A Brief History of Identifying Dyslexia and Dyslexia Research
By Maura Baker
The month of October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, a time where people show their support for people with Dyslexia and other learning differences, have thought provoking conversations about Dyslexia, and even have free giveaways of resources to help people with Dyslexia. However, for Dyslexia Awareness Month, I thought I would write about something a little different; the history of Dyslexia (or, at least since it has been identified, as the actual learning difference/difference within the brain has been around as long as humans have). Dyslexia has a long history and every single experiment and idea is too much to write in one article, so, this is a brief history of the identification Dyslexia and early research done on it.
Identifying Dyslexia For The First Time
Dyslexia was first identified in 1877 by German physician Adolph Kussmaul. However, the term “Dyslexia” would not be used until years later. In its early days, Dyslexia was called “word blindness”, and started as just an idea or a nudge. Then in 1887, the term “Dyslexia” was coined by Rudolf Berlin, who was an ophthalmologist practicing in Germany. Dys (meaning difficulty or trouble) and lexis (meaning speech or word) make up the word “Dyslexia” which essentially means trouble with words or speech.
Early Ideas and Research About Dyslexia
W. Pringle Morgan, who was a British physician, wrote a description of Dyslexia in 1896. His description explained Dyslexia in a boy who was 14 and could not read and had a lot of difficulty with spelling, but was easily able to do other tasks. For many years, it was falsely assumed that Dyslexia was only present in children or adolescents. British ophthalmologist James Hinshelwood wrote descriptions of Dyslexia in the 1890s and 1900s which concluded that Dyslexia did not affect intelligence or the ability to learn, but rather was a difficulty learning to read, write and spell. Additionally, CJ Thomas, a British physician, found that Dyslexia was often found in multiple members of a family, which suggested that Dyslexia could be partly genetic (which we today know that it is). Thomas also claimed that a one-on-one teaching style as well as using senses like touch could be very helpful in teaching Dyslexic children the alphabet.
Samuel T. Orton and Anna Gillingham
American physician Samuel T. Orton, who was working in 1925 with stroke victims in Iowa, studied and found that people with Dyslexia had trouble making connections between written and spoken words. He called this theory strephosymbolia. Orton also found that Dyslexia was often not caused by issues with eyesight. Orton was also very inspired by Helen Keller and Grace Fernald, and the idea of using multisensory ways of communicating and learning. Which also caused him to collaborate with Anna Gillingham (who was an educator) to come up with ways of teaching reading, writing and spelling through multisensory instructions and interactions. This is where the "Orton Gillingham Approach" got its name.
Dyslexia has a long history of discovery and research, this article is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much out there about experiments and theories written on Dyslexia that it would be impossible for a single article cover. There is still a lot to learn about Dyslexia, and we are always hearing new things about it and how we can accommodate those with Dyslexia. But, the more we can find out about Dyslexia and its past, the more we can figure out how to help people with it moving forward.