The term ”dyslexia” simply means ”trouble with words” in Latin. But when we speak of dyslexics, we’re talking about individuals who primarily have difficulty decoding words, thus making the act of reading (and writing) an onerous task, unless and until they receive intensive instruction in phonemic awareness and other literacy skills. However, while the ”deficit” is what’s often most apparent with dyslexics, it’s becoming more apparent that dyslexics have strengths as well.
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (MI theory) permits us to see both the strengths and challenges in individuals diagnosed with dyslexia. Gardner suggests that there are at least eight (and possibly nine) intelligences. These include the intelligence of words, numbers and logic, pictures, the body, music, nature, social interaction, self-knowledge, and possibly the intelligence of concern with ultimate life issues (existential intelligence). Right away we can see that dyslexics seem to have their deficits in only one of these intelligences: linguistic intelligence (Word Smart), and only in certain aspects of that intelligence that involve literacy. Many people with dyslexia are actually great storytellers, memorizers, poets, orators, and more, which are also part of Word Smart.
Recent research has suggested that people diagnosed with dyslexia have special strengths, including spatial reasoning, three-dimensional thinking, ”big picture” perception, and entreprenerial acumen (see The Dyslexic Advantage (Revised and Updated): Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain by Brock and Fernette Eide). In terms of Howard Gardner’s MI theory, dyslexics seem to have strengths, then, in visual-spatial intelligence (Picture Smart), and also in the interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences (People Smart and Self Smart) necessary to envision and run a successful business (examples of famous entrepreneurs with dyslexia include Charles Schwab, Richard Branson, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs).
Fortunately, there’s been a lot of attention given to the strengths of dyslexia, so that the stigma associated with it is not nearly as strong as it was twenty years ago (in fact, it’s almost a little hip to be dyslexic these days, at least in some circles). Yale University even has a special program, The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, to help articulate the connections between reading and a wide range of abilities (their site includes biographies of famous dyslexics). The theory of multiple intelligences gives an extra boost of credibility and understanding for how a person could be good in one area (e.g. spatial reasoning) and have difficulties in another area (e.g. reading and writing). MI theory essentially helps to explain why we’re all so different, even within our own cognitive profiles.
For more information about Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, get my practical guides to multiple intelligences for:
- Adult learners (7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences)
- Educators who teach children and adolescents — kindergarten through high school (Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 4th edition) and/or
- Parents (In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences).
This blog post was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
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