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Recognising and understanding dyslexia

Recognising and understanding dyslexia

This week, Gwen Stefani revealed that she and her three sons all struggle with dyslexia.

Recognising and understanding dyslexia

In an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, the singer said she “discovered” she had the learning disorder when her kids started finding it hard to read.

“One thing that I’ve discovered through having kids is that I have dyslexia – everyone has things that happen and mine was that,” she said. “And I feel like a lot of the problems that I have had or even decisions that I’ve made for myself stem from that, because now the children – obviously, it’s all genetic – they have some of those issues.”

The 51-year-old shares sons Kingston, 14, Zuma, 12, and six-year-old Apollo with ex-husband Gavin Rossdale.

“They have these incredible teachers and schools and they don’t have to have shame about it,” she smiled. “They understand that their brain functions in a different way. All of our brains do.”

As for her own experience at school, Gwen told Lowe that she “failed” academically, explaining: “I was a good girl. I didn’t do any bad stuff. It was just really hard for me to function in that square box of school that everybody was supposed to be understanding. And my brain didn’t work like that; it still doesn’t. But it works in different ways that are probably a gift that other people can’t do.”

Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton and her sons Kingston, Apollo and Zuma.

Identifying dyslexia

There are many cases of people going through school being labelled slow, naughty or inattentive, only to be diagnosed with dyslexia in later years. Dyslexia is a type of thinking and learning style independent of intellectual abilities. People with dyslexia do not respond to the conventional methods of learning to read; instead they have a visual learning style. There is no cure for dyslexia as it is not a disease, however dyslexics can overcome their reading challenges when given the correct reading method.

Dyslexia isn’t a symptom of low intelligence – in fact, several highly intelligent and creative people have worn the dyslexia label, including Leonardo da Vinci, Orlando Bloom, Erin Brockovich, Pablo Picasso, Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie, and Thomas Edison. Dyslexic people are usually creative and excel at three-dimensional problem solving and hands-on learning.

According to the Dyslexia Association, identifying dyslexia can be tricky, and they believe there isn’t one accurate measuring tool to confirm the condition. The most common characteristic of dyslexia is people have difficulty reading and spelling. Estimates vary, but up to five per cent of the population are thought to have dyslexia, with dyslexia being two to three times more prevalent in males compared with females.

Neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center in the US have published research online in the journal Brain Structure and Function, showing that there are significant differences in brain anatomy when comparing men and women with dyslexia. Their study is also the first to directly compare the brain anatomy of females with and without dyslexia in both children and adults.

Because dyslexia is more prevalent in males, “females have been overlooked,” says senior author Guinevere Eden, PhD, director for the Centre for the Study of Learning and past-president of the International Dyslexia Association.

“It has been assumed that results of studies conducted in men are generalisable to both sexes. But our research suggests that researchers need to tackle dyslexia in each sex separately to address questions about its origin and potentially, treatment,” Eden says.

“There is sex-specific variance in brain anatomy and females tend to use both hemispheres for language tasks, while males just the left,” Evans says. “It is also known that sex hormones are related to brain anatomy and that female sex hormones such as oestrogen can be protective after brain injury, suggesting another avenue that might lead to the sex-specific findings reported in this study.”

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