Students Who Learn Differently Home    Students Who Learn Differently Overseas




We all are individuals, and we all learn differently from one another. For example, some of us are auditory learners and others of us are visual learners. Some of us have to hear something in order for it to make any sense, and some of us have to see it, or picture it in our minds, before it can sink in. Many of us are able to get through the prescribed educational curriculum sufficiently to pass our exams and obtain our diplomas. And others of us are not.


This study examines some of the issues and opportunities facing students who are living overseas, and who are not able to succeed in their current educational environment without additional help. These are students who are of normal or above normal intelligence, students who suffer no obvious mental impairment or emotional problem, and students who have had the opportunity and the motivation to learn. 


Current estimates of the percentage of people who learn differently range from 15% to 25% in any population, anywhere in the world. That last figure represents 1 out of every 4 people. Parents and teachers worldwide are becoming better educated in recognizing students who learn differently. Additionally, the testing methods themselves are becoming more refined.


Most of the current terminology that refers to students who learn differently is derogatory. At best, they are classified as having specific learning difficulties. Other times they are referred to as being learning disabled. They are said to suffer from minimal brain dysfunction. Just a short while ago, they called it a brain "malfunction."


But is this really the case? Autopsies on "normal" and dyslexic brains have shown that the "normal" brain shows an asymmetrical development in one sphere while the dyslexic brain appears to develop evenly on both sides. In other words, the dyslexic mind appears to use the whole brain simultaneously while the area associated with language acquisition in the "normal" brain shows development on only one side. [1]


Equal development of both spheres permits learning-differently students to enjoy special gifts. They often "see" things 3-dimensionally, giving them a unique kind of spatial awareness. This allows some of them to be, among other things, excellent architects, inventors, directors for film and theatre, interior decorators, and teachers for other learning-differently students.


Why Do Students Learn Differently?


Students learn differently for a variety of reasons many of which are still under investigation. But scientific evidence has already made one thing quite clear. What are now frequently being termed "specific learning difficulties" are not just middle class excuses for underachievement, as some have been so unkind as to suggest. Nor are they the result of the fact that the student is lazy, dumb, dull, inattentive or stupid.  They are differences based on neurological conditions over which the student has no control.


More and more evidence is coming to light indicating that differences in perception might be one of the root causes of many of these problems. For example, in an article for the International Herald Tribune entitled, "'Glasses for the Ears' of Dyslexics," Sandra Blakeslee writes:


Scientists have developed a radically different treatment for children with severe language and reading difficulties, one that may have applications for millions of children with dyslexia.

They call it "glasses for the ears."


The treatment uses a special form of computer-generated speech in a therapeutic program that is designed to force changes in auditory portions in the children's brains - altering cells that process simple sounds. Just as glasses correct faulty vision, these changes in the auditory cortex sharply improve the children's ability to perceive spoken sounds and to decode written words. Recent experiments show that after just four weeks of treatment, language-disabled children advanced two full years in their verbal comprehension skills, researchers say. They said the improvements endured after training had stopped. In effect, the children could throw their "glasses" away.


The two scientists spearheading the research, Dr. Paula Tallal of Rutgers University in Newark and Dr. Michael Merzenich of the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco, said in interviews that they believed the treatment would help many children and adults with minor forms of language and reading disability - the condition widely known as dyslexia. [2]


Other research indicates that the lack of certain neurological chemicals in the brain might be responsible for some behavioral control problems. Indeed, the use of drugs like Ritalin for the treatment of some cases of ADD/HD seems to be a great help and provide welcome relief for many students. The use of inhibition and stimulant medications has been likened to the use of insulin for the diabetic. They don't remove the problem, but their use permits the individual to lead a somewhat “normal” life.


British developmental therapist Stephen Clarke has come up with a different technique for dealing with what he calls "developmental learning difficulties:"


Since the age of seven, Richard Griffith, now 15, has suffered from a litany of problems. He was diagnosed as profoundly dyslexic (unable to read or write), dyspraxic (so clumsy and uncoordinated that he couldn't kick a ball or run properly) and hyperactive. Seven years of special education schools had done little for him, but last November, Richard started a new treatment, and his progress began to improve dramatically.


The therapy involves no drugs, no psychotherapy, no teaching. It is mechanical, repetitive and it is performed with a small paint brush. Everyday his parents spent 20 minutes stroking the brush along the base of his fingers. During a second month, it was brushed down from the base of his nose, around his mouth to this chin, and then across the top of his lip.


His sports master was the first to comment: "What have you done to the boy?" he asked Richard's father, Colin. "He can suddenly play football - he's so good, I'm considering him for the team."

Within another month, the tantrums had stopped and Richard was beginning to read and write . . .


Richard attended a clinic run by Stephen Clarke, a developmental therapist who originally trained as an aerospace engineer. His "paintbrush" technique is based on the theory that learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, and related problems such as dyspraxia and hyperactivity, are caused by the presence of immature neurological reflexes. [3]


In another case, a mother describes her son's examination for visual problems:


Alexander was wired up to strange machines and every aspect of his vision was monitored: the results were a revelation. Apart from being, as we knew, myopic, his main visual problem became obvious on recording his eye movements with infra red recorders to foveal targets. He was found to have great difficulty in keeping his eyes quite still and in making accurate saccadic and pursuit movement. Mrs. Fowler thought that this difficulty with his eyes may well have caused letters to move about and mirror-reverse. [4]


There is now a great deal of genetic research that shows learning differently runs in families. Scandinavian researchers announced in the fall of 1999 that they had found the gene for dyslexia , DYX3, on the second chromosome. Such knowledge can be used to help educate family members and insure early remediation of any problems.


Whatever the cause, the fact remains that dyslexia and ADD/HD are not attitude problems, but rather are the result of physical, neurological differences.  And as such, they are beyond the control of the individual. Nor can they be outgrown. Sometimes this might appear to be the case for, as they develop, the students learn coping techniques which improve their performances. But as of today, there is no "cure." There are, however, many effective remediation treatments and teaching techniques that can enable these students to learn successfully.


In the rest of this chapter, we shall be taking a closer look at dyslexia and ADD/HD.  But as has been noted, there are many other ways of learning differently, such as pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) like autism and Asperger’s syndrome, dyspraxia (motor coordination problems) and dyscalculia (difficulty understanding mathematical concepts).  For more information on these particular problems, we suggest running them through the Google search engine.  It is important to note here, however, that any one of these difficulties can often found in conjunction with one or more of them, and that methods of remediation for one will often be applicable to another.


What is Dyslexia?


It is very appropriate that this study was first introduced in Greece for two reasons. The first has to do with the great Athenian philosopher, Socrates, who adopted the Delphic saying, "know thyself" as his personal motto. By examining how we learn, we learn more about ourselves.  This way of thinking is called meta-cognitive thinking, and it needs to be taught in schools.

The second reason is because the word "dyslexia" comes from the Greek, "dys" meaning "difficulty" and "lexis" meaning "language and letters." At last count, there were at least 86 different definitions of dyslexia, and most of these were exclusionary. It's not this, it's not that, it's not the other thing, so we'll call it dyslexia. However, most people agree that it involves difficulty with the perception and/or execution of written, and sometimes spoken, language.


Physical Evidence


In an article on a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Economist wrote ". . . dyslexia is essentially an inability to deal with linguistic information in visual form." [5]  The article goes on to consider various physical manifestations of dyslexia such as the fact that the anatomy of a dyslexic brain is slightly different in subtle ways from that of a non-dyslexic  When asked to perform certain tasks like reading while in an fMRI scanner, the electrical activity is different in the scans of dyslexics and non-dyslexics.  In addition, more and more evidence is being found that links dyslexia and ADD/HD with certain genes.

Physical evidence is also available to prove that dyslexic brains can be retrained and taught to learn such tasks as reading.  Doctors at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina conducted some experiments using fMRI scanning:


. . . This institution specializes in dyslexia, and Dr. Eden and Dr. Zeffiro were able to borrow some of its patients and stick them in the fMRI machine at Georgetown University. They did so before and after the individuals involved had been on an intensive program designed to improve their reading. They also scanned the brains of some control dyslexics who were not on the program.

The results are intriguing. After the program, those enrolled showed enhanced brain activity while reading. This activity was not, however, on the left-hand side. Instead, it was in areas on the right-hand side exactly corresponding to the language centers in the opposite hemisphere. The reading program had somehow "recruited" suitable batches of nerve cells in a place not normally associated with language processing. [6]


The article concludes with some thought-provoking suggestions:


. . . It looks as if it (dyslexia) may have a profoundly biological origin and genetic roots. Yet viewed in another light, its cause is almost purely environmental. People brought up in illiterate societies are hardly troubled by the other symptoms (behavioral differences). It was the invention of writing, not mutations of the genes that caused the difficulty. Nature or nurture? Take your pick. [7]


Space Dyslexia:


Recently there has been quite a bit of news in the British press concerning diagnostic methods and treatments for dyslexia that are being developed because of research that has been done by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


Here are some examples of these news items:


Children who spend just three weeks on the exercise program (developed for the astronauts) show astonishing improvements in their reading and writing. Staff at the pioneering treatment Center in Warwickshire (at the Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Attention Treatment Center in Kenilworth, England) claim that 97 per cent of them show "significant" results after three months.

A research program will be launched at this clinic to test out its claims. The project will be overseen by Professor David Reynolds of Exeter University, former chairman of the (British) Government's numeracy task force. [8]


The BBC Online News reported on a new test to spot dyslexia that also comes from the DDAT Center:


The first ever mass screening of schoolchildren for dyslexia has been carried out in the borough of Solihull using a revolutionary computer program designed originally for the space program.


The guinea pigs were some 450 pupils at Balsall Common Primary School who took a 90-second test where they watched a dot travel around the edge of a computer screen and clicked the mouse each time it changed shape.


"It just measures their ability to concentrate and to track something in a fine detailed way," explains Wynford Dore, the businessman who founded the DDAT Center.[9]


And then there is the case of the "Girl who beat dyslexia with tablets for travel-sick spacemen:"


A ten-year-old dyslexic girl has rocketed to the top of her class thanks to a space-age treatment. Jessica Foulston started taking travel pills after experts discovered links between dyslexia and the temporary learning difficulties astronauts suffer in space. Spacemen overcome the problem by taking motion sickness pills, and a New York psychiatrist believes the same remedy helps dyslexics.


Before starting his treatment, Jessica was reading books for five-year-olds - now she can read novels aimed at her own range. She has also become one of the best maths pupils in her class.

Previous research into dyslexia suggested the condition was caused by a defect in the language-processing part of the brain. But Dr. Levinson has spent the last thirty years working on his theory that the inner ear and cerebellum - which control balance and co-ordination - are linked to the learning difficulty.[10]


However, evidently NASA was unaware that it was involved any of these projects. The following comes from the NASA website, under their Frequently Asked Questions section:


I heard that NASA has a treatment for dyslexia, how can I get more information?


Due to recent articles in the British press, namely "The Independent", that describe a new treatment for dyslexia that utilizes "Space research, in the form of computerized balance tests given to returning astronauts and corrective exercises that reintroduce stability after weightlessness", we have received numerous requests for information concerning this research.


In response, the Acting NASA Chief Health and Medical Officer, Richard S. Williams MD, has issued the following statement:


In our experience, the prolonged exposure of Astronauts to the microgravity environment of space flight does not give rise to any physical symptoms or signs that would suggest dyslexia. To the best of our knowledge, NASA is not funding or engaging in research concerning dyslexia. Similarly, we do not have (or are unaware of) evidence that any of our medical or rehabilitative interventions for the Astronauts might be effective in treating dyslexia. [11]




ADD/HD is short for Attention Deficit Disorder/Hyperactivity Disorder. These are conditions that are characterized by problems with sustaining attention, controlling impulses and responding appropriately in different situations.


When First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new, $5 million, governmental study by the National Institute of Mental Health on the use of medications like Ritalin and Prozac by children under the age of 7, she said that she didn't mean to "bash" these drugs, but she felt that their increased use did raise some troubling questions.


When it comes to drug treatments for children, why are we seeing such great variations by community and race?" Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference. "And what effects do over-use and under-use of these medications have on our children?” [12]


The National Institute of Health published its longitudinal study results on the use of Ritalin in 1999 according to an article in The New York Times:


In one of the largest studies of its kind ever conducted, researchers have found that the drug Ritalin, the subject of sharp debate for three decades, was more effective than behavior-modification therapy in treating children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The researchers, who worked at six sites around the country in teams assembled by the National Institutes of Health, said that adding the behavioral therapy to Ritalin treatment was no more effective than the drug alone.


But they said they found that about 70 percent of the children they studied also turned out to have problems like depression and anxiety. In those cases, behavior therapy provided significant benefits, especially when used in combination with the Ritalin. [13]


Richard Lavoie, special education expert and creator of many award-winning videos, discussed the difference between ADD recognition in boys and girls in March of 2001:


Most of the early ADD research was conducted exclusively with boys. The field is now beginning to recognize and debate the fundamental gender differences in ADD. My experience has clearly shown that girls are often under-identified in school systems ... while boys may be over identified.


I have long felt that this discrepancy is due to the manner in which boys and girls respond to school failure. Boys tend to act out, misbehave, become defiant or aggressive. Girls tend to respond to failure by becoming withdrawn and passive. (Of course, there are notable exceptions!) Therefore, the boy tends to be referred for intervention ... and the girl is ignored and granted social promotions. We need to start taking better care of our little girls!

·       Girls are less likely to become OPPOSITIONAL or AGGRESSIVE than boys. ADD girls are also less likely to be HYPERACTIVE or have concurrent LEARNING DISABILITIES.

·       Girls tend to have ADD ... without hyperactivity. Boys more often have ADHD ...wherein hyperactivity is a significant aspect of the problem.

·       ADD (without hyperactivity) students are generally characterized by introversion, unfocussed, difficulty attending, low energy. The ADD girl is often (unfairly and inaccurately) labeled "ditzy", "scattered", "flaky". [14]


New treatments for ADD/HD:


Over 300 hospitals and clinics in the United States are using a new technique to help people with ADD/HD. The therapy involves the use of a head set and a metronome. CNN reports:


One of those therapies (to help with ADD/HD) involves performing various tasks -- clapping, tapping the foot -- to the beat of a metronome.

The technique originated with Tom Eggleston, whose 14-year-old son Jimmy has ADD/HD. Eggleston noted that Jimmy seemed to improve after taking piano lessons with a metronome.

He was so impressed, he started a company, Interactive Metronome, to market a metronome device as an ADD/HD treatment tool.

The new research, published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, appears to bear out Eggleston's experience. Fifty-six boys took part in the study.

"Their attention improved, their motor planning and sequencing improved. They had improvement in selected academic skills involving reading and some math capacities," said Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist who conducted the research. Greenspan is also an advisor to Interactive Metronome.

Not all ADD/HD specialists are convinced. They say the study was too small to draw conclusions and point out that children who used the metronome did little better than those who played video games instead. [15]


However, many parents have reported good results by combining this new therapy with existing treatments.


A More Recent Drug


The Federal Drug Administration has approved another drug to treat ADD/HD. Concerta (methylphenidate) has the advantage over similar drugs in the fact that it needs to be taken only once a day. This eliminates the necessity for the child to see the school nurse, which can cause embarrassment, or asking the teacher to administer the pills. [16] 



Students Who Learn Differently Overseas


by Susan van Alsenoy, AWC Antwerp




Page created 10/29/99 EvE. Last updated 03/01/11 SvA.




Copyright ©  All rights reserved.



[1] Masiand, Richard L. "Neurological Aspects of Dyslexia." Dyslexia Research and its Applications to

   Education. Edited by G. Th. Pavlidis and T. R. Miles. John Wiley and Sons, Ltd. 1981.


[2] Blakeslee, Sandra. New York Times Service. International Herald Tribune. Section Health/Science.  

  "Glasses for the Ears' of Dyslexics." Thursday, November 16, 1995, p. 12.


[3] Edwards, Tony. Telegraph Magazine. Section Healthfront. "Dyslexia," p. 58. Stephen Clarke can be reached at the Centre for Developmental Learning Difficulties, 9 Portland Business Center, Manor House Lane, Datchet, Slough, Berkshire SL3 9EG, England.


[4] Faludy, Tanya & Faludy, Alexander. A Little Edge of Darkness: A Boy's Triumph Over Dyslexia. Jessica Kingsley Publisher. London, Bristol, Pennsylvania. 1996. p. 67.


[5] Science and Technology. "Reading Minds." The Economist. p. 91

[6] 3 Ibid. p. 92

[7] Ibid.

[8] Berliner, Wendy. "Dyslexia will be eradicated 'by the end of the decade.'" The Independent. January 11, 2001.

[9] Interview by Wynford Dore. "New test may spot dyslexia." BBC Birmingham Online News. Thursday, 11th December, 2000.

[10] "Girl who beat dyslexia with tablets for travel-sick spacemen." Daily Mail. Thursday, December 28, 2000.

[11], April 22, 2001.

[12] Reuters. "U.S. to Review Child Drugs." International Herald Tribune. Tuesday, March 21, 2000. p. 3.

[13] Nobel, Holcomb B. "Ritalin": NIH Longitudinal Study Results. The New York Times. December 1999.

[14] Lavoie, Richard. "Ask Rick." March 2001.

[15] Roland, Rhonda, CNN Medical Correspondent. "Metronome said to help ADHD." March 9, 2001.

[16] Holt, Gary, Health Scout Reporter. "FDA Approvals: Concerta for ADHD." Yahoo! Health News. November 7, 2000.