relationship between dyslexia and a “low academic self-concept, there are also signs that this relationship is by no means immutable.” (p. 194). In 2005, Burden followed 50 dyslexic adolescent boys that attended a specialist school for dyslexics. He found that at first the boys academic self-concept was lower than those in the mainstream sample, but as they attended the school and improved in their reading skills, their self-concept increased as well. He noted that these boys developed a high degree of self-efficacy. When he looked at the school situation in which the boys were being taught Burden reported that it was focused on success in effort and agency (Burden, 2009). He concluded that research in this area is needed to better understand how those with dyslexia develop a positive or negative view of themselves (Burden, 2009).
A study in 2009 – 2010, looked at how students with dyslexia feel about the transition to higher education, as commissioned by the Higher Education Academy of Britain (Gibson & Kendall, 2010). In the course of the study they gathered information from their respondents about how dyslexia impacted their self-esteem and academic achievement in their school experiences (Gibson, 2010). Four first-year college students with dyslexia were followed by the researchers to identify how they internalize their disability within an academic setting. They based their direction on works that have pointed out the lack of information about how dyslexic students handle their learning from the dyslexics point-of-view rather than from a neuropsychological viewpoint (Gibson, 2010).  One student commented that she was not diagnosed with dyslexia until her first year at college, and looking back at her school years, she saw that it was there. She preferred to call it a “learning difficulty” that was created by the educational system (Gibson, 2010). The school always said she was doing fine, but in her personal life she reported working longer hours, attending after school sessions, and pushing herself. It is interesting to note that she had plenty of drive to do well, and that although she recognized that she had to study harder, she did not see herself as disabled, even though teachers said she would never get higher than a C or D in English. This is a two-edged sword, in that she escaped the label, but did not receive the instruction that could have helped her achieve her goals easier. Students at the Texas school who were identified with dyslexia were given alternate methods of learning within the classroom: books on tape, buddy-readers or books with highlighted text (Culbertson, 2012). Teachers modified assignments for their dyslexic students, using mind-mapping instead of formal essays (Culbertson, 2012). Gibson (2010) reported on another student who said that when she was in school, they moved her into classes that were identified with students who did not do well in their courses. She explained that the educational system, the teachers, made the decisions about her direction and made her take the lower academic track without sciences and foreign languages – the track that peers said were for people who are “dumb and stuff.” (Gibson, p. 190, 2010). Another student had positive experiences with a teacher in secondary school. She reported that her teacher always knew that she would be coming up for help after an assignment, and instead of becoming irritated with her, looked forward to the time to help her. This student shared that the teacher would bring tea and coffee, and make it a positive experience – “it made me feel really better, I never felt self-conscious or anything, they were always more than happy to help me…” (Gibson, p. 190, 2010).  
The early diagnosis of dyslexia appears to be essential for a positive outcome – both self-esteem and academic success (Glazzard, 2010). But it is not just the diagnosis that helps, it is how it is handled by the students, the parents, and the teachers. Some students became aware of their difficulty while in school, amongst peers – either reading aloud in class, spelling or writing. Often they compared themselves to other students in a negative light, feeling stupid or inferior (Glazzard, 2010). The importance of early detection comes out with another student who explained that he was disappointed with his inability to write when compared to his peers, and thus just “gave-up,” not doing his work (Glazzard, 2010). He knew he would fail, so he didn’t do the work. Later when he was diagnosed with dyslexia he realized there was no point in purposely avoiding assignments (Glazzard, 2010). Students with dyslexia reported feeling isolated because they could not keep up and were always last to finish their work (Glazzard, 2010). There was significant influence by the teachers of these dyslexic students. Some of the students reported that teachers humiliated them in front of class and told their parents that they were too slow (Glazzard, 2010). This negatively impacted the children with dyslexia. Whereas those students who had teachers that supported them and understood their needs and difficulties, reported feeling better about themselves. One student reported that her teacher would print things up for her instead of requiring her to copy questions down – she still had to answer the questions, and she did the work, responding, “I’m not lazy,” – a positive outlook (Glazzard, 2010).
That students with dyslexia may have positive qualities that can be emphasized is in need of further research. Attree, et. al (2009) studied the visual spatial strengths of adolescents with dyslexia and found they had a superior ability when compare to those without dyslexia. By focusing on the whole person and approaching dyslexia intervention in a holistic manner, students and teachers may have a more positive and successful outcome. Researchers have speculated that dyslexia may include enhancements in other cognitive functions that control visual spatial abilities, creativity and artistic talents (Attree, et. al, 2009). Children with dyslexia performed significantly higher than children without dyslexia in real-life spatial tests that measured their spatial recognition memory (Attree, 2009).  This may indicate that people with dyslexia have superior talents in some real-world tasks (Attree, 2009). The researchers noted that the test was given on computer and was more engaging than a pencil and paper task – suggesting further research is needed to see if children with dyslexia perform better with interesting and exciting spatial assessments (Attree, 2009). There seems to be a need to look for the positive aspects of dyslexics – “holistic, 3D thinking and problem solving, keeping the big picture in mind, and often do well on tasks with spatial components.” (Attree, p. 167, 2009). Dyslexia may contribute to creative ability (Gobbo, 2012). This knowledge would help develop an approach to learning that addresses the needs of students with dyslexia and improve their overall self-esteem. By providing students with the whole picture of learning something, and not just the parts, teachers will be addressing the learning styles of this often left-out group of students.


Attree, E. A., Turner, M. J., & Cowell, N. (2009). A virtual reality test identifies the visuospatial strengths of adolescents with dyslexia. Cyberpsychology & Behavior: The Impact of the Internet, Multimedia and Virtual Reality on Behavior and Society, 12(2), 163-168. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2008.0204

Burden, R. (2008). Is dyslexia necessarily associated with negative feelings of self-worth? A review and implications for future research. Dyslexia (Chichester, England), 14(3), 188-196. doi: 10.1002/dys.371

Culbertson, D. (2012). Uncovering the many misconceptions of dyslexia. CEDER Yearbook, , 51-65. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=67714829&site=eds-live

GIBSON, S., & KENDALL, L. (2010). Stories from school: Dyslexia and learners' voices on factors impacting on achievement. Support for Learning, 25(4), 187-193. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9604.2010.01465.x

GLAZZARD, J. (2010). The impact of dyslexia on pupils' self-esteem. Support for Learning, 25(2), 63-69. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9604.2010.01442.x

Gobbo, K. (2010). Dyslexia and creativity: The education and work of robert rauschenberg. Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(3), 2-2. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=53909988&site=eds-live

Ness, M. K., & Southall, G. (2010). Preservice teachers' knowledge of and beliefs about dyslexia. Journal of Reading Education, 36(1), 36-43. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=57311383&site=eds-live

Smythe, I. (2011). Dyslexia. British Journal of Hospital Medicine (London, England: 2005), 72(1), 39-43. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mnh&AN=21240117&site=eds-live

University of Michigan. (2013). University of michigan development of language and literacy, dyslexia help starts here. Retrieved January/18, 2013, from http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/

Yale center for dyslexia and creativity. (2013). Retrieved January/2013, 2013, from http://dyslexia.yale.edu/

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