Imagine picking up some reading material and not being able to see the letters as they are. Imagine seeing sentences without spaces, letters formed backwards or words broken up or jumbled together. That is how text appears to someone, who has dyslexia. It is a reading disability, a condition that prevents a person from reading, spelling and writing a language.
Why a dyslexic person is unable to read successfully can be understood better, if we disseminate what the brain does during the reading process. The brain recognizes different letters by associating them with their sounds, joins them together to form words and comprehends what the words mean by generating images. A dyslexic person’s brain is unable to decipher images of letters and to connect letters with their sounds. A sentence may appear to them as a string of letters below:
I tisv er yd ifficu ltf or meto re adthi s. (“It is very difficult for me to read this.”)
Dyslexia does not indicate mental retardation, lack of intelligence or a deficiency in vision. A child or an adult having dyslexia may be very intelligent, highly creative and possess a high IQ. They are also physically normal development-wise. It’s just that because of a malfunction, their brain cannot translate images seen by the eyes into a language that they can understand.
The cause of dyslexia is usually genetic disposition: the condition can be passed on through the genes of the family. Very rarely, it can be caused by some trauma in life, hearing problems in early childhood or by deficient brain-cell development in the mother’s womb. Dyslexia can be overcome or worked around using alternative learning techniques, but there is no physical cure.
A child with dyslexia feels very frustrated within a traditional school environment. The teacher might notice that even though the child comprehends everything well and is overall smart, he finds it very difficult to read a book or write notes in class. Since later school-learning focuses more on taking notes, studying books and writing assignments, dyslexic students eventually need to have a separate, special reading and study group, in order to keep up with others. They are taught with flashcards or audio lectures.
It is said that Albert Einstein was dyslexic. The actor Tom Cruise is also a famous dyslexic person, who memorizes his dialogues for films by having his lines read out to him. This condition is, therefore, only as much of an obstacle in a child’s intellectual achievement as it is allowed or perceived to be.
Dyslexic children have an extraordinary long-term memory and exceptional learning skills. Some go even as far as to call them gifted because of their high creativity. Their need to learn via images and sounds (as opposed to symbols, letters, numbers and words) makes their minds multi-dimensional. They excel in outdoor sports. However, since they have difficulty in reading, spelling, writing and speaking a language, they experience shyness, frustration, anger, isolation or even embarrassment at being ‘the different children in class.’ They need extra support and love from both family and teachers, in order to feel confident about themselves.
Although not dyslexic, an inspiring example for Muslims is our ‘unlettered’ Prophet Muhammad (sa), who could neither read nor write. The method by which he learned and taught the Quran was Ilqaa – archangel Gabriel would recite the words aloud repeatedly, until they were memorized. The same method was used by the Companions to memorize the Quran.
Therefore, if a child cannot read or write properly, it is not the end of the world.