Dyslexia: When Your Brain Only Gets Cryptic Puzzles

Around 5-10% of all children are born with dyslexia. Minds of children with dyslexia may switch numbers when reading, swap letters as they appear,  or skip words when writing. Some see their hand-written letters backwards and others struggle with grammar rules  — spelling correctly is often impossible. While most struggle with education, some have turned dyslexia to their advantage, as is the case of Ingvar Kamprad, who built a multi-billion dollar empire despite being dyslexic.

Introduction to Dyslexia
Intro to Dyslexia

Around 5-10% of all children are born with dyslexia. In school they tend to read slowly, have difficulty understanding simple texts, or make a lot of spelling mistakes when writing. Now while they are as intelligent as others, having received years of instruction, doesn’t change the fact that their brains struggle organizing symbols in their heads.

Minds of children with dyslexia may switch numbers when reading, swap letters as they appear,  or skip words when writing. Some see their hand-written letters backwards and others struggle with grammar rules  — spelling correctly is often impossible.

Before we learn what to do about that, we can hear the true story of a dyslexic boy who overcame his weakness, used his disability to an advantage, and became a self-made billionaire.

The story
Ingvar story

Once upon a time there was a boy named Ingvar. He grew up on a small farm. Ingvar’s grandfather died after realizing he could no longer afford to pay the mortgage. But the grandmother’s dedication and hard work saved the farm and the boy learned that perseverance can lead to a better life — and a better life he wanted.

But when Ingvar started school, he struggled and at one point his father told him he would never amount to anything. What nobody knew back then was, Ingvar had dyslexia – inherited from his ancestors just like the color of his hair.

Regardless, he didn’t let his problems get him down and at age 6, Ingvar started selling single matches to his neighbors. Soon after, he asked his aunt in Stockholm to send him matches from the wholesale market. Ingvar then split the box into smaller packages and resold them at a greater profit. Seeking his father’s support, the young entrepreneur soon reached an entirely new level.

By the age of 10, Ingvar would cross the neighborhood on his bicycle, selling fish, and pencils. At 14, he sold belts, watches and wallets stocked under his bed at his boarding school. In 1943, when he was 17 years old, his father helped him to register his company. He named it after himself Ingvar Kamprad, plus the initials from the farm and village he grew up in.

Expanding his line of furniture, Ingvar soon had trouble dealing with the product codes.To help him overcome his weakness, he created a system where he, instead of numbers, gave names to each object: Tables were named after places, garden chairs after islands. Now, Ingvar was able to remember and visualize each product. By making shopping memorable, Ikea became the world’s largest furniture company and Ingvar Kamprad one of the richest men in the world.

But not all children are as lucky as our protagonist and some need our support.

speech perception
Speech Perception

To help children with dyslexia we can strengthen their speech perception, which children begin to form at about six months old, when they start to pay attention to the sounds of spoken language. This usually happens as they focus on the movements of their parents’ lips to link visuals with auditory input. Lip reading is important because our mind usually prioritizes what we see over what we hear.

Children who are raised with little to no exposure to one-on-one conversations, can have problems connecting auditory inputs with lip and tongue movements. Some may not even realize that it takes a completely different mouth, tongue and lip movement to produce letters as similar as B and D. They lack what’s called phonological awareness. And if they are also dyslexic, they have it especially hard.

phonological awareness
Phonological awareness

Practicing phonological awareness can help children train their minds to understand their own mouth movements, sounds and word structures. Hence, professional therapists often  focus first on the basics, such as speaking and listening. Only later do they move on to the more complex forms of communication  such as reading and writing.

By the way, in Finland, children learn reading at age 6 or 7, and only 4% are diagnosed with dyslexia. Kids in the UK start school at age 4, but the National Health Service estimates 10% to be dyslexic. Later, Finish students rank top, as the world’s most literate people, while British pupils rank somewhere in the middle.

what do you think?
McGurk Effect

What are your thoughts about and experiences with dyslexia? Did your teachers punish kids for making spelling mistakes or did they try to help them? Share your thoughts in the comments below. To experience phonological awareness yourself, do the famous McGurk Effect experiment. It demonstrates how our visual perception beats our auditory one, and shows the importance of one-on-one conversations. Links are in the descriptions.

Sources

Dig deeper!

Classroom exercise

To experience the relationship between what you see and what you hear, have students watch the video of the McGurk Effect. Once they have seen it, ask them to sound out the letters B, C, D, and write down what happens inside their mouth. Are they all aware of the subtle differences?

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