by Manda Aufochs Gillespie
This week’s guest at Folk University’s Folk U Friday series was Sue Hall author of Fish Don’t Climb Trees, head of the Whole Dyslexic Society, and Davis Dyslexia facilitator. Sue Hall is also dyslexic and the mother of a dyslexic child and has taught a positive-based approached to working with dyslexia for 20 years. She talked about how to fid the gift in so-called learning disabilities and work with dyslexia in a positive way. Please listen to the CKTZ podcast for a brief interview with Sue Hall or visit https://thegreenmama.com/learning-differences/ to read more about dyslexia and learning differences.
What is a Learning Difference?
One of the technical prerequisites of a learning disorder diagnosis is the possession of at least an average (and often above average) IQ, along with difficulties in processing spoken or written language or symbols. Thus, by definition, someone with a diagnosed learning disorder is “smart,” yet they may struggle with reading or writing or doing basic math. This is very different from an intellectual disability, signifying a cognitive capacity that is below average.
There can be learning differences that occur for a variety of reasons, though not all are considered learning disorders. Learning differences we typically hear about include dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While all of these can affect a person’s learning, the medical and educational communities do not consider ADHD and ASD learning disorders.
So what is considered a learning disorder? Dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia are common examples of learning disorders according to the medical and educational communities:
Dyslexia is the broadest of these “dys-es”, and affects the way a person relates to symbols (words and/or letters) and their meanings. It is often used as a catchall category for more than 70 other learning disabilities. Many children with learning differences, including ADHD and ASD, can have some symptoms of dyslexia.
Dyscalculia could also be called dyslexia of numbers, and affects a person’s ability to read, copy, write and manipulate numbers, as well as their ability to comprehend and master mathematical concepts.
Dysgraphia affects written expression, manifesting as poor handwriting and/or difficulty with spelling or putting thoughts onto paper.
Dyslexia is the most common form of these three learning disabilities. It may also overlap with symptoms of dysgraphia and/or dyscalculia. It presents with symptoms far greater than writing letters backward or having them slide and jump around the page, which are the most common associations with this disorder.
Beyond letters moving around the page, dyslexia is also associated with difficulty connecting letters with their sounds and vice versa, making it a challenge for people with dyslexia to sound out words, rhyme, or pronounce and write letters in their proper order. It can also make it hard to associate meanings with words and symbols.
The Gift of Dyslexia
The belief that dyslexia is a gift forms a cornerstone of the Davis Dyslexia Correction program taught by Sue Hall. The Davis program is founded on the work of Ron Davis, author of The Gift of Learning and The Gift of Dyslexia. Davis was deemed autistic and abandoned by an educational system that didn’t know what to do with him or his inability to read. Despite this challenge, he became a successful engineer. It wasn’t until he was 38 years old that he finally taught himself to read. Davis experimented on himself and other dyslexic individuals. Together with an educational psychologist, he created techniques to correct the visual “disorientation” that is associated with dyslexia. His programs are now taught and used internationally for those with dyslexia and ASD.
The programs are based upon the idea that the challenges that come with the gifts of learning differences can be overcome. In the case of dyslexia, this means learning to master the symbols. In Davis’ view, “When someone masters something, it becomes a part of that person. It becomes part of the individual’s thought and creative process. It adds the quality of its essence to all subsequent thought and creativity of the individual.”
Sue Hall points to numerous inspiring figures that have used their neuro-differences to excel. They include athletes such as Magic Johnson and Muhammad Ali; artists such as Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Ludwig van Beethoven, John Lennon, Lewis Carroll, and F. Scott Fitzgerald; and famous in uential thinkers such as George Washington, Rudolf Steiner, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein.
What about School?
If these learning differences are a gift, why do so many children struggle in school? Hall and Davis would place blame on the current mainstream education system: “Many so-called learning challenges exist purely because our current education system ignores the innate learning style of one-third of the population,” says Hall.
The problem arises, according to Hall, when this gift of perception collides with an educational system that assumes verbal processing— connecting letters and sounds (aka phonics)—is the “correct” way to learn, and isn’t able to provide meaning for words in a three- dimensional form. “In a nutshell, there are little PC computers entering Kindergarten and there are little Apple Macs. If the education system is PC-based, then the little Apple Macs will be seen as deficient.”
I saw a living example of this in a small, international Waldorf school my children attended in Guatemala. Many people believe that Guatemala has one of the highest rates of dyslexia in the world. Theories as to why abound. Whatever the cause, what I saw in the early grades was a type of learning that helped all kids excel. The classes were taught in Spanish, which, for the majority of the children, was not their rst language. As they were introduced to their letters and numbers, the children wrote the symbols with their bodies, with their feet in the sand, on each other’s backs. They crawled on the ground and walked on the balance beam while repeating the letter. They created the letter with string and beeswax. In other words, the children had ample opportunities to embody the symbols before they were assigned to the two-dimensional space on paper. The children were also taught through stories, actions and demonstrations rather than through books, so that the kids who didn’t yet read could still learn with their peer group.
Hall asserts that if a child with dyslexia—or just about any of the learning differences that get grouped in with dyslexia—have been taught to use their imaging gift (and how to find and model meanings as needed) and are protected from the conventional emphasis on sound-based learning, then a learner should have no trouble integrating in any classroom or grade level. Children with learning disorders—even children with ADHD and ASD—can nourish, whether in conventional educational systems or otherwise.
You can read more about dyslexia in the article Understanding How to Turn Learning Disorders & Differences & Dyslexia into a Gift (https://thegreenmama.com/learning-differences/) on my website thegreenmama.com.
Some of the information above was taken from an article on Learning Differences published in EcoParent Magazine. Thank you to Sue Hall for her amazing work and bringing her talents to Cortes and to the many Cortesians who took the time to learn how to teach for all learners. And I especially thank all those dyslexics who use their talents top make our world so culturally rich.
Folk University is the people’s university of Cortes Island. Where neighbours share their interests and passions with each other. Folk University includes Folk U Fridays which happens every Friday at 1:00 at Linnaea. Get on the schedule or come and get inspired. Folk University also hosts and partners to provide numerous other ways for neighbours to inspire neighbours… including book clubs, cinema nights, salons, and more. What do you know? Share it. Learn more by visiting folku.ca
Manda Aufochs Gillespie is a writer. She’s the author of the Green Mama series of books (https://thegreenmama.com/books/) and the publisher of the award-winning website thegreenmama.com. She is also a mother, neighbour, and founder of Folk University (folku.ca).
“I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don’t even know it.” – Sue Monk Kidd.