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Students with learning disabilities

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The dyslexic cognitive style

People who suffer from dyslexia are equally capable of learning, but learn differently, and these differences need to be recognized if they are to flourish academically. Several researchers have pointed out the fact that whereas the normal structure of the brain is to have a larger left than right side, people with dyslexia's brains are more symmetrical, with both left and right side being equally well developed.

This means that people with dyslexia tend to be good at tasks requiring a "right-brained" approach, such as visualizing, conceptualizing, seeing things from different perspectives, adopting a broad view. Some report the ability to see things in three dimensions, while others are good at tasks which require an innovative approach, and many excel at visual thinking, non-linear thinking, and recognizing patterns. Some writers even talk about the "gifts" of dyslexia, and the creativity of some people with dyslexia (see Morgan and Klein, 2000, for a summary of the research on dyslexia).

In a study of dyslexic and non-dyslexic children which required them to solve the Tower of Hanoi problem, the former fared better than the latter and managed to find the algorithm that was the key (Wszeborowska-Lipinska, 1998)

Students on business studies and management courses who have dyslexia may find that their gift for seeing the whole picture helps with corporate strategy, and their creativity may show itself in planning marketing campaigns.

However, dyslexia is indicated by a problem with phonological coding, which manifests itself in a difficulty acquiring some language skills. The part of the brain which deals with visual and auditory stimuli may be sluggish, although people with dyslexia differ as to which area they have most difficulty with. The following are some of the specific problems and difficulties which may be experienced:

  • Acquiring the basic rules of language, affecting grammar and spelling.
  • Fluent written expression, due partly to the above, but also to problems sequencing ideas and developing an "argument".
  • Producing written work in a short period of time, for example under exam conditions.
  • Comprehension of complex written material, partly due to the eye "jumping" on the page and words appearing in different places, letters getting switched, etc.
  • Poor proofreading skills as the student may not "see" errors.
  • Poor note taking as it's difficult to read/listen and write at the same time.
  • Slow handwriting (which also contributes to the above).
  • Poor short-term memory.
  • Managing time, working under pressing and managing (particularly multiple) deadlines.
  • Understanding directions.

The problem for people with dyslexia is that much learning is based on acquiring general rules and then applying them to specific situations. In particular, the "phonics" approach to spelling which is based on recognizing sounds may not work as people with dyslexia cannot "hear" the sounds. Emphasis on learning to read, and then learning through reading, may also not suit the dyslexic style. Dyslexic learners need to be able to relate to a particular context or to their own experience and make connections; they also respond to learning using a multisensory approach, drawing on visual and kinaesthetic abilities. In addition, much recent work on dyslexia has focused on adapting to individual learning styles, rather than imposing a particular style such as the phonics spelling method, and using the learner's strengths to build up their confidence and develop their own strategies for learning (Morgan and Klein, 2000).