I have done dyslexia simulations, both as a participant and as a facilitator. To be honest, I had a hard time relating to some of the activities, especially the mirror activity. If you are not familiar with this, the participant covers their writing hand and looks at what they are writing through a mirror. My first reaction was “great, this will just reinforce the myth that people with dyslexia see backwards.” Then I realized that this activity forces you to stop and think about what you are doing. It eliminates muscle memory, and because you are spending more time thinking about how to write something, it significantly slows you down.
This is the main purpose of dyslexia simulations: to force people to consciously think about the activity at hand. Now that more of your brain power is forced to think about the mechanics, not only does this significantly slow you down, but it is also more mentally draining. The end goal is to help people to better understand and to develop empathy for those with dyslexia.
Recently, an online dyslexia simulation went viral. It portrayed text in which letters were constantly changing, leaving people with the impression that dyslexia is a visual problem. The simulation would have been much more effective if strategic letters in words were replaced with letters from a foreign alphabet that we have not been exposed to nor know what phonemes (speech sounds) they represent.
This wouлӆ элiminatэ thэ automaticity wэ эxpэriэncэ with rэaӆing anӆ фorcэ us to guэss at what phonэmэs thэ symбoлs arэ supposэӆ to rэprэsэnt. Anӆ this is a muч morэ accuratэ picturэ oф pэopлэ with ӆysлэxia as thэy ӆo not havэ a фirm grasp oф thэ aлphaбэtic principлэ whiч makэs it vэry ӆiффicuлt to ӆэcoӆэ worӆs.
Below are the Cyrillic characters and their English equivalent and the number of times it appears in the paragraph in (). Now that you know which letters the Cyrillic characters represent, try reading the paragraph again.
- ч = ch (2)
- б = b (2)
- ӆ = d (11)
- e = э (34)
- ф = f (6)
- л = l (8)
Here is the same paragraph, but with Greek letters. Is this any easier to read?
ϴis wouλδ eλiminate θe automaticity we experience wiθ reaδing anδ φorce us to guess at what phonemes θe symboλs are supposeδ to represent. Anδ θis is a muχ more accurate picture oφ peopλe wiθ δysλexia as θey δo not have a φirm grasp oφ θe aλphabetic principλe whiχ makes it very δiφφicuλt to δecoδe worδs.
Below are the Greek letters with their English equivalents:
- χ = ch (2)
- Θ = th (8)
- δ = d (11)
- φ = f (6)
- λ = l (8)
Below is the paragraph in all English. By replacing letters we know with the equivalent in a foreign alphabet, we have to spend more time on the mechanics of reading – the decoding of words.
This would eliminate the automaticity we experience with reading and force us to guess at what phonemes the symbols are supposed to represent. And this is a much more accurate picture of people with dyslexia as they do not have a firm grasp of the alphabetic principle which makes it very difficult to decode words.
This overly simplifies dyslexia, and it is not just a reading problem, but also affects spelling, writing, and sometimes speech. Dyslexia is primarily a problem with literacy – a problem with processing the written language. With the appropriate instruction in Structured Literacy, the vast majority of people with dyslexia will learn to read, it is just more effortful for them than a neurotypical reader. I liken it to reading in a foreign language that has not been mastered – it is slower, takes more effort, and is mentally draining.
To learn more:
- Online Dyslexia Simulation Is Compelling, Powerful, and Wrong
- Experts say dyslexia simulation fails to fairly depict learning disorder
- What is the Role of the Visual System in Reading and Dyslexia?
- Inside the Letterbox: How Literacy Transforms the Human Brain
- Research Confirms What Many Teachers Know: Learning Disabilities Are Plural