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According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, using International Dyslexia Association (2002), Dyslexia is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Dyslexia is a widespread condition, with an estimated frequency of one dyslexic child in each mainstream school classroom (Miles, 1994). Professor Berlin of Stuttgart (1872) coined the term ‘dyslexia’, based on the case histories of adults who could read only three to five words, but were of high intelligence. Use of the term has continued to this day, with dyslexia likened to conditions with neurological abnormalities. Initially, it was thought to be purely an acquired condition from accidental brain damage, until Kussmaul (1878) found developmental cases of word blindness. Orton (1937) first noted the main aspects of developmental dyslexia as pronounced reversals (b/d, p/q, on/no and was/saw), orientation difficulties/strong left-handedness and conflicting lateral preference, which forms the basis for many definitions (see Thomson, 1996; Miles, 1994). This study also uses the definition from the World Federation of Neurology (1968), which defines dyslexia as ‘a disorder manifested by difficulty in learning to read despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence and socio-cultural opportunity’.

In the UK and many countries in Europe, terms such as ‘dyslexia’ or ‘Specific Learning Disabilities (SpLD)’ are used, whilst worldwide and especially in the US, ‘Learning Disabled (LD)’ and ‘Reading Difficulties (RD)’ are commonly used terms. ‘Dyslexia’ and ‘SpLD’ are more specifically concerned with difficulties that affect most situations (not just reading, e.g., co-ordination and balance) with neurological and phonological epidemiology. Reviews on dyslexia can be found in Thomson (1995) and Miles (1994).

Dyslexia is a negative disorder that affects many life skills (reading, writing, arithmetic) as well as balance and co-ordination, with Miles (1994, p. 189) suggesting that dyslexics show ‘an unusual balance of skills’. Individuals with dyslexia can be affected emotionally by being unable to learn as well as their peers, commonly resulting in low self-image, low self-concept and even depression (Alexander-Passe 2004a, b, 2006, 2008a, b; Riddick, 1996; Edwards, 1994; Ryan, 1994; Scott, 2004). For more than a decade, research has been carried out to identify positive attributes of this disorder; these investigations began with biographical and neurological studies.

West (1991) located famous and influential individuals who had school learning difficulties, yet had found alternative ways of learning and succeeded in life (e.g., Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci), making correlations between these factors and dyslexia, and creativity. Thus, public perception of creativity amongst dyslexics has grown (e.g., 712,000 hits on Google). Since West, the use of famous names with dyslexia (e.g., Charles Schwab, Richard Branson, Tom Cruise, Richard Rogers and so on.) has become widespread (Being Dyslexic 2006; Roehampton University, 2006; British Dyslexia Association, 2006; British Broadcasting Corporation, 2004; International Dyslexia Association, 2006; General Communication Headquarters, 2006, McLoughlin, Fitzgibbon and Young, 1994) to illustrate the career heights that dyslexics can reach. However, this could be misleading and could give false hopes to parents, as a high proportion of dyslexics leave full-time education with few or no qualifications (Grant, 2001)

Neurological investigations started by Geschwind and Galaburda (1985) noting clinical and post-mortem studies indicated atypical symmetrical brains, suggesting dyslexics have larger right (visual processing) brains; however, this conclusion was based on a very small sample of brains. Later studies have supported such a view and Galaburda (1989) also suggests an ‘alternative wiring hypothesis’ that some abilities may be strengthened at the expense of others in the re-organisation in the brains of dyslexics. The classic measurement of dyslexia uses the WISC-R (Wechsler, 1974) measures, and the ACID profile (Thomson, 1996) indicates dyslexics show superior performance, rather than verbal skills, in WISC-R subscales. Thus, investigations have since been made into the possibility of superior visual-spatial abilities amongst dyslexics, with many correlating such skills to creativity (Padgett and Steffert, 1999; Wolff and Lundberg, 2002).

Nicolson and Fawcett (1993) note that a skill that would take a normal child 400 hours to develop and learn would take a dyslexic child 20 times longer to achieve. It is interesting that Fawcett and Nicolson (1994, 1996) found in their studies that 17yr old dyslexics achieved no better performance in a range of literacy skills than their 8yr old controls (in tests of psychometric, phonological and working memory, balance, motor skills and speed of processing). Fawcett (1995, p. 27) gave an analogy of driving through a foreign country, one can do it but at the expense of constant vigilance and an unacceptable cost in resources. Thus dyslexics can go through mainstream schools without high literacy skills but the emotional cost can be unacceptably high.

Defining Dyslexia