A Clue to Dyslexia Through Poetry – Part 2


In Part 1 we introduced Philip Schultz, an individual self-diagnosed with dyslexia.  Failed by words as a child, he was bailed out of academic mediocrity by verses not just getting by, but to the point of becoming a Pulizter Prize winning poet.

There’s a clue to why poetry lends itself to the visually impaired more so than conventional reading.  These images come from an excellent website with a subsection on vision and reading.  Traditional reading, absent rich illustrations, becomes dense or crowded.  Vision research has shown the significant extent to which this crowding influences the acquisition of reading in developmental dyslexia, accounting for up to 60% of the variance in reading speed.

Why does crowding have such a profound influence?  It leaves little wiggle room for oculomotor imprecision as occurs with binocular instablity ….

…. or saccadic imprecision

How can the visual style of poetry lessen the accommodative, binocular, and oculomtor cognitive load?  It potentially alters the layout to leave more wiggle room for instability and imprecision.

Poetry Layout And Text Features

  1. Layout and Text Features
    The Way the Poem Looks on the Page
  2. Layout:
    Refers to the way the text looks on the page.
  3. Elements of layoutinclude:
    Font type and size (bold, italics, underline, etc.)
    Indentation and alignment (left, center, right.)
    Space between verses or stanzas
    Length of verses or stanzas.
  4. Besides poetry, layout is used in art, design and architecture, or any other field that deals with the arranging items to create a certain visual effect.
  5. Text Features – capitalization
    • Punctuation
    • Word Spacing  (CROWDING)
  6. Poets—unlike other writers—are not always expected to follow the rules of:
    • Capitalization
    • Spelling
    • Punctuation
    • Grammar
    • Word Spacing
  7. While this does allow the poet to write in newer, fresher, more expressive ways…
    It also demands more of the reader!
  8. Therefore, you might have to read a poem two, three or even ten times before you understand it!

On the surface it may seem ironic if not paradoxical that an individual with visual impairment, not in the acuity sense but in the efficiency/processing domains, might find the overall demand of poetry less taxing that conventional reading, in contrast with the proficient reader who finds poetry more demanding.

The explanation might reside in the brain of the dyslexic, creating and digesting print in visual sound bites.  Just enough rules to follow to create patterns, but enough wiggle room for visual-linguistic latitude.

- Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO

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