What Does New Research in Visual Asymmetry Mean for Dyslexia Tutors?
Visual Asymmetry Dyslexia Research is Important
I am a dyslexia tutor. My daughter and I co-authored Dyslexia Tool Kit for Tutors and Parents: What to do when phonics isn’t enough. I love teaching dyslexic students to read! And I loved reading the recent dyslexia research on visual asymmetry. Left-right Asymmetry of the Maxwell Spot Centroids in Adults without and with Dyslexia, by French physicists Floch and Ropars, caused a media stir. Of course I found the article and read it. I read all of it, not just the abstract. In fact, I studied it. It’s a small study; just 60 subjects. It’s the first study of this kind in the field of dyslexia, so it needs to be replicated and expanded. If what Floch and Ropars saw proves repeatable, it could start a tectonic shift in how dyslexia is identified, studied, and remediated. But does it change what what tutors should do with students?
What the Visual Asymmetry Article Said
Floch and Ropars compared “normal” adults’ and dyslexic adults’ eyes. Specifically, they looked at the Maxwell spot, a cone-free area at the center of the fovea on the retina. They found that all 30 non-dyslexic adults in their study had asymmetrical eyes. The dominant eye had a circular Maxwell spot, while the non-dominant eye had an irregular shaped Maxwell spot. All 30 dyslexics had symmetrical Maxwell spots! And 27/30 dyslexics had undetermined eye dominance. Asymmetrical Maxwell spots allow the brain to develop, over the first eight years of life, the ability to distinguish left from right and sort out mirror images. IF future studies corroborate this research, the direction of dyslexia research could change! Could symmetrical Maxwell spots force the brain to find new, creative ways to interpret incoming visual data?
Take Away #1: Don’t Buy a Magic Lamp
DON’T buy a “magic lamp” to “cure” dyslexia by erasing one of the dual images seen by dyslexics! The researchers did employ such a lamp with interesting results. Several of the dyslexic subjects found reading easier with the lamp which flickers above 70 Hz. The flicker suppressed the mirror image before it reached the brain. But a great deal of research needs done before subjecting developing children’s brains and eyes to such a lamp on a regular basis.
Take Away #2: Do Keep Using Techniques That Work
Dyslexia comes in many flavors. Teachers and tutors need a whole tool box to meet those various needs. I have some recommendations. Beyond my own book, Dyslexia Tool Kit for Tutors and Parents, I recommend The Gift of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read…and How They Can Learn by Ron Davis, Why ‘Tyrannosaurus’ But Not ‘If’?: The Dyslexic Blueprint for the Future of Education (The WhyTy Series) (Volume 1), by Richard Whitehead, and The Reading Remedy: Six Essential Skills That Will Turn Your Child Into a Reader, by Marion Blank. And absolutely don’t miss The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain, by Brock and Fernette Eide. You are on the right track if your students are happy and learning.
Take Away #3: Pitch Programs That Don’t Work
Feel free to pitch out ANY program or curriculum, no matter how expensive, if it doesn’t deliver eager students and satisfying progress. Dyslexia research is overdue for new direction. The old method of “torture them with phonics until they give in and read slowly and painfully” should die a well-deserved death.
Take Away #4: Keep Eyes Wide Open for New Research in Dyslexia
Rejoice that there is now a hint in the research that may explain those dyslexics who learn to read very fast. Yes, they DO exist — see Dr. Matthew Schneps’ Laboratory for Visual Learning. These dyslexics who speed read at 1000 words per minute with 95% comprehension have so far mystified researchers focusing on their lack of phonemic awareness. But, rapid reading dyslexics may be ignoring phonics entirely and using their unusually wired eyes and brains to read in a completely different way. Perhaps now these students will be studied instead of ignored as freaks.
Take Away #5: Don’t Try to Fix Dyslexics; They Aren’t Broken
Finally, DON’T try to “fix” your dyslexic students. They are not broken! Focus on their strengths; teach to their gifts. Those creatively wired brains solve impressively complex problems. They invent wonderful new ideas. So, why would we want to take that away just to sound out words? When taught with strategies that don’t rely on sorting out mirror images such as b-d, dyslexics can read better and faster than most “normal” people. Speed reading coaches even say “send me an ADHD dyslexic if you want to see true speed reading.”
What I Take Away From the Visual Asymmetry Research
The world of dyslexic research is about to change as researchers follow up on this initial experiment. But don’t wait for that to happen. Just keep teaching the children using methods that produce joy in reading. That might be different methods for different children. Throw out anything that doesn’t work even if it claims to be “research-based.” Then, when the next wave of research is finally in, you’ll find that it probably coincides perfectly with what you are already doing!
by Yvonna Graham, M.Ed.