Understanding Dyslexia

brain injury and your brain diagramOf all the areas of Academic Performance, having difficulty with reading, most often characterized as dyslexia, is the most stressful and most debilitating. Your brain is an intricate organ that governs the multitude of skills that are part of academic competency. As you would expect, the academic deficits that can surface after a brain injury, such as a Concussion and/or Stroke/Aneurysm, vary depending on the site and extent of nerve-cell damage within the brain. With reading, writing, spelling, or math problems, the location of injury is believed to be the area between the back of the left parietal lobe and the left occipital lobe (Click on the photo of the brain).

Problems with recognition of faces and symbols, social relationships, dancing, and creative expression are believed to originate in the corresponding area of the brain’s right hemisphere.

If the temporal lobe is affected by a Concussion and/or Stroke/Aneurysm, some degree of short- or long-term memory loss often occurs. If this happens, you may encounter related problems with word and letter identification, reading comprehension, or remembering and applying the principles of phonics. If the back of the brain received the impact, the occipital lobe, which is the part of the brain that oversees vision and recognition, may be injured. Problems with eye movement and hand-eye coordination can result, as can difficulties with perception and with recalling words.

Personal Story of Dyslexia After Injury

Dr. Diane® was an avid reader prior to her accident, plowing through some 3,000 words per minute with 90-percent comprehension. Suddenly, she could not read simple instructions! Sometimes she could see the letters but had no idea what the words were or what they meant. At other times, she could read and understand, but was unable to recall what she had read just a few minutes before. Her math skills were affected as well, and Dr. Diane® was shocked to find that as a former cost-accounting instructor at a local college, she was unable to perform computations and fathom monetary values. It was four and a half years before she could go to lunch with a friend and calculate her share of the bill!

This ability was retained until she had another Concussion, whereby her reading level once again went from 3,000 words per minute to 285 words per minute. It took over a year to regain her former level of reading.

Brain injury, whether it is from a Concussion and/or Stroke/Aneurysm, has the potential to diminish a number of academic skill areas, and can be linked to certain specific deficits in reading, writing, spelling, and math. The problems of this type that are encountered most often are described below.

Reading Problems

Reading difficulties can stem from several different sources. If your brain injury from a Concussion and/or Stroke/Aneurysm has interfered with eye movements, you may struggle to focus or have trouble tracking—that is, following the text from one line of print to the next. If your memory has been affected, you are likely to have trouble recognizing letters or words and retaining the information you have just read. You may also encounter a processing difficulty such as dyslexia, which can cause misperception of letters and letter sequences, misidentification of words, and an inability to distinguish text from its background. You may also have problems following visual sequences and doing puzzles.

Alexia, or word blindness, is another processing problem that makes you unable to recognize letters or words. As a result, printed words appear as meaningless groups of marks or symbols on the page. Agnosia alexia is the complete inability to understand written words, and it is a result of damage to the left occipital lobe.

Writing Problems

Writing problems can be muscle-related, resulting in problems with fine motor movement (the movement of your fingers, hand, or wrist) or coordination. Depending on the location of your brain injury, you may also have trouble coordinating your eyes and hands, which makes copying extremely difficult.

Dysgraphia, another writing disability, results from injury to the parietal lobe that disrupts the transmission of nerve impulses between the hand and brain. As a result, you are unable to perform the motor movements necessary for legible handwriting. If you are suddenly dysgraphic, you may be unable to recall what letters and numbers look like, or how to reproduce them.

Agraphia is a nerve-disconnection problem that interferes with your ability to get your hand to write legibly—or at all, in some cases. Another writing problem is agitographia, which is characterized by very rapid writing movements that cause letters, words, or parts of words to be distorted or omitted.

Spelling Problems

Spelling difficulties that follow a brain injury from a Concussion and/or Stroke/Aneurysm can have several causes. If your visual memory has been impaired, for instance, you may find yourself forgetting what certain words—or even certain letters of the alphabet—look like. Auditory memory problems can adversely affect your “sounding-out” skills by interfering with your recall of letter sounds, word sounds, and the rules of phonics. Alexia agraphia is a disability marked by an inability to identify and reproduce letters, words, and numbers. This condition completely undermines any attempts at spelling.

Math Problems

You may find that your ability to use and understand numerals, mathematical symbols, musical notes, and other symbols has been diminished as a result of your Post Concussive Syndrome. This disorder, called dyssymbolia, can cause you to struggle to comprehend prices, sizes, measurements, and other everyday numerical concepts. Another skill impairment, dyscalculia, affects your ability to add, subtract, multiply, and divide—both on paper and in your head. Visual memory problems, another common occurrence as part of Post Concussive symptoms, can diminish your recall of the rules behind fractions, decimals, percentages, and other higher-level math concepts. You may also have challenges understanding mathematical word problems because of working memory and abstract language.

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Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

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Dr. Diane® Roberts Stoler, Ed.D.
7 Hodges Street
N. Andover, MA 01845
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Image Credit Elaine Boucher

Within each person shines an inner light that illuminates our path and is the source of hope. Illness, trauma, suffering and grief can diminish the light and shroud hope. I am a catalyst for hope and change, offering a way to rekindle this inner light.

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