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If Dyslexia Runs in Your Family, Will Your Child Inherit it Too?
Submitted by Susan du Plessis

Guest Author Susan du Plessis
AUDIBLOX ONLINE MAGAZINE

Deer momee and dadee

I bo not wont to do to shool eny more becouse the children ar lafing at me. I canot reed pleese help me

your sun david

***

David is not a dunce. In fact, according to the evaluations of a few professionals, he is rather intelligent. Yet he certainly has a problem, and he shares his problem with millions of other children and adults. David is dyslexic.

The word "dyslexia" comes from the Greek, meaning "difficulty with words or language." Perhaps the simplest modern definition of dyslexia is that it is a difficulty in learning to read and write particularly in learning to spell correctly and to express one s thoughts on paper.

Dyslexia is a subject that belongs to the study field of "learning disabilities," and although it has never been proved, it is widely believed that learning disabilities are caused by a neurological dysfunction. Some researchers blame a supposed neurological dysfunction on brain damage incurred before, during, or after birth. Others hold that the neurological dysfunction is genetically determined and inherited from generation to generation.

They support this view by referring to many studies that have indicated that there is often a family history of learning disabilities. Dr. Beve Hornsby, for example, found that 88% of dyslexics had a near relative who had similar problems with reading and spelling. According to an American study the risk that a child will have a reading problem is increased from 4 to 13 times if one of the parents has a similar problem. The tendency for dyslexia to "run in families" has been confirmed by numerous studies.

One should, however, never lose sight of the fact that statistical evidence is often no more than circumstantial in nature. Circumstantial evidence must always be interpreted. Unfortunately it can so easily be misinterpreted.

It may be useful to present an example of how dangerous it can be to base conclusions on statistics only. Until recently, the inhabitants of a town not too far from my hometown were allowed to use well water for domestic purposes. The water, when used as drinking water, caused a discoloring of the front teeth. Except in the case of a person with dentures, all the members of the family father, mother and children would then have discolored front teeth. The concordance must have been 100%. As already indicated, however, the discoloring of the teeth was not caused by genetics, but by the circumstances in which the family lived and the conditions which they shared, i.e. the fact that they all drank the same water.

One of the main objections to studies on genetics and learning disabilities is that the statistics are misinterpreted. The fact that learning disabilities often run in families cannot necessarily be attributed to genetics, but can be caused by the fact that the family members share the same unique environment.

THE ROLE OF THE ENVIRONMENT

I do not deny that genes may play a role in human capabilities and talents. However, to determine the relative importance of the role of genes and of the environment will forever be impossible. Take Mozart as an example. He was one of the most brilliant musicians of all time. All the members of his family were musicians and from the moment of his birth he was continually exposed to music. Suppose he had been adopted immediately after birth by other parents who played no music. Would we then have known about Mozart? It is possible, but highly unlikely.

The brilliant work done by the late Shinichi Suzuki of Japan also shows how musical talent may be developed by exposure. Suzuki trained thousands of violinists, who from a very young age took part in concerts lasting more than two hours, playing works by Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt. He started stimulating these future violinists from BEFORE birth. As a result of his research he concluded that what a child becomes, is totally dependent on how he is educated. "Talent is not an accident of birth," he said.

THE GLENWOOD STATE SCHOOL

Research on the role of the environment in children s intellectual development has shown that a stimulating environment can dramatically increase IQ, whereas a deprived environment can lead to a decrease in IQ. A particularly interesting project on early intellectual stimulation involved 25 children in an orphanage. These children were seriously environmentally deprived because the orphanage was crowded and understaffed. Thirteen babies of the average age of 19 months were transferred to the Glenwood State School for retarded adult women and each baby was put in the personal care of a woman. Skeels, who conducted the experiment, deliberately chose the most deficient of the orphans to be placed in the Glenwood School. Their average IQ was 64, while the average IQ of the 12 who stayed behind in the orphanage was 87.

In the Glenwood State School the children were placed in open, active wards with the older and relatively brighter women. Their substitute mothers overwhelmed them with love and cuddling. Toys were available, they were taken on outings and they were talked to a lot. The women were taught how to stimulate the babies intellectually and how to elicit language from them.

After 18 months, the dramatic findings were that the children who had been placed with substitute mothers, and had therefore received additional stimulation, on average showed an increase of 29 IQ points! A follow-up study was conducted two and a half years later. Eleven of the 13 children originally transferred to the Glenwood home had been adopted and their average IQ was now 101. The two children who had not been adopted were reinstitutionalized and lost their initial gain. The control group, the 12 children who had not been transferred to Glenwood, had remained in institution wards and now had an average IQ of 66 (an average decrease of 21 points).

More telling than the increase or decrease in IQ, however, is the difference in the QUALITY OF LIFE these two groups enjoyed. When these children reached young adulthood, another follow-up study brought the following to light: "The experimental group had become productive, functioning adults, while the control group, for the most part, had been institutionalized as mentally retarded."

From the examples above, and many other cases in the literature, I contend that, even if it were possible to inherit a learning disability, a human being is not merely a slave to his genes, but can learn to overcome his problems. Human life can be compared to a game of cards. At birth, every person is dealt a hand of cards his genetic make-up. Some receive a good hand, others a less good one. Success in any game, however, is almost always a matter of erudition. It is undeniably so that there are often certain innate qualities that will give one person an advantage over another in a specific game. However, without having learned the game and without regular and rigorous practice, nobody will ever become a champion at any game.

In the same way the outcome of the game of life is not solely determined by the quality of a person s initial hand of cards, but also by the way in which he takes part in the game of life. His ability to take part in the game of life satisfactorily, perhaps even successfully, will be determined to a very large extent by the quality and quantity of education that he enjoyed.

In his book "The Idea of Man" Matson already stated in 1976, "Man has been shown to hold the power, not only to act upon his heredity not only to change his world, but to change his own being." Perhaps it is high time that we take note of this possibility.

****
Author Bio: Susan du Plessis is the co-author of "The Right to Read: Beating Dyslexia and other Learning Disabilities" and the author or co-author of four other books on learning and learning disabilities. She has been involved in helping children reach their full potential for 15 years. She holds BD and BA Hons (psychology). Website: http://www.audiblox2000.com

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