ABC Disorder

Here’s an analogy for you:

Dyslexia : sequential order :: like magnet forces : repel each other.

Every once in a while (less often, now that we are unschooling and aren’t fighting a formal school curriculum) I am reminded how much dyslexia affects The Naturalist. Her mind is fundamentally different from any type of sequential, linear, & ordered method that is so valued in school. My daughter thinks in the abstract…nonlinear, unsequential, and divergent. “Dreamers, Discoverers & Dynamos” by Lucy Jo Palladino is a great example of kids like this.

Today, she was playing Jumpstart World. It’s The Golfer’s game, but she loves playing it just because you can buy a pet and take care of it. To do that, you play a variety of ‘learning games’ and accomplish certain goals to make money (gems). This is one of the few learning software “based on national standards”, that my kids thoroughly enjoy. I mean, they really really love this game!

One of the games is something where you put 10 words in ABC Order. She called me over to help her and said, “Mom, this just isn’t working for me! I’m supposed to put these letters in order!” So I stopped to talk it out with her.

Me: “OK, what does the alphabet start with?”
Her: “A, B, and C.”
Me: “Then what?”
Her, after looking at the list: “R?”
Me: …
Me: “Uh, there are lots of letters between A and R”
Her: …
Me, trying to make it more general: “Let’s just sort through and sort words by if they come in the beginning or towards the end of the alphabet.”
Her: “OK. Ummmm, P is in the middle. And then W. W is before S, right?”
Me: …
Me: “Can you visualize the Alphabet marching in order, in your head?”
Her: “No, all the letters are just kind of dancing around in there.”
Me: “Alright then! That sounds fun! But to some people, the letters are lined up single file. Not dancing or floating around. They just sit there, being still, one right after the other.”
Her: “Well, that sounds boring!”

And indeed, it is. From what I’ve begun to understand about how The Naturalist’s mind works, the more boring the rest of the linear, sequential world seems. Wouldn’t it be much more fun to have an ABC Dance Party in your head? To her, it is as foreign to organize letters sequentially as it is for me to try to have them bouncing around in my head. Unfortunately, this wreaks havoc with any kind of expected basic function in school and life. Because if you think about it, sequential thinking is everywhere, not just the alphabet.

Counting and time are extremely linear. Spelling is a linear application of letters in a certain order. Skip counting, alphabetizing, days of the week, and organizing things are mine fields for her. Writing sentences is sequential, with capitalization, punctuation, and words coming in a specific order. The Naturalist, who knows what punctuation mark needs to be used, then generously sprinkles it all throughout the sentence since she’s not exactly sure where it belongs.

!it looks, something Like this!

Obviously, this gets to the very heart of what is accepted as ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent’. When I say ‘dyslexia’, I know that 60% of people will think, “decreased intelligence”–especially if they see her word & sentence construction. But dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ. It’s just a difference in perception and output. Because her mind is untethered to a specific order, she is able to write her words flipped up and backwards. I’ll walk past and point out that she’s reading her book upside down, and she won’t have noticed because she’s able to read it from any direction. She’s the person I want to have around when there’s a problem, because she sees everything from her own unique perspective. Ronald Davis talks a lot about this in his book, “The Gift of Dyslexia“.

I can’t change her dyslexia. It doesn’t go away. It’s as much a part of her as her brown hair and infectious laugh. I may cringe when she, at 11 years old, says “A,B,C,R…” or when I read a sentence of hers that has no accurate spelling and punctuation… but I have to be careful about how I respond to her. Jonathan Mooney is my inspiration for dealing with this unique aspect of my daughter. My remediation, unlike so many programs out there, isn’t to try to make her think like everyone else, but to explain how other people see things and then help her live her life using her own specific (and abundant!) strengths and compensations.

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7 Responses

  1. I love it! You are truly a one of a kind parent!

    I also have a “unique” child. I’ve chosen to go without diagnosis and outside help. I want to understand him for who he is and not by the confines of what “professionals” say he is.

    What a positive life your naturalist must be living!

    I also like how you have given them titles instead of using names. I don’t have an aversion to using my kids names on the internet, but I’m so happy to see children being something other then STUDENTS! UGH. Mine would be “The Artist” and the younger would be “The Thinker”. LOL

    Thanks… I enjoy reading your posts.

  2. This was a really great post for me.
    While I’ve never considered that people with dyslexia were unintelligent, I had no understanding of what exactly it meant.
    It’s fascinating! How vexing (not to mention insulting) for those with a mind that operates differently to be considered “backwards” or “not very bright”.
    Anyway.
    Thanks for writing this post, and informing some of us clueless folks what this is about.
    Stephanie

  3. Heather–it is wonderful to let kids live outside of a label!

    Stephanie–I didn’t know much about dyslexia until The Naturalist started dealing with it…and I’m pretty sure I have it myself!

  4. She sure is lucky to have you Tiff. “how boring” I love that! She is such a great girl.

  5. I love that as a parent you have made the choice to not look at this as a disabillity, but as something that is a blessing. Because of this one choice, you have totally changed her world. You’re such a great mom! Most parents would lug their kids off to a doctor and try to “fix” them and instead you’ve made her feel confident and worthwhile. Awesome! I look forward so much to your posts because they make me take on an entirely new perspective. Thank-you so much. 🙂

  6. […] 2007 by childsplay I had an interesting discussion with The Naturalist today…much like our discussion on alphabetical order. She is a very non-sequential learner–whether this is from dyslexia or being a visual […]

  7. Tiff, Can she really read a book upside down? …just as comfortably as if it were rightside up?!

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