What is Dyslexia?

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Dyslexia is a language based learning disability, which can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the traditional school setting.  People with dyslexia often experience difficulties in the following areas: reading, spelling, writing and the pronunciation of words.   

What causes dyslexia?

The cause of dyslexia is not completely clear, but brain imagery studies suggest that there is a difference in the way the brain develops and functions between a person who has dyslexia and a person who does not.  Additionally, most people with dyslexia have been found to have problems with identifying different speech sounds within a word, or learning how letters represent those sounds.  Dyslexia does not occur due to lack of intelligence or a desire to learn.  With appropriate facilitating methods, students with dyslexia can successfully learn.  

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The Davis Theory of Dyslexia 

The Davis theory came out of this early trial-and-error approach, as a way to explain why the Davis methods work. Rather than starting with a theory and using that as a basis to devise a method, Ron Davis worked backward from the solution. A better understanding of the theory eliminated the need for trial-and-error, and would allow the development of additional tools and techniques.

Davis theory can be summed up as follows:

Dyslexics are primarily picture-thinkers:they generally think through mental or sensory imagery, rather than using words, sentences, or internal dialogue (self-talk) in their minds. Because this method of thinking is subliminal – faster than the person can be aware of – most dyslexics are not aware that this is what they’re doing.

Because dyslexics think in pictures or imagery, they tend to use global logic and reasoning strategies, looking at the 'big picture' to understand the world around them.  

They tend to be very good at strategizing, creative endeavors, hands-on activities, and solving real world objective problems, but tend to be poor with word-based sequential, linear, step-by-step reasoning. When you look at a picture of a dog, you do not move your mind from tail to haunches to legs to shoulders to head to ears to nose to figure out you have a dog. You see all parts at once, and conclude ‘dog’. If most or all of your thinking is in pictures, you would become accustomed to figuring things out by looking at the whole object or situation at once.

Thinking primarily with images, dyslexics also tend to develop very strong imaginations, and to use a picture or feeling based reasoning process to solve problems rather than a verbal one. If they are at first confused (or intrigued), they will mentally turn an object around to look at it from different viewpoints or angles. From this thought process, they develop many unique abilities and talents.

This ability can also be the foundation for a problem. When disoriented, the individual will perceive their own thinking as reality. Most people experience a state of disorientation when looking at an optical illusion, or when exposed to misleading sensory stimuli, such as that created by virtual reality amusement rides. But dyslexics become disoriented on a day-to-day basis; it is their natural mental response to any confusing sensory information – as well as to creative problem-solving.

Dyslexics tend to have difficulty with unreal and symbolic objects, such as letters and numerals. In their effort to comprehend symbols as they would an automobile engine or an engineering diagram, they can become disoriented. This leads to the familiar symptoms of substitutions, omissions, reversals or transpositions in reading or writing letters and words. Disorientation is not limited to visual input; many dyslexics commonly mishear or garble words or the sequence of words in sentences. Their sense of time can seem distorted and their motor coordination can appear delayed or clumsy.

The repeated mistakes that result from misperceptions due to disorientation inevitably lead to emotional reactions, frustration and loss of self-esteem. In an effort to solve this dilemma, each dyslexic will begin to develop a set of coping mechanisms and compulsive behaviors to get around these problems. Ron Davis calls them “old solutions.” Rote memorization, the alphabet song, getting Mom to do the homework, acting out, illegible handwriting to cover up poor spelling, skillful deception and avoidance of any task related to school or reading, are some examples. These can begin to develop as early as ages six or seven. An adult dyslexic will have an entire repertoire of such behaviors. Now we have the full range of symptoms, characteristics and behaviors commonly associated with dyslexia.

The most significant aspect of the Davis Theory in resolving dyslexia is the observation that when an auditory symbol – a word – lacks a mental picture and meaning for the dyslexic, disorientation and mistakes are the result. When we show a dyslexic how to turn off the disorientations at the moment they occur, and then help find and master the stimuli that triggered the disorientation, the reading, writing and spelling problems start to disappear. So do the “old solutions.”

Abigail Marshall © 1999, 2005

Used with permission: Davis Dyslexia 


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Professional services described as Davis™, Davis Dyslexia Correction®, Davis Symbol Mastery®, Davis Orientation Counseling®, and Davis Math Mastery® may only be provided by persons who are employed by a licensed Davis Specialist, or who are trained and licensed as Davis Facilitators by Davis Dyslexia Association International.