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Dyslexia - A Gift?
Lillian Jones

Dyslexia is a term we often hear, but how many of us really understand what it is or how it works? Would we recognize it if we saw it in our children? And what could we do to help a dyslexic child succeed at reading? Or is dyslexia about more than just reading? The fascinating answers to these question are answered in The Gift of Dyslexia, a book written by Ron Davis, who is himself a dyslexic.

Ron Davis personally lived the all too common childhood agony of being scorned and labeled as a "dummy" at home and a "retard" at school. Miserable in school, he always wondered why he failed at things that seemed so natural to other children. Yet he went on to succeed in technical courses and to become an engineer in the aerospace industry, a successful businessman and a gifted sculptor.

While working as a sculptor at 38, Davis made an amazing discovery about perception. One day, after several laborious hours of writing to another artist about his sculpting techniques, he realized that what he had written was unintelligible-meaningless scrawls no one would be able to read. Fascinated by this, he eventually made an important connection: when he wrote that letter, he had been focusing on his creative process, and that seemed to make his dyslexia worse. He got to work figuring out what the actual mental process might be that would cause this phenomenon. Within three days he had figured out the mechanics of how to go beyond his dyslexia-and, for the first time in his life, read a book cover to cover in just a few hours.

This powerful process is the basis for the techniques he shares in his book, The Gift of Dyslexia and at his center, The Reading Research Council, an agency based in Burlingame, California. The center has taught these techniques to over 1,000 people-and is now spreading the information throughout Europe as well. The Gift of Dyslexia is a small book with dyslexic-friendly large print and simple illustrations. It also comes in audio tape format.

Ron Davis emphasizes that the dyslexic learning style is actually a talent-a gift. He points out that dyslexics such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, General George Patton, Hans Christian Andersen and Thomas Edison were using their dyslexic talent to create ingeniously in multi-dimensional ways.

The "disability" side of dyslexia is, according to Davis, a product of thought and a special way of reacting to a feeling of confusion. People think in two different ways: verbal conceptualization-thinking with the sounds of words, and nonverbal conceptualization-thinking with mental pictures of concepts and ideas. The dyslexic falls into the mental pictures category-so that words which do not present a mental image for him can lead to confusion in reading.

Dyslexia and Academics

"Keep in mind," says Davis, "that dyslexics have little or no internal monolog, so they do not hear what they are reading unless they are reading aloud. Instead, they are composing a mental picture by adding the meaning-or image of the meaning-of each new word as it is encountered." The end product of this confusion can be disorientation. The dyslexic can be very creative in trying to resolve that confusion-and this is where things begin to really get interesting! The dyslexic can often see the words from all sorts of angles, or his mind can be triggered off into a vivid daydream. The Orientation methods in The Gift of Dyslexia can be very effective for getting oriented, and the Symbol Mastery techniques complete the set of tools that can make the dyslexic an effective reader.

What about spelling? Spelling in our inconsistent English language can be challenging for anyone, but a disoriented dyslexic can get multiple views of a word-forward, backward, reassembled, upside down, pulled apart... Davis says there are at least forty different variations possible of a three letter word like cat! His simple techniques for Symbol Mastery, discussed in his book, can give the dyslexic a handle on spelling.

Handwriting can present severe problems for the dyslexic. The most common problems come from the student getting too many messages about what his handwriting should look like. The dyslexic can have so many pictures overlaid in his mind, that he finds himself switching from one to another as he writes, creating a jumble. Or he might not yet have processed certain lines his mind, so that a diagonal line, for example, might not be part of his stored information-so he can't recreate something he doesn't see internally. Davis has developed simple techniques for remediation, and shows an amazing sample of how an 11 year old's scribbling evolved into handsome writing within a four day period.

Math is another area where the dyslexic can run into trouble. Davis points out that "All math, from simple arithmetic to astrophysics calculus, is composed of order (versus disorder), sequence, and time. Children who have an inherent sense of these three concepts can learn and understand math. For children who do not possess these concepts, learning math is reduced to memorization. " The dyslexic child might never have any real understanding of math unless he masters the basics of time, sequence and order-something which can be assisted with the Orientation and Symbol mastery.

Ron Davis came to his understanding of the dyslexia phenomenon by examining how he viewed things while in an artistically creative state. When he was at his artistic best, he was at his dyslexic worst. His exploration of how this worked was ingenious. He discovered that he could consciously shift his perception, his "mind's eye," to various locations, thereby increasing or decreasing his creativity or imagination-and simultaneously changing his dyslexia accordingly. One can focus the mind's eye to the proper orientation position for whichever kind of task is desired. As an example, reading requires a position that will not serve to promote creativity in a watercolor painting. This orientation is taught to readers of The Gift of Dyslexia and to people who take the training or workshops through his center, or from other consultants who have taken the training.

Our Family's Experience

Some years ago, I experienced the joy of finding that orientation point and getting a firm grasp on how to control it. At The Dyslexia Center in Santa Rosa, California, I took a training class with educational consultant Betty Judah, who incorporates Ron Davis' techniques along with her own. During the first hour I felt very frustrated noticing that things in the room seemed fuzzy, my vision blurred - a tiresome situation I frequently found myself in. I made a mental note to make an appointment for an eyesight exam. Minutes later, as Betty showed me how to set my orientation point, I saw the room come into sharp focus. That fuzzy vision had been a result of going dyslexic - and it is now easily remedied by a quick mental process I can do. Instructions and clear diagrams are given in The Gift of Dyslexia on how to find and control your own orientation point, with the warning that a non-dyslexic will become disoriented if using it.

I want to emphasize here that the Davis system is not meant to remediate vision problems - that was just a manifestation I had of my dyslexic tendencies, and I haven't heard of anyone else having the same problem. Dyslexia comes in many forms, each person being unique and having a personal history that forms his or her own way of perceiving and understanding the world.

When I took a dyslexia training with my son, the educational consultant noticed that his eyes were not tracking properly across the page, a subtle thing an untrained eye might not have noticed. He subsequently was tested, went through Developmental Vision Training, and is now a voracious reader. The dyslexia part of the training seemed to pertain more to me than to him. I would strongly recommend that a vision skill screening be considered for any older child who is having troublesome reading, math or writing problems. You can find extensive information online at: Parents Active for Vision Education. Also check the article I wrote about my son's experience with Vision Training: Taking a Look at Vision Skills.

Many parents make the same mistakes the schools do in trying to push learning before the child is developmentally ready. Waiting till the appropriate time, which is different for every child, goes a long way toward avoiding learning problems. Learning problems, and even vision skill problems, can actually be caused by premature teaching.

The Basic Symbol Mastery section of The Gift of Dyslexia is fun. It involves setting the orientation point in the proper position and then working out concepts and symbols in plasticene clay. Davis suggests doing this with what he calls the "trigger" words which cause a dyslexic to have confusion and get disoriented. The technique can also be used with math symbols, numbers and speech sounds.

Perhaps the most important thing to mention is that a child who goes through Ron Davis' training comes away with a high feeling of personal esteem, because dyslexia really is presented as a talent and a gift which one can learn to control.

An acquaintance, Abigail Marshall told me she read the book, The Gift of Dyslexia, twice and lead her 11 year old son through the techniques - at which point, both his reading and self-esteem dramatically improved. For the first time, he could confidently stand in front of the class at school and read aloud. Later, Abigail told me she was so impressed with Ron Davis' work that she had quit her law practice, and now works with Davis Dyslexia Association International. You can read a lot more about all this and a lot more at their website: Dyslexia - the Gift.

Lillian Jones, the editor of BestHomeschooling, once trained to be a teacher and taught in public schools for a short time before realizing that she didn't feel comfortable in the system. Later, while homeschooling her son, she found that teacher training was much more of a hindrance than a help. She has long been active in homeschooling activism and online support, especially with the HomeSchool Association of California. Her writing has been published in a number of popular publications and books about homeschooling, most recently in the book, See, I Told Me So!. She now pursues her lifelong passion for art, painting and traveling.

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