Researchers Say You Can Have A “Touch” Of Dyslexia — And Here's How To Tell

by Callie Tansill-Suddath

What do Steven Spielberg, Mohammad Ali, and Pablo Picasso have in common? Aside from achieving extraordinary success in their fields; all are known dyslexics, according to Dyslexia Online. As the disorder affects upwards of 20 percent of the population, chances are someone you know (or maybe even you) have received a diagnosis. But research suggests its manifestation may not be so black and white. Rather, it is possible to have a touch of dyslexia — and because it can come in milder forms, it is all too often undiagnosed.

Often simplified to merely causing a person to confuse letters in a word, there is actually much more to dyslexia. The neurological condition causes an individual to struggle with connecting letters on a page to their specific designated sound — their phonemes. This, in turn, results in word confusion, difficulty reading, and trouble learning a second language, among other things. Though an exact cause is not known, a recent study out of France may have discovered provide an important clue: atypical symmetry between the retinas in each eye. You read that correctly: symmetry. It goes against reason, but in the average human, the shapes of an important part of the eye differs in each.

The relationship between your eyes and your brain is complicated. Five main parts of the eye are the cornea, iris, lens, pupil, and retina. In this discussion, the retina is the most relevant. Lining the back of the eye, the retina contains all light receptors (certain receptors are devoted to certain colors based on how much light is required to see them).

It is within these receptors in the retina that, according to new research, an answer to why people have dyslexia may lie.

Located within the part of the retina with the sharpest ability focus is a small area called the Maxwell spot. In a person without dyslexia, the maxwell spot is circular in one eye and elliptical in the other. But according to Drs. Albert Le Floch and Guy Ropars of the University of Rennes, the two spots are shaped identically in someone with dyslexia. The phenomenon could cause the brain to "confuse and superimpose images, creat[e] a type of double vision, or mirror reversed vision," explains Dr. Eric Haseltine, a neuroscientist, to Psychology Today, resulting in trouble perceiving the unique shapes of letter and attributing meaning (sound) to them.

The significance of this finding is that it may provide more insight into the variations of the disorder. Though phonological dyslexia is often what people mean when referring simply to dyslexia, the disorder can manifest in a variety of ways, explains Understood, a partnership between fifteen organizations devoted to learning disability advocacy. These include difficulty remembering whole words by sight (surface dyslexia), or an inability to quickly remember numbers or letters upon encountering them (rapid naming deficit). Visual dyslexia appears to be particularly linked to Le Floch and Ropars' finding, as the blanket term refers to the occurrence of an atypical visual experience when looking at words. Since data suggests unusual symmetry in Maxwell spots contributes to strange visual phenomena, it stands to reason this contributes to visual dyslexia.

According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, Dyslexia is the most common kind of learning disorder, and it is possible to have more than one kind occurring simultaneously. An official dyslexia diagnosis requires insight from a professional, but there are ways to test yourself without a doctor. Dr. Haseltine, shares two tests that may be an indicator of a form of dyslexia on Psychology Today — one that involves a self-evaluation, and one that involves attempting to decipher nonsense words.. If you think you may (or know) you have dyslexia, there is no need to be upset; the disorder is in no way a reflection of someone's intellect. In fact, some experts believe those with dyslexia are more creative than the average person because they must create new ways — rewire their brain, in a way — to process language to make up for neurological irregularities.