Do Dyslexia Symptoms Make Kids Better at Video Games?

When you think of a child with dyslexia symptoms, what do you see? Someone struggling at the chalk board in class? Or, simply a frustrated student, struggling to read? While these are indeed common scenarios for kids dealing with dyslexia, there’s likely one scenario you failed to imagine — a dyslexic child performing masterfully at a video game.

While we all know many kids love video games, children with dyslexia may find a particular interest in the pastime due to the unique way in which their brains process visual information. New brain-imaging techniques, as well as an increasing interest in neuroscience, have lead to a some fascinating findings in how the brains of dyslexics work very differently than those of traditional readers.

Last year, a New York Times article by Annie Murphy-Paul cited research that describes how typical readers identify the letters in the middle of a row with greater accuracy than dyslexics. No surprises there. But, the study also found that those with dyslexia did better when asked to identify letters located in the outer reaches of the row. Essentially, typical readers are better able to identify what is right in front of them, while dyslexics tend to be adept at noticing things on the periphery.

As it turns out, this is quite an important skill in many video games, too. The capacity to notice peripheral images very fast — and react to them quickly — is commonly needed for success in games. Take, for example, popular titles such as Batman: Arkham City and Super Mario 3D Land. In Batman: Arkham City, players frequently need to take into account scattered enemy positions in order to avoid detection, or spot incoming attacks from a bevy of surrounding foes to avoid injury. In Super Mario 3D Land, players must keep their eyes peeled for hidden power-ups, coins and star locations, which are many times purposefully put out of view. If this is the case, which players sound best suited to meet such challenges: those who tend to focus on things in plain sight, or those who pick up better on outlying objects?

Another interesting study published this year by Current Biology supports the notion that gaming — in and of itself — can be beneficial to those with dyslexia. The study found that kids who played action-based video games for twelve hours saw notable increases in reading performance, without the need to involve “any direct phonological or orthographic training.” The findings indicate that such action-based games “efficiently improve attention,” and “can directly translate into better reading abilities.” Thus, children with dyslexia aren’t just well-suited for game play, but games themselves prove beneficial towards increasing their visual attention outside of games, as well.

Interestingly, dyslexia may offer unique perks and perspectives in other areas of technology, too. Cathy Davidson, in her great book, “Now You See It,” suggests that alternative learners may be better suited for many of the 21st century jobs that involve innovative technologies, especially when compared to their typically-developing peers. A 2008 study published by Julie Logan, president of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, reported that 35% of entrepreneurs in the United States showed signs of dyslexia. In England, studies indicated that about 20% of entrepreneurs were identified as dyslexic — twice the amount of the 10% overall incidence of dyslexia in the country. Logan noted how dyslexics are “extraordinarily creative about maneuvering their way around problems” — an important trait when it comes to navigating the ever-shifting landscape of today’s digital world.

Obviously, parents can’t simply count on their dyslexic children effortlessly becoming successful entrepreneurs. But, they can help by providing them with access to the technological tools that best fit how their brains work, encouraging them to put forth the effort needed to overcome the obstacles ahead and develop the skills that lead to better learning, and ultimately, real-world success.

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