If Dyslexia is a Gift, Where is Customer Service?

About five years ago I wrote an item for our office newsletter bearing the same title as this blog piece.  The idea stemmed from the title of a book written by Ron Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia.  My point was, and remains, that a significant percentage of the patients that we see in our practices are individuals with reading difficulties.  Particularly among early school-aged children, struggles with either learning to read or reading to learn seem to predominate the concerns shared by parents of many of these children.  At its most basic level, lexia means “reading” and dys-lexia therefore is difficulty with reading.  In short, what I wrote several years ago was that if Dyslexia is a gift, most of my patients and their parents want to know where customer service is so they can figure out how to use this gift.  The book by Ron Davis wasn’t much help.  A new book that has just come out hits closer to the mark.

The print copy of The Dyslexic Advantage by the husband and wife writing team of Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide has a front cover depiction of an egg that stands out as different, but I much prefer the graphic on the audio version of the book that shows a light bulb turning on.  Indeed the Eides shed considerable light on a very complex subject.

The Eides specialize in neuro-learning, and if their names are familiar to you it may be because they gave a splendid lecture at the COVD meeting in 2006 and blogged about it – which includes a PDF of their handout – prior to an evening Q & A program.  It was during that time frame that I got to know them and was highly impressed about how much they respected the role of vision  in reading, not commonplace for MDs.  The fact that they had collaborated with Dr. Nancy Torgerson helped at least in part to explain their enlightened position.

There is much to commend about this book that I will elaborate in a subsequent blog but simply the title positioning dyslexia as an advantage rather than as a gift is, in and of itself an important distinction.  So many of the children that we see as patients strike us as out of the box kids who are going to thrive if they can survive the hurdles of the educational system, particularly in their formative years.    Rather than dyslexia being a condition to be “overcome“, the Eides emphasize that dyslexia is a condition reflecting a style of processing.  We have blogged before about the visual nature of dyslexia and its relationship to reading and attention.  As in their book The Mislabeled Child, The Eides do a great job of clearing the air about myths and misconception by those who have precious little knowledge of vision as related to learning.  Here are some key things they have to say about the subject on pages 180-181 of their new book:

1) “Fluent reading also requires a well-functioning visual system, which is something many persistently slow readers lack.”

2) “There really does seem to be a subset of individuals with dyslexia whose inadequate visual skills delay their reading progress and who can benefit from visual evaluation and treatment.”

3) “For some, the difference can be dramatic and can prevent prolonged underperformance, or often uncomfortable symptoms like eyestrain or headaches while reading; visual wobbling (where the letters seem to move); eye tearing; doubling of visual images; skipping lines or frequently losing place while reading; or behaviors like squinting, tilting the head, closing one eye, or putting the head very close to the page.”

4) “Individuals with dyslexia who often experience visual symptoms while reading or doing other forms of fine-detail close-up work deserve a thorough visual evaluation.”

5) “The appropriate specialist to perform this exam is a developmental optometrist who has specialty training in the kinds of functional eye skills that allow the eyes to work well for fine-detail work.  These specialists will usually have the letters F.C.O.V.D. in addition to O.D. after their name, and many can be located at www.covd.org.”

You can also learn more about visual factors related to reading through information shared on our blog by Drs. Fortenbacher and Tannen.


– Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO

4 thoughts on “If Dyslexia is a Gift, Where is Customer Service?

  1. That is precisely the point, Beth. The Doctors Eide note that there may be reasons why you don’t want to return it, but rather learn how to channel it. More to follow in the next blog piece.

  2. Thanks, Greg. The answer to your query is not at all. The awareness among the dyslexia community about vision problems is almost nil. Ironically it was an ophthalmologist who first wrote about dyslexia in the late 1800s, and then the field decided during the 20th century to follow Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham’s lead that dyslexia was essentially a phonological problem, hence the visual baby got thrown out with the bathwater.

    In fact, if you go to the website of the International Dyslexia Association, and do a search for “Vision Therapy”, you’ll come up with only one result, which is: http://www.interdys.org/InsInt.htm. That link is to “Interventions and Instructions”. The first item up is the rigged and biased Joint Policy Statement by MDs with an agenda toward discrediting optometric vision therapy.

    Ironically the President of the IDA is Guinevere Eden, Ph.D., a researcher who began her career working more on the visual side of the dyslexic equation. Take a look at the body of her work here:
    http://csl.georgetown.edu/members/faculty/EdenG.shtml. This article in particular:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8023443 — is a powerful statement about visual deficits in dyslexics compared to controls that are independent of language considerations. Might there be funding or political forces that influenced the shift of the dyslexia field away from vision toward phonology? I’ll let you be the judge, but kudos again to the Eides for publicly championing a role for vision.

    By the way, I admire the job that you’re doing for Dr. Knueppel on her blog.

    Keep up the great work!

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