As part of my research I have had the opportunity to work with individuals labelled as neurodevelopmentally disabled. I have been able to study their cognitive profiles, neuroimaging studies and results of their postmortem examination. From this cumulus of work I postulated that dyslexia and autism stood at the tail-ends of a spectrum that described different cognitive profiles. Highly-esteemed friends and colleagues, like Uta Frith, wondered how this could be the case? They have certainly seen autistic individuals with learning/reading disorders, so instead of clearly separate entities they would regard these conditions as suffusing with each other. Although I see the logic in their argument they do seem to miss my point. Autism is defined as a pervasive disorder because it involves so many cognitive and behavioral areas. Many autistic individuals do have a reading disability as part of their pervasive disorder; however, whether this is the same as that seen in congenital dyslexia is arguable. Indeed, after investigating cognitive profiles, brain size, gyrification patterns of the cerebral cortex, evoked electrophysiological responses, and how the different brain regions are interconnected, I have argued that these conditions (autism and dyslexia) stand at polar opposites of any given spectrum. It is therefore of interest that very recently I was contacted by a graduate student who wanted to illustrate many of my observations in a single figure. Her name is Jennifer Plosz. I will let Jennifer introduce herself and then attach the image that she provided.
“After being a high school math teacher for a number of years, I decide to go into graduate studies. This decision was informed by both my own experiences with dyslexia and my sons. I am currently a Master’s candidate at the University of Calgary in Canada, looking at the role that visualization and images might play in the growth of mathematical understanding.”
“In the first few years of school, my son struggled a lot with both reading and math. In the area of math, my initial attempts to help him were completely unproductive; yet, when I began paying more attention to how my son learns rather than how I teach, things changed. I began engaging with him through a more intuitive-visual form of mathematics and movement began, not along a slow linear path, but more like leaps and bounds across sporadic intervals. This experience caused me to question the label learning disability. If my son could learn so well, was the issue with him or the teaching approach. I was interested in Dr. Casanova’s work, as it deepens our understanding of variation in mind organizations, more towards a concept of neurodiversity, rather than disability. I am interested in furthering my understanding of the dyslexic mind organization in order to improve remediation in areas of weakness, but also support areas of strength in both mathematics and reading.”
Jennifer did a great job summarizing many of our observations. I see a great future for her not only in education but maybe even as a writer, and someone who can make difficult ideas accessible through her illustrations.
My work has been used many times to sustain the basis of Neurodiversity. I agree with Neurodiversity on the existence of different cognitive profiles and their valuable use in our society. I also feel an urgent need to provide proper accommodations for many individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. However, I also believe in research and in medical treatment for those who need the same. There are many individuals seriously impaired by their disorder who need much more help than accommodations alone can provide.