The Dyslexic Brain: Words, words, everywhere (5/52)

I can’t stop smiling as I start this blog on the Dyslexic Brain. I will return to this important subject in a moment – I’m smiling because I have just remembered a former business bank manager [Brian] saying, in all earnest, ‘Nigel, I do appreciate getting your monthly financial updates but please would you stop writing to me as, Dear Brain!’

Words, words, everywhere but not a sentence to read! [Apologies to Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – ‘Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink’!]. I merely use it to highlight the challenge that dyslexics face in our word-rich world. Of course, this blog is just a drop in the ocean in the sea of research on dyslexia.

Recent research on how the brain’s cortex, more especially the structure of minicolumns (dense versus loose) and axons (short versus long), impacts on connections, suggests that dyslexia is not a dysfunction but a difference. Of course, I rather like this idea and recognise this might just be because it supports my worldview, expressed in my first blog (0/52), that dyslexia is a learning difference. In this blog, I am drawing mainly on The Dyslexic Advantage (book) by Eide and Eide, 2012 and Dyslexia and the Brain (video) by Eden, 2016.

So, why would cortex structure (short-dense and long-loose) effect connections and why is this relevant to dyslexia?

One of the key differences (or in Eide and Eide’s words advantages or in my words superpowers) for dyslexics is the ability to see patterns or the wood for the trees or the big picture (Watch 7:30 Eden video). This big picture thinking is function of a cortex structure – more precisely long axons and loose minicolumns  (long-loose) which slows down processing. The opposite is short axons and dense minicolumns and  (short-dense) which speeds up processing and supports fine detail thinking. This produces a fascinating spectrum from slow (big picture thinking) to fast (fine detail thinking), which maps onto dyslexia (big picture thinking) and autism (fine detail thinking).

Importantly, learning to read (a function of phonological processing and procedural processing in the left brain) is enhanced by fine detail thinking. This might also go some way to explain the challenge words cause dyslexics.

The implications for dyslexics are firstly, dyslexia is a difference not a dysfunction and secondly, as I know from my own experience, adult dyslexics can improve their word processing power [I will come back to how in a future blog but in the meantime watch 7:58 Eden video] to a mostly adequate level without losing their big picture thinking!

Nigel Lockett – The Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support