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Dyslexia: A Contradiction in Terms (The Star, Saturday August 26, 2006)

The impautence ov ortumatic wurd recognishun.

No, the Star's spell checker isn't on the fritz. The point is to demonstrate what someone with dyslexia might see when they read the phrase "the importance of word recognition."

According to Alan McDowell, president of the one-year-old Vancouver Island Dyslexia Association in Nanaimo, dyslexia is the largest disability group in the world, with an estimated 10 to 15% of the population afflicted with it. That would mean approximately 8,000 to 12,000 people in Nanaimo have dyslexia.

"The difficulty is with comprehension," said McDowell, who only discovered he had dyslexia at the age of 49, but also claims to have an IQ of 140. "Someone with dyslexia can read out loud, but can't necessarily understand what they are reading. Often they are just guessing what they have read.

The word "dyslexia" comes from the Greek words dys, meaning "difficulty with", and lexis, meaning "words" or "lexicon". It is a congenital and development condition that causes neurological anomalies in the brain. It includes a range of learning difficulties where a person of normal intelligence, cognitive and sensory abilities has persistent and significant problems with reading, writing, spelling and sometimes mathematics and musical notation.

Possible difficulties caused by dyslexia include: hesitant or slow reading and writing; misreading, which makes understanding more difficult; putting letters and figures the wrong way around; difficulty with sequences; poor organization or time management; erratic spelling; poor self-image; and poor memory or concentration.

The flip side of the coin, says McDowell, who oversaw 130 dyslexia associations in the U.K. since being diagnosed, is that some of the most brilliant minds in the world have dyslexia. Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Agatha Christie and Bill Gates for example were all diagnosed with the condition. "In fact, out of the top 100 companies in the world, 49 of them are being run by people with dyslexia."

Some describe dyslexia as having a different kind of mind - someone who is often gifted, over-productive and who learns in a different way. Their specific strengths may often include innovative thinking, excellent trouble-shooting, creativity, lateral thinking, and intuitive problem solving.

McDowell says that people with dyslexia think with tremendous speed, they are often blessed with being able to see the whole picture, and they think more in images rather than words. "Dyslexics have about 10,000 image based thoughts per minute while non-dyslexics think about 250 words per minute, so the goal is to slow down and focus.

"Dyslexia is a contradiction in terms," he said. "Here you have a lot of bright and intelligent people who can't read or write." Quoting a dyslexic he knows from the U.K., McDowell says dyslexics are "visually deaf." It's also estimated that three to four times as many boys as girls have the condition.

In his estimation, "there are two types of dyslexics: those who are supported by family and can lead a relatively normal, or even exemplary life, and those who go into the system and are pegged as having challenges," he said. "The goal of VIDA is to change the perception of dyslexia from a negative to a positive, to help people get over their lack of self-confidence while in the system, and to help train educators and human resource managers to better understand dyslexia."

Since VIDA was formed last fall, with more than 120 people showing up for the first meeting, "it's been a getting-to-know-you exercise over the last year, but we also feel we've given hope to a lot of people," says McDowell.

Suggesting that dyslexics can be "very, very lonely", McDowell and his group want to assure anyone who thinks they, or someone they love may have the condition,  that " they are not on their own, there is a group who would love to help," he said.

Looking to the future, McDowell says VIDA would like to develop proper programs to do awareness training for teachers and resource managers, and to create a screening and resource facility that would be the focal point for the island.


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