Parenting: Inside the dyslexic mind


2023-05-25 13:17:20

Laughton King

Laughton King
Photo: Exisle Publishing

Expecting a dyslexic child to thrive in a neurotypical education system is like filling a diesel engine with petrol, a retired psychologist says.

Laughton King is on a personal crusade to help parents and teachers to understand children with learning difficulties.

King, author of new book Inside the Dyslexic Mind, has spent his 70-plus years navigating education and a professional career as a dyslexic person. He has first-hand experience of the struggles, frustrations, misconceptions and psychological fallout from having a learning difficulty.

He tells Kathryn Ryan that there is “huge confusion” about dyslexia. The word itself is taken from Latin and means ‘difficulty with language’. While that’s an accurate enough description, our understanding of what it means is way off, he says.

“Dyslexia is a not reading difficulty. It looks like it, but it’s not. It’s not a writing difficulty (it does look like it, but it’s not). It’s not a learning difficulty.

“What it is, is a teaching difficulty, because the person who is dyslexic has absolutely, totally an utterly normal brain.”

King says there is nothing wrong with a dyslexic brain, it’s just slightly different.

“You could liken it to the difference between petrol and diesel. The car looks the same, it runs, it’s got a motor, but what you put in the tank is slightly different.”

Our reading and writing system was invented about 4000 years ago by the Phoenicians, who understood that about 85 percent of the population were right-handed. This is why, King says, that letters, words and sentences go from left to right.

“When it comes to reading and writing, the poor little dyslexic kid is like a diesel engine somebody’s filling full of petrol. We are trying to get this kid to work in a manner that is not natural, and he’s having to effectively work backwards.

“Backwards through writing each word, backwards through writing each sentence, backwards through reading each word and each sentence. Do we wonder that these kids get tired [and] start yawning as soon as they see print? I still have that same physical reaction. I yawn as soon as I see something to read.”

Child reading a book using their finger as a guide

Photo: Michal Parzuchowski for Unsplash

While neurotypical people process language as their thinking tool, a dyslexic person does most of their thinking in a pictorial form.

Think about the words ‘tennis racquet’, King says. In a neurotypical person, the language part of your brain picks that up, understands it, and passes it on to the pictorial side which comes up with a picture. Try the same exercise with a word like ‘perhaps’, and there’s a void – the word is the picture. A language processing person will ‘see’ the words, but there’s no vision for a dyslexic.

“For me as a child that was happening 100, 200 times a day,” King says.

“We use our image-ination, our imagination. It’s an image-based operation. Although the two operations, language and picture thinking commonly go together, the person who is dyslexic has their prime function in the image-based thinking… hence we don’t do well at school.”

King says people who ‘do’ language well also thrive at school and grow up to be the controlling forces in society – they can read, write, talk and listen. Those who don’t, become also-rans.

“We are the inventors. We are the problem solvers. But we don’t have the voice. You can have a wonderful idea sitting in your head in pictorial form. But if you’re not a language person, it’s very, very difficult to communicate that.”

As a young person, King himself contemplated suicide because he felt a strong sense of failure. Through perseverance, he figured out a series of complex workarounds that enabled him to get three degrees. He’s since gone on to help others with dyslexia to navigate the language world.

“It is not my job, in terms of the way I see things, to answer all the questions and teach teachers how to teach dyslexic kids. My job is to be the go-between between the dyslexic and the non-dyslexic world, to clarify the style that dyslexic people use.”

King says most of the research into dyslexia is based on successful children, rather than those who are struggling. He says the focus should be on helping parents and the teachers to understand how they might be helping – or sabotaging – their child.

Many instructions given to children, like ‘hurry up’, are impossible for dyslexic children to visualise and act on, King says.

What makes it worse is the instruction not to do something, he says.

“What we do, in saying, ‘don’t spill your drink’ is we actually hypnotise the child. We have put a picture in the kid’s head of a spilling drink.

“We do it with our children all the time. ‘Don’t kick the cat’. ‘How many times do I have to tell you don’t leave your bike in the middle of the drive?’ People know that we shouldn’t use negative language but they don’t know why. And that’s why I use these illustrations.”

The main impact on a child’s self-concept is the way the adults around them talk to the child, King says.

“That sense of failure is overpowering for dyslexics.”

Inside the Dyslexic Mind: A resource for parents, teachers and dyslexics themselves, by Laughton King, is published by Exisle.

#Parenting #dyslexic #mind

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