Friday, April 10, 2009

The Arts Dyslexia Trust

Over the years, it seems that most of the organizations dealing with dyslexia around the world have focused mainly on fixing problems -- mostly remediation of academic skills. The one great exception for many years has been the Arts Dyslexia Trust in Britain. I have already provided a sample of their work and influence (in the arts as well as the sciences) with the recent web log entry, “Dyslexic Talent, Visual Thinking and Nobel Prizes.” I thought it would be interesting to know a little history about how the Trust came to be. Below are excepts from a “Brief History” by Sue Parkinson:

“The Arts Dyslexia Trust was established in 1992 but its history really goes back much further than that, to the early 1960’s when the word “dyslexia” was scarcely known in England. A remarkable small independent school (Brickwall, in Sussex) run by a very remarkable head master Malcolm Ritchie, was one of the first in England to recognise dyslexia and to attempt to build up a group of teaching staff that could meet the learning needs of young dyslexic minds. I was fortunate enough to be asked to join this group and became responsible for art classes there for the next 20 years.

“As soon as I got there, I became fascinated by the work that was being created by the boys in these classes. Compared to the work produced in Art Colleges where I had previously been teaching, their creative imagination was simply outstanding and the results amazing. . . .

“By the time I retired, in 1985, I had become convinced that there must be some reason why a lack of ability with words should so often bring with it a higher than average ability in subjects requiring visual-spatial skills. I [was] . . . determined to discover the roots of this connection. Of course, I was always being told that such a connection did not exist but I soon found that the evidence was there. From the great Norman Geschwind, his brilliant successor Albert Galaburda, and many others, I gathered the clues to the explanation I was looking for.

“. . . I believe that traditional academic education depends on the use of words and numbers that can only be understood sequentially. The visual thinkers, including many of the talented dyslexics, think three-dimensionally. The differences between these two ways of thinking are profound. They affect all sorts of things, not only the way people learn. . . .

“One major source of misunderstanding is that it is not generally appreciated that there are two ways of perceiving, recording and manipulating visual information in one’s brain: two-dimensionally . . . , and three-dimensionally. It is the latter form that is most commonly used amongst dyslexics. The fact that none of the so-called ‘visual’ tests distinguish between these two ways of thinking and very, very few are presented in three-dimensional format explains, perhaps, why there is such controversy on the subject and why there are still so many people who refuse to believe that . . . dyslexic visual talent exists.

“So, the first thing we did when the Trust was formed was to mount a big exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London, to demonstrate this dyslexic talent. It attracted enormous support from the art world and elsewhere. Richard Rogers lent us some of his beautiful architectural models; we showed Leonardo da Vinci prints from the Queen’s collection at Windsor; pages from Michael Faraday’s illustrated notebooks, extracts from Albert Einstein’s mathematical notes; and a beautiful photograph of one of William Butler Yeats’ hand written poems kindly given to us by the . . . editor of Yeats’ letters. ‘A first exhibition of its kind,’ was warmly welcomed by, amongest other people, Roger de Gray KCVO, past president of the Royal Academy, who said, ‘I warmly welcome the encouragement that this exhibition will give to present dyslexic students and their families, and also hope that it may encourage a fresh assessment on the part of educational authorities on the value of visual thinking.’ ”

Quoted from “A Brief History of the Arts Dyslexia Trust” by Sue Parkinson

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