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Neural Differences—How the Dyslexic Brain Works

Reading and Handwriting 

There are real differences in the dyslexic brain. One difference involves the left brain. For nondyslexics, it is in their left brain that words are “decoded” or read silently or aloud, and “encoded” or written. Dyslexics don’t use their left brain in the same way, and thus have difficulty in phonetic decoding—turning symbols into a sound in the brain and then stringing them together to compose a word, and in encoding or writing. 

Reading and handwriting are about transfer of information, they are not about expression nor about intelligence. Dyslexics need a different approach to help them to read and write which plays off their strengths, especially their ability to see things three dimensionally. For example, making three dimensional blocks of letters, or using their arm and hand to write a giant letter in the air are a few of many helpful ways to learn the alphabet. Dyslexics benefit from being taught with methods that utilize their strengths.  

Depending on the intensity of their dyslexia, dyslexics often reach a ceiling in their ability to read and with their handwriting. For example, some people with dyslexia may always have handwriting that is almost illegible even to themselves. Some successful dyslexics have never been able to read more than a book or two in their lives. However, these same people may become wonderful writers and produce great books, like naturalist and artist Jack Laws who has recently published the wonderful Laws Field Guide to The Sierra Nevada.  

Big Picture Thinking and “Minitowers” 

Another difference is in neural structure in the brain. Neurons are set up in columns, or “minitowers,” in the brain. These tall thin neural towers, roughly parallel to one another with their tops pointing to the surface of the brain tissue they are located in, are spaced farther apart than the general population.This means that the neural signals have to travel over a greater distance to make connections between the synapses. This creates an advantage—an inborn, great ability to: get the “gist” of problems, dilemmas, creative ideas, trends and human interactions quickly and accurately; have 3-D or spatial thinking; be a creative and accurate big picture thinker, connect ideas, and think outside the box.  

Creativity, Insight and The Power of Daydreaming 

Dyslexics have an innate gift for insight. Insights are those Eureka! or Ah Ha! moments where a relaxed right brain suddenly makes novel and perhaps distant connections to solve problems. While nondyslexics can do this, this strength is built right into the dyslexic brain. They naturally think this way. This is one of their amazing strengths. They combine their great pattern recognition (the gift of those long neural signals) and their natural ability to have insight to come up with unexpected answers and new ways of seeing. Think of Picasso’s paintings, Einstein’s theories, and Mozart’s music. Dyslexics just “get it all at once” after a process akin to reflection, relaxation and daydreaming. This process is right brained. It’s quite different than logical, cause-and-effect thinking. Dyslexics’ dynamic ability to come up with answers in this way are often misunderstood by others, especially in school settings, as them being “lazy” or “not applying themselves.” Others may see them “staring out the window” and not realize that this is how they process. This amazing right-brained-using learning difference is a gift. 

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