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Learning disabilities: dyslexia

The effects of using an advanced and vanguard tool based on concept mapping, empowers learning even in presence of special needs like dyslexia

New: Experimentation in 2006: Knowledge Master has been formally experimented with dyslexics
Online course: Educational innovation for the different learning styles (dyslexia, ADD, autism, etc.)

Dyslexia affects millions of kids and adults all over the world. This dysfunction isn't due to intellective limitations: the dyslexic is frequently intelligent and also gifted, creative and intuitive. 

Some famous names of dyslexic people or that have some other learning problems: Harry Belafonte, el Gen. George Patton, Michael Faraday, John Lennon, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen, and some many others … But this people have not succeeded "in spite of" dyslexia; another view could be that they succeeded because they had dyslexia. Creativity is also proverbial in DDA's.

Though there are not two dyslexics alike, the more frequent symptoms are: 

the difficulty of learning from essentially linguistic means, for reasons neither obvious or visible;

the difficulty of sequential processing of information, as happens with written or spoken language.

The dyslexic principally has the capacity of global processing, and learns by other cognitive strategies: the dyslexic thinks in non-verbal and structural mode. 


Dyslexics are visual, multi-dimensional thinkers (using all senses).


Because they tend to think in pictures, it is sometimes hard for them to understand letters, numbers, symbols and written words.


As a result, lessons, conferences and the learning environment are difficult for them. This is not because something is wrong with them, it is because lessons are not taught in the way they think and, besides, the way lessons are usually taught do not account for the way human memory is naturally organized not only for dyslexics, but for all human beings.


Often it is thought that dyslexia is simply a problem of reversal or omission of letters or words, but it is not limited to these problems (a very frequent misconception).

Dyslexia is a modality of thinking that tends to compensate the difficulty of language sequential processing.

This is why in any learning technology for dyslexics some specific factors must be involved:

  • Strong interaction (interaction is an important element because it raises motivation and attention, for instance automatic assessment questions, paths and some other functions in Knowledge Master)

  • Optimal use of voice (even though voice is  absolutely necessary because it helps avoiding "reading" [the "problem"], reading aloud text does not contribute to learning, because it still makes integration of contents  difficult). Optimal use of voice is achieved with reading of concepts, execution of paths, and listening to automatic assessment questions with its answers, all of them discrete, brief elements, easy and fast to integrate.

  • Graphical interface (the map graphical interface contributes to overthrow the first limitation to learning: text.)

Dyslexics don’t all develop the same gifts, but they do have certain mental functions in common:

They have an exceptional capacity to visually handle cognitive structures (a primary ability).

They use global representations. They are able to integrate much information and many variables.

They are instinctively oriented to learning through operations (doing, looking at how things work).

Their tendency to visual thinking and concrete experimentation renders them particularly intuitive with a strong and insight.

Dyslexia is frequently evidenced differently in different countries (or different linguistic groups), related with the regularity/irregularity of the orthographic representation of phonemes, it is, the correspondence between phonemes and graphemes.  

Dyslexia has a neuropsychological base: some processes of perceptive discrimination and memory, necessary to its support, are in deficit.


The non-diagnosed dyslexic student is usually considered laggard, slow, distracted, and these characteristics are a result of the evaluation of his/her poor school  performance, and hence this student is compelled to do more, to dedicate more, and to some extent, his/her learning ability is underestimated .

The result of this viewpoint is that the student loses self esteem. 


The truth is that dyslexics learn in some other way, not from text neither from speech.

With programs that enable "listening to text", the effort is aimed at the compensation of the evident reading disability in dyslexics.

It is true that the contemporary use of the auditive channel somehow improves the perception of the written message, but there remains a problem (the main problem from the learning point of view), that this approach does not solve: decoding contents is even more difficult to the dyslexic.


Text vocalization, therefore, is not a real solution, but just a palliative.

The person that reads "without problems", must read and reflect several times, accessing semantic memory (the permanent or "long term memory", that keeps previous knowledge) to integrate the new information, e.g. "learning"; to the dyslexic this integration task is troublesome, even with the "listened" to reading, because his/her working memory functions with less efficacy when it must operate on verbal representations, that require sequential processing: the real problem is text / speech processing.

Sequential processing is only one of the modes with which the mind decodes information. While traditional learning modes are mainly founded on this approach, Knowledge Master maps favor using the global and synthetic modality, specially active in dyslexics.


The Knowledge Master approach to concept maps (or semantic networks / knowledge bases) as a resource to power the learning abilities and results of the dyslexic student.

Dyslexia, as said before, is also the difficulty to process verbal sequences, such as speech and the correspondent textual equivalent. The Knowledge Master approach to concept mapping has some features that enhances learning in dyslexics:

maps have a graphical interface and the dyslexic thinks better in graphic mode;

the format in which information is presented is nearer to the organization of ideas and concepts in the mind;

maps are not "read" sequentially, because these are direct access structures, and therefore there's no need of sequential (reading or access) processing;

semantic (or logic) units are directly recognizable and analyzable;

search and analysis tools in KM facilitate accessing contents, at a cognitive level;

the Knowledge Master "active voice" describes the cognitive structure in its essence of concepts and relations, organized in simple propositions. This reduces to the minimum the need for sequential processing;

the association between the cognitive message logic (knowledge), the graphic representation and the synchronic use of the auditive channel (i.e. the synergy between logic, cognition, multimodality and multimedia), beside transcending the possibility of the traditional exposure to text, appeals to the strongest capacities of dyslexics, their visual capacities, and improves their perceptive abilities in general;

using the main principles of cognitive psychology, such as categorization and relevance in Knowledge Master (it is an automatic recognition function), the effort to learn is reduced to the minimum;

semantic paths (characteristic in Knowledge Master) that represent higher order concepts, take advantage of graphic animation and vocalization as well;

question -> answer sessions (an automatic conversion of the map cognitive structure) enables the simplified interaction with contents to learn (and the full dialog is vocalized); these sessions become unintentional and effective drilling sessions about contents to be learned.

This being a technology designed to power learning in general, without distinction of age or personal abilities, the dyslexic is not isolated or differentiated from his/her schoolmates: this technology can also become a school social integration tool, without evidencing "diversity".

Generic productivity tools specially useful for dyslexics

:: Learning disabilities ::
Introduction: Learning disabilities
Attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADD-H)
Phonetic search: a resource for dyslexics and for language learning

:: Insight ::

Learning and dyslexia

:: :: Experimentation ::

The experience in Rome, 2004
The autistic student and learning: experience also accomplished with autism
Experimentation in 2006: Knowledge Master has been formally experimented with dyslexics


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