Different Styles of Learning
Instead of being viewed as a disability, dyslexia can be seen as reflecting a certain type of learning style. Your child's learning style is the way in which she perceives, conceptualizes, organizes, and recalls information. All children have different areas of strength; good teachers learn to consider these factors in designing their lessons.
As you learn more about dyslexia and observe your child, you will also see that you can tie some the problems she has with a specific pattern of learning. There is no one learning style that all children with dyslexia share, but there are some common patterns that seem to be often associated with dyslexia.
Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic Learning
One way to think about learning is to look at it as a process that combines elements of listening (auditory), seeing (visual), and doing (kinesthetic). A child with an auditory learning style will learn best from listening to a lecture or explanation; the visual learner needs to see pictures, graphs, or films to learn; and the kinesthetic learner needs to use his hands or have active participation to learn.
Your child's dyslexia may cause conflicts with her dominant learning style. For example, a child with dyslexia often has a predominantly visual learning style. This works well when he is viewing a film or looking at a picture or diagram. However, it does not serve him when he is being taught to read. The visual learner tends to try to remember words by sight, rather than sounding them out, and can often remember information by recalling how it was set out on a page.
However, your child's dyslexia will stand in the way of his reading ability. You may be told that your strongly visual child has a poor “visual memory” when in fact his memory for real world objects that he sees is quite remarkable: It is only the memory for letters and words that is impaired.
Your child with dyslexia will learn best with a multisensory approach that simultaneously combines auditory, visual, and tactile learning strategies to teach new facts and concepts. Methods that involve seeing, saying, listening, and doing will help your child learn faster and enhance his ability to retain new information.
In a school setting, lessons are often geared primarily to students with an auditory learning style. The teacher relies mostly on talking to convey information: She lectures, explains, answers questions. If your child is a visual or kinesthetic learner, she will miss a lot of information; she will simply not be able to learn without strategies that reach her strongest learning modes.
On the other hand, if your child has dyslexia but is an auditory learner, her strengths may mask her dyslexia. She may do well in school, relying on her superior listening skills to keep up in class, and learning what is in books by listening to others read aloud. Her dyslexia may go undetected until the later grades, when she will be expected to learn more from independent reading.
Left-Brained vs. Right-Brained
Some people break down two main styles of learning as being left-brained or right-brained. Researchers know that many functions related to language use and reading are typically localized in the left hemisphere of the brain. The right hemisphere is associated more with intuitive thought and creativity. Of course, the two sides of the brain are designed to work together, and most people develop the ability to use both sides, depending on the task or activity they are engaged in.
Psychologist Linda Silverman, who has worked extensively with gifted children, describes these two styles of learning as being auditory-sequential and visual-spatial. The auditory-sequential learner thinks primarily in words, learns step-by-step, attends well to detail, learns phonics easily, and excels at rote memory. The visual-spatial learner thinks primarily with images, learns concepts all at once, sees the big picture, learns best by seeing relationships, and learns complex concepts easily but struggles with easy skills.
One possible explanation for dyslexia is that some children who are right-brained learners find it much easier to think about new information and solve problems using their visual-spatial strategies. Over time, they reinforce their own tendencies toward relying on imagery and intuitive thought processes, and fail to develop strong brain pathways for thinking with the sounds of language. Thus, when it comes time for these children to learn to read, their brains simply aren't ready.
Dr. Howard Gardner has proposed that there are eight different modalities of intelligence; your child will be stronger in some of these areas than others. The different intelligences are:
Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
In schools, most instruction and testing is geared to the first two intelligences — linguistic and logical-mathematical. If your child has dyslexia, he is probably weak in those areas and could struggle in school and do poorly on standardized testing. On the other hand, dyslexia does not impair the other six types of intelligence in any way. Your child is probably strong in one or more of those areas, and these inherent strengths can help him succeed in many activities in childhood, and go on to have a successful and rewarding career.