Monday, 13 July 2009

Dyslexia: could optical illusions teach us about it?


I've had a theory on a possible cause of dyslexia that I've been developing in my head for quite a while now. Just thought I'd put it down so I've got a record and so I can stand back and see if it makes sense.

The essence of the theory being that our minds are always adjusting the actual image our eyes see and presenting and interpreted version of this to our 'minds eye'. We see words yet our eyes just see blobs of ink on paper or a screen. It's our minds that make the conceptual leap and link things together. This is a learned response and I feel the distorted words or letter combinations that dyslexics see could possbily be due to inaccurate learning of the letter combinations when learning a language in the first place. Thus confusing b's with d's etc. This becoming so ingrained over time as to become hard wired and appear like a natural phenomenon. So hard wired it's very hard to shake.

I then started thinkong of it like optical illusions. These are visual images which when, in one frame of mind, you intepret them as just a mass of colour. In another you see some image such as a witches face in them. The point being that our minds eye rarely sees exactly what our real eyes do. Our brains always interpret the images before we see them. So the brains constant efforts to make sense of anything we see become ingrained.

Once you see an optical illusioon a particular way it's often hard to changwe your view back. It becomes a learned view. There are many other examples of this visual programming and its effects. Notably with African cultures who drew pictures on material and not paper. They were only able to understand an image drawn on material and not the exact same image drawn on paper. Similarly they could recognise an image of an elephant drawn top down with legs out to the side like a plan view, that's some cultures draw aqnimals. But couldn't recognise a 3d drawing of the same elephant on material that looked just like you'd see the elephant in real life.

These accounts really show the importance of our prior skill and experience in helping us understand the present. And how the way we normally interpret things depends in a big way on how we've trained our brains to interpret things.
When I was young I learnt very early on that it was much harder to unlearn something I'd learnt incorrectly and learn the correct answer than to learn something brand new. This meant I always paid a lot of attention to the things I learnt because it took so much less effort in the long run to just learn things correctly first time around.

I essentially feel that some forms of dyslexia may relate to this in so much as the person learning letters and their particular order may not spend enough time, or get enough support, to make sure they learn these things correctly in the first place. Left unchecked these mistakes would effectively become hard wired and thus, very difficult to change. Given the visual processing mentioned above I think it possible that the person may even see in their minds eye letters in the wrong order.

I can think of many examples where sentences are written one way but we all intrepret them another. Often an extra word is added that we miss because we look past it. I can remember specifically during GCSE english. We read a book and solely because the english teacher read the main characters surname as Champion instead of Campion. Eveyone in the class then took his name to be champion. It was a book we all had to read aloud. Everyone read Champion. No one noticed when I read Campion as it should be. So even though this was an assessed piece of work and the main characters name would seem important to me. Everyone learnt to add an 'h' into a word that was never there. This went on for weeks. You can probably see how 20 odd people would never believe me cos it's 20-1 against me. But it was there in print.

The point here being that it could be possible that.dyslexia is a product of our own minds ability to shape what it presents to us as our vision. It's a learned process and so the point at which we're learning letters and words is likely extremely critical. Attention to detail is paramount. So children would need a lot of support from teachers and parents to help them learn things correctly first time. They need people to pose questions to about what's right and wrong and they need people who can check what they're lwarning. Correcting things early on and also teaching them that it really is easier to learn things correctly first time round.

Edit 20090914 14:30
Funnily enough I was just going through some old mails. I came across a mail showing the kind of thing I'm talking about. It's a few paragraphs where the words begin and end with the correct letter but the other letters are all jumbled. I was amazed because I had absolutely no trouble whatsoever reading it. I didn't even slow down. It shows how my mind can decipher the correct meaning from apparent jiberish with consumate ease.

Try it for yourself
fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too

Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno ' t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it
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