Music, Memory, and Mind: Deepening Our Understanding of Dyslexia

Boy reading in gardenWhat if every time you attempted to read a sentence or express a thought out loud, the words came out scrambled and reversed? You might find that a bit discouraging if you were a child growing up in a school system and social culture that, understandably, places a great deal of emphasis on speech and language skills.

One of the biggest myths about dyslexia, according to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, author of Overcoming Dyslexia, is that it is purely a “visual problem” characterized by seeing and writing letters and words backwards (2003). For the men and women who face the challenges of dyslexia on a day-to-day basis, it is not the reading of words so much as the pronouncing and communicating of them—both verbally and in writing—that poses the biggest problem.

This dilemma is especially hard on children and adolescents with dyslexia whose teachers do not have the resources available to properly assist them.

Recently, the Wisconsin chapter of a group called Decoding Dyslexia wanted to provide a more in-depth understanding of what it feels like to have dyslexia for those in the community who work or live with a child who has dyslexia. On January 23, 2014, parents, teachers, and counselors gathered to partake in a 90-minute simulation experience at the Kress Family Library in De Pere, Wisconsin, in which they engaged in exercises such as writing words upside down on a mirror and reading coded sentences. The Green Bay Press Gazette reported that the experience triggered emotional responses of frustration, confusion, and empathy in many of them (2014).

Due to the condition’s neurological complexity, many researchers have attempted to better understand the inner workings of the dyslexic mind. One team of researchers recently examined how musicians with dyslexia interpret sound. Led by psychologist Merav Ahissar, they evaluated over 50 musicians with dyslexia based on “basic auditory perception,” involving tone recognition and time intervals, as well as the specific auditory cues perceived and interpreted when engaged in musical activities, such as rhythm changes and melody. Memory and reading abilities were also tested (Miller, 2014).

They discovered that while the participants’ auditory perception abilities were noteworthy and on par with nondyslexic musicians, their “auditory working memory” skills were quite poor; those who experienced difficulty retaining sound in their memories also displayed difficulty in reading accuracy (Miller, 2014).

Though the sound-language connection has been well established in prior studies (i.e., making connections between various sounds translates to the ability to speak and communicate clearly), much of the research pertaining to dyslexia has focused on the auditory side of the condition. Ahissar’s research suggests that scientists should shift their gaze toward the regions of the brain associated with memory (Miller, 2014).

Ongoing studies aside, there seems to be a current surge of public awareness with regard to dyslexia. In 2012, Robert Redford’s son, James Redford, made a film that highlights the issues faced by dyslexic students, one of whom is his son (a.k.a. Robert Redford’s grandson), Dylan (Montemurri, 2014).

The movie, The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia, is intended to educate and inspire, as well as to turn the public eye toward a very real issue that influences the lives of nearly 1 out of 5 students (Dyslexia Health, 2009). Watch the trailer below to learn more.


  1. Dyslexia Health. Dyslexia statistics. Retrieved from
  2. Green Bay Press Gazette. (2014, January 30). Decoding students’ struggles to learn with dyslexia. Retrieved from
  3. Miller, G. (2014, February 5). What musicians can tell us about dyslexia and the brain. Retrieved from
  4. Montemurri, P. (2014, February 4). James Redford looks to raise awareness to be shown in Farmington Hills. Detroit Free Press. Retrieved from
  5. Shaywitz, S. (2003). Overcoming dyslexia. New York, NY: Vintage Books. Excerpt retrieved from

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  • Brenda


    February 6th, 2014 at 3:54 AM

    the MORE others are aware of this then the more attention can be given to those students who struggle with this. School has to be such a chore to those students who see and read things that then come mout all jumbled and unfocused, and they wind up feeling that they are dumb instead of knowing that there are things that they can do to make school and learning more tolearble and even enjoyable for them. These are the students who are falling through the cracks of the school system in large part because I think that educators and parents are all perplexed as to the best ways to help these students.

  • Shannon


    February 8th, 2014 at 12:58 PM

    There is such a huge discrepancy in the educational system between the things that we know for sure and those that we don’t. It is those things that we don’t fully understand that are the ones that get pushed to the side, relegated to almost non importance and then those children whom this affects are the ones who then end up suffering the consequences. Very little is understood, it’s difficult to get a proper diagnosis and often when you do it comes years too late to help the student. They are already so far behind in the game that much of the damage has been done. They hate school, they aren’t doing well, and have been set up for a lot of failure when really the failure comes in that they have been seriously let down by an educational system that has done very little to reach out and grab them and help them put together the missing pieces of the puzzle. I am always astounded by the numbers that go unreached, unmotivated and there fore very under utilized in what they can and cannot do. we all have our strengths but no one is looking deep enough to find theirs.

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