ADHD and dyslexia expert Dr. Levinson explains the risks in mistaking ADHD and dyslexia as normal variations or even gifts, as Malcolm Gladwell states in his recent book, David and Goliath.
According to Dr. Levinson, the well-intended conviction that dyslexia and related ADHD are normal brain variations and even gifts, rather than medical disorders, is misleading and thus potentially dangerous, albeit reassuring to loving parents and other caregivers. The problem is that these alluring suggestions tend to discourage vitally needed perseverance and therapeutic insights while misdirecting crucial research.
These reassuring ideas were unwittingly reinforced recently by Malcolm Gladwell in his fascinating book, David and Goliath. He convincingly argues that handicapped Davids are forced to compensate and thus conquer their Goliaths — now and throughout history. Although Gladwell showed how a few gifted dyslexics utilized alternative functions to succeed and become famous “giants,” he sidestepped the realistic probability that they would have succeeded more easily without their handicap. Clearly, impairment is not the only or best motivator and brain-enhancer for all dyslexics since a vast majority fail without vitally needed emotional and therapeutic intervention.
Contrary to clinical evidence and Gladwell’s examples, some theorists firmly believe that dyslexia, via compensatory mechanisms, significantly creates new brain power rather than using or intensifying previously endowed capabilities when possible. They thus consider dyslexia not only a “normal variant,” but a “gift.” Have they not mistakenly characterized all dyslexics by an exceptional few?
According to Levinson’s extensive clinical experience, failing, frustrated and humiliated dyslexic and ADHD individualscan neither accept nor benefit from reassuring theories suggesting that they or their impairments are normal, or even special, any more than would those with diabetes, cerebral palsy or any other medical disorder.
“Seldom have I found patients with dyslexia or ADHD who claim they wouldn’t have achieved more and easier without their handicap,” states Levinson. However, a minority admits to being driven to succeed despite their disorder in order to prove they’re not as dumb as they inwardly feel. Most used collateral, functional capabilities they already had to overcome their impairment, rather than those neuroplastically resulting from it. None considered their dysfunction normal or a gift.
By contrast, real insight into the specific causes of all their many disturbing symptoms is significantly therapeutic. Only then do dyslexics have a convincing medical alternative to self-blame and guilt for feeling dumb. Only then are they able to identify more with their non-dyslexic capabilities. Only then are they inwardly encouraged to try once again and to trust a therapist despite a background of repeated failures and heartbreaking disappointments.
Since dyslexia and ADHD each affect over 10% of the population, it is crucial to correctly highlight their origins and impairments, as well as capabilities, rectify misconceptions, and implement “life-saving” treatments. Indeed, only after the following insights are simply explained and instinctively understood are valid compliments and clarifying theories found both acceptable and therapeutic.
Over a period of four decades and after examining and successfully treating more than 35,000 children and adults, Dr. Levinson demonstrated that the reading, writing, spelling, math, concentration, distractibility, memory, balance, coordination, etc., symptoms characterizing dyslexics and related ADHD resulted when initially normal brain processors secondarily failed to compensate for, and descramble, the reversed and “dizzy” signals received and transmitted. And the abnormal “dizzy” signals were recognized due to a fine-tuning defect within the inner-ear and its supercomputer — the cerebellum. Quite clearly, this recently validated cerebellar impairment is neither a normal variant nor a special gift.
Accordingly, dyslexia was recognized to be a neurological syndrome of reading and non-reading symptoms. And all symptoms, including impaired self-esteem, and their underlying mechanisms were shown to rapidly and significantly improve when utilizing inner-ear improving medications and related therapies which normalize the dizzy signals, as well as enhancing their normal brain’s ability for compensatory descrambling. Only with functional improvements do initially heard valid compliments ring deep and true. Seeing is believing.
Because the thinking brains of dyslexics were shown by Levinson’s challenging “David”-like research to be initially normal and occasionally gifted, rather than abnormal as traditionally believed for the past century, he was led to wonder: “Have some theorists unwittingly equated and so confused dyslexics with only their normal and occasionally gifted higher brain functioning?”
Contrary to wishful thinking, for every famous or successful dyslexic there are thousands and thousands of others who continued to fail and suffer, many surrendering in despair. Although compensatory functioning may be psychologically and physiologically enhanced in dyslexics as noted by Gladwell and many others long before him, most often creativity and genius appear to be infrequent coexisting variables as in non-dyslexics, exceptions aside.
Tragically, undiagnosed and untreated dyslexia may also contaminate and suppress coexisting gifted functioning just as it diminishes less than gifted functioning. And secondary or collateral psychological damage is common, albeit naively overlooked in the rich and famous. Thus it shouldn’t be surprising to find the gifted drifting into drugs, alcohol and impaired relationships as do the non-gifted once emotional scarring occurs.
Similar insights were also clarified by Levinson for ADHD and summarized within Total Concentration. Most often, dyslexia and ADHD coexist and so their combined impairments place sufferers in double jeopardy. By challenging and dispelling the confusion resulting from outdated, unfounded and alluring theories about dyslexia and ADHD, new and better methods of medical screening, diagnosis and treatment materialized for dyslexia and ADHD. As a result, cures and even prevention now lurk just beyond our current scientific horizons.
About Harold Levinson, M.D.
Formerly Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York University Medical Center, Dr. Harold Levinson is currently Director of the Levinson Medical Center for Learning Disabilities in Long Island, New York. He is a well-known neuropsychiatrist, clinical researcher and author. His “highly original” research into the cerebellar-vestibular (inner- ear) origins and treatment dyslexia and related learning, attention-deficit/hyperactivity and anxiety or phobic disorders has evolved over the past four decades. Initially supported by Nobel Laureate Sir John Eccles and other outstanding cerebellar neurophysiologists and inner-ear scientists, Levinson’s research has more recently been independently validated worldwide by highly sophisticated neuroimaging brain studies. For more information, call 1(800) 334-7323 or visit http://www.dyslexiaonline.com.