When Reading and Writing is Difficult

Hans Christian Andersen’s writing style was unique for the time. Interestingly, Andersen is believed to have had dyslexia which caused considerable challenges in school especially when it came to spelling. Unfortunately, his school days were not happy ones. He lived in a time with little understanding of the fact that not everyone learns in the same way. The teacher’s responsibility is to provide opportunities for all to learn in a supportive environment.

Andersen’s dyslexia showed itself later in life in his handwritten manuscripts which contained extensive spelling errors. But the disability also resulted in a conversational writing style that continues to be easily readable today.

Dyslexia was identified by Oswald Berkhan in 1881 but the term wasn’t coined until 1887 by ophthalmologist Rudolf Berlin. The definition of dyslexia varies by source. The U.S. National Institutes of Health defines dyslexia as a learning disorder. Other sources describe it as a difficulty in reading. People with dyslexia typically are of normal intelligence. More males are diagnosed than females but it is suspected that it actually affects males and females equally.

Symptoms of dyslexia and their extent vary greatly from one person to another. Some people with dyslexia may read well but write or spell poorly. So many variations exist that it is difficult to define specifically.

Dyslexia may cause struggles with word recognition, spelling, reading quickly, writing words, sounding out words in the head and pronouncing them when reading aloud, word retrieval, or understanding what is read. Young children also may exhibit difficulty in phonetics. Problems that persist into adulthood can include challenges with memorization and learning foreign languages. Although comprehension tends to be good, individuals with dyslexia usually read more slowly.

Variations of dyslexia include visual dyslexia, which involves processing information attained visually; auditory dyslexia, which refers to a disorder that interferes with processing sounds and speech; and dysgraphia which is difficulty holding and controlling a pencil.

Some people with dyslexia are considered gifted. The brain often compensates by performing at a higher level in a different part of the brain, such as a stimulation of creativity.

The cause of dyslexia is not well understood. It can be a result of genetic or environmental factors or a combination of the two. Specific genes are identified as possible contributors. There is a higher incidence in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Later in life, stroke, traumatic brain injury, or dementia may also result in dyslexia.

In addition to Hans Christian Andersen, other well-known, accomplished individuals with dyslexia include artist Pablo Picasso, Bill Gates, Charles Schwab, Director Steven Spielberg, World Heavyweight Champion Boxer Mohammed Ali, and basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. Pablo Picasso reportedly failed parochial school because of reading difficulties but later was prompted to portray the world through his art in an innovative way.

A common myth associates dyslexia with reading or writing words backwards. These behaviors are seen in many children as they learn to read and write, and are not considered to be defining characteristics of dyslexia. Also, previous reports that Einstein, Edison, and Da Vinci had dyslexia is now believed to be incorrect.

The sooner dyslexia is treated, the more favorable the outcome. Undiagnosed, dyslexia may surface in delayed speech, signs of depression and low self-esteem, behavioral problems, distraction, and a dislike for school.

It is never too late for people with dyslexia to learn skills in which to work with symptoms. If you suspect you or a loved one could benefit through some therapy, speak to your family physician for recommendations.

(Hans Christian Andersen Illuminated by The Message is available from Amazon.com, ACTA Publications, and my website.

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