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See Inside September / October 2011

MIND Reviews: Roundup: Quirks and Quibbles

BRAINY BENEFITS

The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain
by Brock L. and Fernette
F. Eide. Hudson Street Press, 2011 ($25.95)

Perhaps the most challenging part of being dyslexic is the misconception that it makes people unintelligent or slow. In response, Brock and Fernette Eide have delivered a compelling call to action in their new book The Dyslexic Advantage: it is time to stop classifying dyslexia as a learning disability and start appreciating that different brain-wiring patterns allow people to process information in unique ways. When it comes to learning, they argue, there is no good or bad, right or wrong, only a difference in style, which should
be fostered rather than corrected.

Although people with dyslexia may struggle with thefine-processing skills of reading and writing, often unintentionally interchanging letters and words, they can excel at “big picture” thinking. People with dyslexia frequently prefer thinking in narrative form, a proclivity that makes them natural storytellers, and they tend to have exceptional spatial navigation skills, visualizing 3-D structures with ease.

The Eides present functional MRI studies to illustrate what is different about the dyslexic brain. For instance, imaging shows that when people with dyslexia read, the right side of their brain dominates, which might help them absorb bigger themes in a text. They also
exhibit decits, however, in parts of the left hemisphere associated with reading and writing and understanding symbols. The nondyslexic brain splits the task more evenly between hemispheres.

The authors interweave case studies from their own psychological practice with current research on dyslexia. They also highlight a few of the world’s dyslexic elite, such as acclaimed novelist Anne Rice and entrepreneur Richard Branson, both of whom struggled with traditional schooling before using their unique skills to thrive. Although it would be easy to assume that Rice and Bransonflourished because they triumphed over their disability, the Eides contend that they succeeded because of their condition. Being dyslexic allowed them to break from conventional ways of thinking to dream of fantastic new worlds and create alternative solutions to vexing problems.

Despite offering a fresh perspective on dyslexia, the Eides agree with traditional psychologists on the need to intervene at an early age. But unlike their contemporaries, the authors are looking not to fix perceived weaknesses but rather to foster the individual strengths each child displays. —Brian Mossop

INSANE SUCCESS

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness
by Nassir Ghaemi.
Penguin Press, 2011 ($27.95)

In 1972 Thomas Eagleton was chosen to run as the democratic vice-presidential nominee under George McGovern in the race against Richard Nixon. But it soon emerged that Eagleton suffered from depression and had received shock treatment for it. A scandal erupted, and Eagleton stepped down, forming a cloud that still hovers over politics today.

Psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi thinks the public is mistaken in wanting leaders who appear sane and mentally healthy. In A First-Rate Madness, he proposes that Eagleton may have actually been the best candidate to deal with a national crisis because of, not in spite
of, his depression.

The crux of Ghaemi’s argument is that people who are depressed exhibit what psychologists have dubbed “depressive realism”—an all too accurate view of the world. Since the 1970s, when the concept of depressive realism first surfaced, some studies have suggested that people who are mentally healthy actually have overly optimistic
ideas about their place in the world.

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