Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Gifted Dyslexic

Being gifted and dyslexic myself, and having at least one gifted and dyslexic child (my other 2 are a little too young to make a good determination for dyslexia, but they are definitely gifted) I can't say I am an expert - but I am definitely well versed on this topic.
These are probably two of the most over quoted and misunderstood dualities a person can have. For one thing, being dyslexic can mask giftedness; however, giftedness can often mask dyslexia. Talk about being a "man without a country"! Thankfully with my eldest (5) we were able to have both diagnosis confirmed early in his life. When it comes to giftedness, my eldest is pretty close to the top of that category - being well in the upper 99th percentile of intelligence for his age. This makes him not only "bright", but he also has many of the other and lesser known characteristics of giftedness - emotional intensity, good and advanced sense of humor, excellent memory, perfectionism, heightened sensitivity, vivid imagination, etc. We knew he was gifted at a very young age, and the entire package of giftedness can be quite a challenge. There are all these giant emotions, abilities, interests, ideas floating around in this tiny package. The mind working so much faster than what the body can handle. Singing the alphabet song before the age of one might be cute to passerby's on the street - but being gifted isn't just cute intellectual feats. Being gifted also means being different. Around 10% of people would be considered "gifted", around 3% "highly gifted", and less than 1% "profoundly gifted". All three of my children fall between highly and profoundly gifted. This can be a lonely place, when no other child you meet is quite like you.
Then we add on this dyslexia. Dyslexia is often referred to as a "reading disorder", but that isn't really the entire extent of it. This is especially true for a gifted dyslexic. My eldest actually reads above grade level. However, he struggles with phonetic awareness, being able to see the words clearly, and even being able to mentally retrieve the words he is reading - even though he knows them. Reading for a gifted dyslexic is kind of like being conscience that you have amnesia - you know you can't remember or retrieve something that you know you know! It is frustrating and lonely. This is a child that can build a working robot from scrap parts at five years old, yet he will look at the word "and" in a book as if is written in Mandarin. What makes dyslexia even more confusing with gifted children is they are great a picking up context - so the longer a passage or even a book the more they understand. So, while reading Bob Books might be slow going, having a math book read to him can be quite enjoyable and enlightening. And again, even with his struggles he reads above grade level.
My eldest also has vision issues that many don't understand. So, his eyesight is 20/20 without glasses, but the way his eyes work with his brain causes problems - specifically with tracking and teaming. Basically, his eyes don't always work together to focus on an image and will fight to show him their own isolated image. Imagine trying to read with the words dancing around on the page and the pictures jumping from eye to eye. Yet, though it all, he still shines.
He is just now at an age where we can work on these issues. His homeschool First grade curriculum is quite unique - basic phonics to improve his phonological awareness along with physics. Yes, being a gifted dyslexic is a unique place in the world. My goal is to make it not so lonely for him, help him find his tribe, and help him to realize that unique isn't a curse - but a blessing. We will correct those downsides to dyslexia and vision issues with 12 months of intensive vision therapy. However, there are some upsides of dyslexia we don't want to harm - like the creativity, the ability to see what others do not, the ability to find your own way in problem solving since what you are seeing is uniquely yours and yours alone. I now see why the call gifted children with learning disabilities - twice exceptional. They really are often doubly gifted. Its their unique way of overcoming challenges that make children like my eldest so amazing to watch.

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