Dyslexia History

Dyslexia History (Click Here to Listen to this article)

Dyslexia is not a new disorder.  Dyslexia history dates as far back as the US Civil War, when doctors began to notice that some of their patients, following a head injury, lost the ability to read and speak.  As they studied these patients, they noticed that in every case, the person had a lesion or bleeding in that part of the brain that is responsible for those functions.  It was quite a discovery.

Back then, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, doctors used words like alexia, aphasia, and agraphia.  If you know anything about Latin, “a” at the front of a word means “away” and so doctors were literally describing what they were seeing by adding this Latin prefix with Greek root words.  “A-lexia” loosely meaning “away from words” and “a-graphia” loosely meaning “away from writing”.  Another term that was used widely back then that you will still hear today is “word blindness” to describe a type of dyslexia.  This was also thought to be caused by brain injury even among children who were thought to have had some kind of injury before or during birth in those cases that were congenital (i.e presented at birth).

Later studies by a doctor named Hinshelwood surmised that congenital word blindness were caused by abnormal development of the brain in the womb.  This same doctor also posited that if dyslexics could learn to read by hearing the words and eventually associating the sound they were hearing with the words they were seeing on paper.  He was therefor a big proponent of using phonics to teach dyslexics to read.

As medical science and brain research grew more sophisticated, dyslexia research started to divide the disorder into various subtypes, primary, secondary, auditory, and other types were studied and written about in the medical literature.  In 1986, a study was published that looked at 16 families with a history of dyslexia concluded that one out of three of those that inherit the disease show a defect on chromosome 15 and even predicted that in a few years, a test would exist to predict the defect in children as soon as they are born.

A study of dyslexia history is filled with interesting information coupled with technical jargon that only a doctor would understand (or be interested in!), but it does show that progress is constantly being made and new discoveries and theories about the disorder emerge all the time.  More research is ongoing and the history is still being written, so stay tuned.