Dyslexia: The Gift that is Considered a Problem
For the past several years I have been privileged to accompany Matthias Füll on his journey. It has been an honor to be allowed to witness confusion giving way to understanding and knowledge. Using simple self-management tools and his amazing power of imagination, he has overcome many hurdles that would have daunted one less committed to success. With his path now leading him on to college, I look forward to seeing him succeed at this new challenge as well!
Stuttgart, March 2010
Senior Thesis by Matthias Füll
High Mowing School
Teacher: Wendy Bruneau
Mentor: Marguy Nelson
Dyslexia: The Gift that is Considered a Problem
I dedicate this thesis to all dyslexic students who have found the methods of Ron Davis, and to my mother Irmtraud Füll who never stopped believing in me. Thanks also go to my father Ottmar Füll. Special thanks to Gabriela Scholter who gave me the tools, and still does, so I can realize my dreams. Thanks go to High MowingSchool, for giving me a second chance to become what I am today.
© Matthias Füll, 2010
- My journey
- Defining Dyslexia
- Dyslexia: Description
- Dyslexia: The Talent
- Orientation and disorientation
- The mind’s eye and focusing
- How does it feel to be disoriented?
- Handling stress
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Controlling Energy
- Handling Confusion
- Practical application
Introduction - My journey
This thesis is very personal for me.
To this day l remember standing at the window in my kindergarten class looking out at the snowflakes. I was a little lonesome because my sister and cousin had started school in summer. Up until then they had gone to kindergarten with me. As I stood there I was telling myself that I wanted to be good in school. I imagined myself knowing how to read and write. That made me happy.
One and a half years later I started first grade and reality caught up with me. My schoolmates learned to read and write quickly. They could even do math. It took me more than a year to be able to do any of it. I remember finding solutions for this. Copying the answers for math problems from my neighbor comes to mind. I also tried to improve my grades by doing extra work. But the teacher had not assigned it and the next day I got yelled at. I promised myself I would never do extra work again.
After two and a half years my mom saw how I struggled in public school and switched me to a Waldorf School. She knew from personal experience what it feels like to be stuck in a system that thinks you are too stupid to learn.
In the beginning, I was better in my new school since my old school had been further along with the curriculum. That felt very good because I had never had that feeling before. But switching schools did not really solve any of my problems. I still could not read, spell or do math as well as the others. And soon I found myself with a tutor, then two, three and finally four tutors every week, all for different subjects.
My loving mom gave me ginseng tea in the morning to help me stay focused.
Everyone thinks, “If he only paid attention, he could do this.” But I never had the feeling that I understood anything better than before. Very soon I found myself in the group of students that did not do well. We always received different work from the others. I felt different and dumb. Soon I was frustrated and tried to find reasons to stay home. Every morning I told my mom I was sick because I did not want to go to school. Of course I had to go anyway. The teachers thought through pushing me, I would do better. What they did not realize was that pushing did not help me understand; it depressed me.
But my mother never gave up and always looked for solutions for me. Some did not work. Some I did not accept because I knew they would not work, because nothing ever had. Finally we heard about a new method of learning. It was about learning with my abilities instead of against them. We went for an interview and half way through my mom and I started to cry. It all sounded so simple. I was scared this would not work either and so was my mother. I was afraid that again something I put hard work into would turn out not to solve my problems. In the end I agreed to this, to make my mom happy again.
Half way through my first week of work I started changing my mind. I was now doing it for me and not my mother. I felt comfortable working because for the first time somebody besides my family gave me positive feedback and believed in me and knew that I could be much more than just a garbage collector when I grew up. My old goal came back: to be a good student. I decided, “If I ever get the chance to start fresh, I will be a good student.”
Two years later I got that opportunity. I left my old school in Germany and came to High Mowing in the United States. The teachers here believed in me and accepted me for the person I am. I brought with me my new tools for learning and because no one knew about my past struggles, I was just like anyone else. I did not get different work from the others and I became a good student. Now I’m on my way to college.
This thesis shows how a dyslexic deals successfully with school and his daily environment. In that sense it is about my personal quest to become the person I want to be: Successful in school and most importantly, in life.
Dyslexia: The Gift that is Considered a Problem
Dyslexia is the most researched learning disability of all. Usually what we connect with dyslexia is reading, writing, spelling and math problems, which children develop in school. In today’s society, many people think if someone is dyslexic that he must be incapable of following lessons in class. That person is automatically branded as being learning disabled by the teacher. It is very frustrating to study for hours for a test, and then get a D grade. The student starts to think, if I study for hours and get a D grade anyway, then why should I study at all? It is like an avalanche: first your self-esteem starts to drop, frustration comes along and bad grades follow. Few people now see that dyslexia is a gift.
Although being dyslexic doesn’t automatically make you a genius, it is very important for yourself and your self-esteem to know how the mind of a dyslexic individual works. Some of the greatest scientists, inventors, actors, writers and painters were dyslexic, including Whoopi Goldberg, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Leonardo da Vinci, and Thomas Edison (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page. 4). All of those people utilized the brain’s ability to create multi-dimensional pictures. The mental function that causes dyslexia is a gift in the truest sense of the word, if it’s understood and worked with. A great way to overcome learning disabilities is by adopting the Davis® method; it will give you the tools for success in life.
Before the 1980’s a child was defined as dyslexic when reading difficulties arose that could not be explained by intelligence or poor vision or hearing. Parents and researchers were unsatisfied with this definition, so they came up with a new definition. Being dyslexic can make it extremely difficult to read, write, spell and solve math problems. Every case of dyslexia is different, since it is a self-created condition. This means it has to do with the way a person thinks and reacts to confusion. Dyslexia does not occur because of being unmotivated or having a sensory impairment. These problems are side effects which develop because of dyslexia. Research has found that the reasons for learning difficulties may reside on the 6th chromosome. Dyslexia may run in the family gene tree, and get passed on from generation to generation (Plessis).
Dyslexia is the mother of all learning disabilities. It was the first main term for describing various learning problems. At some point, these problems were subdivided and categorized into different disabilities. In the 1920s, Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton defined dyslexia as “cross lateralization of the brain”, meaning the right side of the brain was doing the work of the left side and vice versa (Judy Duchan).
Today, there are many ideas about dyslexia and what causes it. Dyslexia is not the result of brain damage or nerve damage. It is the result of thinking in a very unique way as a reaction to the feeling of confusion. Humans think in two different ways: “verbal conceptualization” and “nonverbal conceptualization” (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 9). The meaning of verbal conceptualization is thinking with the sound of words (word thinkers). Nonverbal conceptualization means thinking with mental pictures of concepts or ideas.
Verbal thinkers are following the structure of language, utilizing it to create mental sentences by using one word at a time. The nonverbal thinkers are creators. They think in three-dimensional, multisensory “movies,” which change and evolve as a sentence is read.
In nonverbal thought, we can picture the word “tiger” easily if we know what a tiger looks like (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 11). We understand this word by seeing it. The difficulties appear if picture thinkers have to think with words whose meaning can’t be visualized. Knowing what and or thelooks like allows us to think with those words. Seeing T-H-E doesn’t create a picture; we don’t automatically understand the meaning (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 12). The only possible image would be the letters themselves, and they mean nothing.
For example: The boy jumped over the fence. A picture thinker does not need the words the or over in order to get a picture of a boy jumping over the fence in his mind. All he needs are the words “boy jumped fence.” But the word thinker would say “what do you mean?” He needs all those other words to make a sentence which he can hear in his mind. Because a picture thinker does not need all those words he doesn’t care about them. In fact, they confuse him. But if you leave those words aside, you cannot communicate with word thinkers. Therefore the dyslexic person must learn to use the words that do not create pictures correctly.
When we use verbal conceptualization, we are thinking with the sounds of the language. We are actually carrying on an internal monologue of mental statements, questions, and answers. The mind of a dyslexic has little or no internal monologue; they do not hear what they are reading unless they are reading out loud (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 11).
Dyslexia: The Talent
Not every dyslexic person develops the same gifts, but they have mental functions in common, like:
- They utilize the brain to create and alter perceptions.
- They are highly aware of their surroundings and environment.
- They are more curious than average.
- They think in pictures instead of words.
- They are highly intuitive and insightful.
- They think and perceive multi-dimensionally (using all the senses).
- They can experience thought as reality.
- They have vivid imaginations
(Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 5).
If those characteristics haven’t been suppressed, messed with, invalidated or destroyed by the parents or the educational process, then these mental functions will result in characteristics such as higher-than-normal intelligence and extraordinary creative ability. Those are the gifts which lead to mastery. They can take many different forms. For Albert Einstein it was physics; for Walt Disney it was art; for Greg Louganis, it was athletic prowess (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 5). The talent is always there but not necessarily visible to the eye. Not every dyslexic individual will realize these gifts, since he may not consider them to be special. To him they may seem ordinary.
Orientation and Disorientation
In order to function properly in life you must know how to orient yourself. Some people are oriented most of the time and don’t even think about it. To them it is natural. Orientation means knowing where you are, your relationship to the environment and putting yourself into the appropriate condition for the surroundings.
For a dyslexic person reading, writing and hearing speech could be disorienting. We already talked about the “little words” that do not create images in the mind. If we see and hear enough of them they will cause us to lose our proper relationship to the environment and the appropriate condition for the surroundings.
For example; if too much noise goes on during class, a dyslexic person starts to lose his ability to focus and thereby he is not in the appropriate condition for the surroundings.
There are thousands of different learning disability symptoms that can accrue from disorientation. The symptoms are usually the first thing that people who suspect a learning disability will see. They vary from person to person according to which senses are affected. The main senses that become disoriented are vision, hearing, balance, movement and time (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 122). During disorientation, a person’s perceptions become skewed. False senses of disorientation happen in daily life. Sometimes people experience “false motion” when they are sitting in a stopped vehicle and a nearby vehicle moves, such as an airplane or car. They think they are moving, but it’s actually the other way around. The following are the most common symptoms of disorientation.
- Shapes and sequences of letters or numbers appear changed or reversed.
- Spelling is incorrect or inconsistent.
- Words or lines are skipped when reading or writing.
- Letters and numbers appear to move, disappear, grow or shrink.
- Punctuation marks or capital letters are omitted, ignored or not seen.
- Words and letters are omitted, altered or substituted while reading or writing.
- Some speech sounds are difficult to make.
- Digraphs such as “ch”, “th” and “sh” are mispronounced.
- You don’t hear what is said, or you hear what isn’t said.
- Sounds are perceived as quieter, louder, farther away or nearer than actual.
- Dizziness or nausea while reading.
- Poor sense of direction.
- Inability to sit still.
- Difficulty with handwriting.
- Problems with balance and coordination.
- Hyperactivity (being overactive).
- Hypoactivity (being underactive.
- Math concepts are difficult to learn.
- Difficulty being on time or telling time.
- Excessive daydreaming.
- Train of thought is lost easily.
- Trouble sequencing (putting things in the correct order).
(Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 124)
A dyslexic person doesn’t necessarily have all of these symptoms. But if you have them all productive work stops until they go away. You could wait and after a while you feel better. Or you can learn what to do to make them go away faster.
The Mind’s Eye and Focusing
The Mind’s Eye is the center of perception. It is the place where we look from. When you look at a mental picture such as an imagination or dream, you use the mind’s eye to look at it. The mind’s eye has many possible locations, wherever the dyslexic person wants it to be. Dyslexics are able to experience their mental images as actual perceptions (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 129).
So if they place the mind’s eye in a certain location, they gain the ability to experience their perceptions from that perspective. When dyslexic people look at an alphabet letter and disorient, within a second they see different views: from the top, the side and the back of the letter.
For example: p, q, d, b. All four of them are the same shape. If you turn a tree around it will still be a tree. If you turn a p around it will be a q, b, or d. The mind’s eye basically circles around the letter. This is the disorientation function hard at work, trying to figure out the object.
The dyslexic person needs to learn how to turn disorientation off. If he is confused he will just sit there and gain nothing from the instruction. He will just feel sick. Reorientation is accomplished by positioning the mind’s eye consciously. When the Mind’s Eye is located in the right place, the person stops being disoriented and is able to perceive the “real” world correctly. The person becomes oriented. As a result of this he can follow lessons in class again.
The best position for the mind’s eye varies from person to person, and from activity to activity. For reading and writing or math it is usually located around the same area for everyone, above and behind the head. This place was found by experimenting. The actual location for the orientation spot is a few inches to a foot above and behind the head, on the centerline of the body (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 131). The goal for the mind’s eye is not to stop the person from being disoriented, for disorientation is a valuable talent. In order to invent something you need to be able to disorient, meaning you need to be able to imagine something that does not exist. Consider the need for all dyslexics to write correctly. For this, spell checkers got invented. That solved their biggest need: Being able to easily write and spell correctly.
The process of correcting dyslexia is by starting to control the perceptual distortions, turning them on and off. That means the dyslexic person can also turn off the symptoms that cause dyslexia. Once the disorientation is turned off, the person stops creating dyslexia symptoms. It takes less than one hour to learn how to do this.
At the end of a successful session, with some help at catching disorientations as they occur, the person will know how to do it by him- or herself. The dyslexic’s reading skills improve dramatically. To some people it appears like a sort of magic or miracle, which just happened. But actually you are only seeing the person’s real skills without the interference of disorientations. There have been cases in which a teenager has improved their reading by as many as eight grade levels, as a result of “Orientation Counseling®” (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 150).
It seems very hard to learn this procedure but it is not. In fact, it is very easy for a dyslexic person to learn this technique, because they already know how to do it. They have been doing this since they were few months old, but they were not aware of what they were doing all along. The procedure enables them to understand a skill they already have and gives them control over it (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 150).
How does it feel to be disoriented?
If what we just talked about is hard for you to imagine you are probably not dyslexic. Let’s give you an idea. Imagine yourself in a train station sitting in a train. On the tracks next to your train, there is another one facing in the opposite direction. Suddenly the other train starts to roll out of the station. You think you are moving but you are not. At that moment you are confused and it takes you a moment or two to realize you are in fact sitting still. What you just experienced is disorientation. You are no longer aware of the true facts and conditions of your surroundings.
A person who is dyslexic could have a similar experience with words and letters. He might see them zoom in and out or even jump out of the book and walk off the table. Sometimes the spaces between the words could disappear.
One of the things that can cause disorientation is stress. It is like a domino effect. Stress causes disorientation which causes even more stress. There are two ways that could become a problem. Stress that comes from the outside, such as the teacher walking around instead of standing still, could trigger disorientation. This is because the voice does not come from the same place consistently. Trying to listen to your teacher in spite of the disorientation is stressful.
Another example of stress is worrying. If you ever thought you might have left a candle burning at home and had to be gone from the house for some hours, then you know what I’m talking about. You spend the whole time thinking about the scenario that might be happening at home: your house burning down. You finally come home and see it did not happen. You immediately stop worrying and feel relieved. You breathe out and relax. Using the release technique gives you the same feeling.
The dyslexic who develops orientation skills will find that if the mind’s eye doesn’t move, there will be no mistakes. Whenever the mind’s eye moves from the orientation spot the person will feel disoriented. He will make a reading mistake again, or some “old solution” will turn on. An example of an old solution might be: having your mom or someone else read to you. This would take care of the stress caused by not being able to do something which in this case would be reading. It would seem like the next logical skill to learn would be to always keep the mind’s eye on the orientation point.
That way you can read well and properly. This unfortunately could also lead to a headache (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 178).
The reason for this is because the mind’s eye doesn’t move by itself. The person is subconsciously moving it around. So when the person becomes confused, he will be attempting to move the mind’s eye at the same time as he is trying to prevent it from moving. Literally he is working against himself (Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, page 179). This causes tension which results in a headache.
The more you try not to do it, the stronger the headache will become. In this case the wrong idea would be to tell the dyslexic to stop doing what he is doing. It would be like telling someone not to think about ice cream. The more you try not to think about ice cream the stronger your mental picture of ice cream will become. In order not to think about ice cream you would consciously have to think of something else, like a hot dog. Of course we don’t think about a hot dog if we want to cure a headache. What we do is learn about the feeling of release.
In order to learn about release, you are led to experience two opposing things at the same time. This could be done by thinking about releasing your hands while you are tensing them up. As soon as you put the two experiences in harmony together by letting go, you are experiencing the feeling of release consciously.
The feeling you get is like a weight coming off your shoulders. It is like coming home and seeing your house still standing after worrying all day that it might have burned down because you left your candle burning.
Approaching Attention Deficit Disorder without Medication
Imagine a little boy named Joe. He is five years old and goes to kindergarten. When there is a recess he runs outside to a small wooden house. But there is another boy already in the house playing. Joe wants to have the house to himself and kicks the other boy out. The boy runs to the teacher and tells her that Joe was mean to him. The teacher comes over and yells at Joe saying, “It’s not your house. You have to let other kids play with you in the house. Do you understand?” Joe says, “Yes.” But he still doesn’t let anyone in and he guards the doorway. The teacher comes back and says, “You are not being nice, you have to leave the house and play something else.” Now Joe is confused and unhappy. He really wanted the house and doesn’t know what else to do.
Let’s look at what happened here.
- The word It’s made no picture in Joe’s mind.
- Not didn’t create anything either.
- Your house gave him a picture of himself owning the house.
So the whole sentence leaves him feeling the house is his.
- You – an image of himself again
- Have to – no image
- Let – no image
- Other – no image
- Kids – now he sees other children
- Play – being active, running around playing games
Now what he understands is the other kids are running around and the house is his. So he still guards the door.
- you – an image of himself again
- are – no image
- not – no image
- being – no image
- nice – gives him an image of friendly, so someone smiling
He gets a picture of himself smiling. This makes him feel happy.
- You – an image of himself again
- Have to – no image
- Leave – now he sees someone going away
- The – no image
- House – image of the house
- And – no image
- Play – being active, running around playing games
- Something – no image
- Else – no image
He sees himself going away from the house and running around. This is not what he wants to do, so he is mad and sad.
He does not understand that he did something wrong. He thinks the teacher doesn’t like him, and for no reason. By now you may have guessed that little Joe was little Matthias. And still to this very day I have the feeling that my kindergarten teacher, and some other teachers I had later on in school, did not like me. They felt I was not paying attention and they thought that was the reason I did not understand. I was lucky in that my mother did not take me to a doctor asking him to “fix” me. Otherwise I might have been given “Ritalin” or some other drug to “help me focus.” What I really needed was help in taking away the confusion caused by words, and some self - management tools to stay focused.
When I had to leave the playhouse I felt angry and frustrated. To get rid of those feelings I started running around, burning energy. I pushed other kids, broke stuff and generally made a nuisance of myself. I’m sure that got on people’s nerves.
Today I have a different way to handle all my extra energy. I have learned to utilize my picturing ability to create a dial for an energy level. This is part of a Davis program. With this dial you become aware of your energy level and how much you use. You can also increase or decrease the amount of energy you actually use. If you can turn down the energy level, you do not need to run around and break stuff. And you certainly don’t need any medication.
In the playhouse scenario the words the teacher used were confusing. The reason for this was that many of them did not create a picture or the picture was inaccurate. Eventually the person needs accurate pictures for all these words. One way of solving the problem might be using other words. This is how it could sound, “This play house is for everybody. Do you want to play with other kids? Let them in.” Now he has a picture in his mind of playing with other kids in the play house. Problem solved.
What we did was leave out the negative words. Negative words cause no picture. For example: don’t fidget gives you a picture of fidgeting, sit still gives you a picture of sitting still. That makes it easier to do the right thing.After doing all this it is also helpful to have a technique for relaxing. See above Handling stress for a way to do this. Once you relax you will see the situation calmly.
Looking at it this way attention problems turn out not to have anything to do with attention at all. Instead they have to do with confusion and misunderstanding. Some of that has to do with the words that don’t create pictures in the mind. And in the Practical Application we will address this.
Understanding the Strengths
We have talked much about the problems and the talent involved with dyslexia. Now we need to put those two together. We want to join together the talent and strength – which is the ability to think multidimensionally and be creative – with the problem – the confusion due to symbols. That way we can build bridges to understanding anything anyone could think of. As dyslexics we can do whatever we imagine. So our task must be to learn to imagine everything in language. That way language will no longer cause a problem.
Turning the Weakness Around
We spoke before about the confusion caused by words (ADD, page 11). We mentioned the missing pictures. What we need is pictures! We need a substance to create them. Clay is perfect for that. You can make anything out of it you like. You can even create pictures for words like, a, not, are, being, in, have, something, let, else, other andwith (see page 15).
Coordination means “balance” with all parts of the body working in harmony. When you are frustrated and upset you lose this. There is a simple way to get it back. You need to position your mind’s eye correctly, creating accurate perception. Then you toss and catch a ball with someone else while standing on one leg. This strengthens balance and therefore coordination. It sounds simple but takes some practice. You strengthen the effect by tossing the ball to both sides. Eventually a person will find his balance easily and quickly.
We are using some words that are specific to the work of Ron Davis. We want to make sure they are understood correctly and not confusing. So they are explained here in the way that Davis himself defines them.
- Disorientation: the loss of one’s position or direction in relation to other things; a state of mind in which mental perceptions do not agree with the true facts and conditions in the environment; in some people, this is an automatic response to confusion.
- Mind’s eye: that which views one’s mental images.
- Orientation: putting oneself in the proper in relation to the true facts and conditions; a state of mind in which mental perceptions agree with the true facts and conditions in the environment.
- Orientation Point: a stable location above and behind the head.
- Solutions (compulsive):behaviors, habits, and mental tricks adopted to resolve the mistakes and frustrations cause by disorientation; the components of a learning disability.
- Trigger (word): anything that causes disorientation; usually a word and symbol for which a person does not have a complete or accurate concept.
Ronald D. Davis, The Gift of Dyslexia, pp. 343-351