Saturday, 8 November 2008

8. A little (futuristic) history

7th November was the "official" anniversary day for the publication of Dr Pringle Morgan's original article on dyslexia ("A Case of Congenital Word Blindness") in the British Medical Journal in 1896. The 112th anniversary, to be precise. Today is the 100th entry in this blog. So I thought that it would be fitting to try to find some link between the two.

The obituary of Pringle Morgan (he died in 1934) notes his extensive work in the medical field, yet does not mention his contribution to dyslexia. So it makes me wonder what evidence of all this current dyslexia activity will exist in 112 years, and the impact of technology.

I believe the answer lies in the detail. Pringle Morgan was part of an ongoing awareness raising, which has continued up to this day (it is currently Dyslexia Awareness Week in Europe). I am sure that there will be no single person, event, or piece of technology that will make a significant contribution to helping dyslexic individuals. But each will have an impact upon an individual, and the cumulative effect will be noticed down the years.

Right now the technology is moving forward faster than the reflections on its impact. The ubiquitous nature of the hardware does not erode the advantage that the dyslexic had, but makes it more accessible to all dyslexics, irrespective of their degree of difficulty, the pugnacious nature of their parent, or their financial situation. The opportunity to explore ones potential through the widely available technology support lessens the divide between those with explicit (financial) support and those without.

However, to date the concentration has been on the assistive technology, the easy part of the "learning process" to develop. Now greater attention has to be paid on the targeted learning, to identify as early as possible the areas of difficulty, and to adapt teaching to the learning needs. Technology has the potential to do this. What is lacking is the knowledge of how to do it. (I am confident that the desire to do it exists.) We have some theoretical knowledge that suggests advanced programming using mathematical models (Bayesian, Hidden Markov Model, neural networks and similar) which have greatly advanced in recent years, may provide the answer. I even think I know how to do it (calling on people around the world). The problem is getting the funding to create something with a significant impact upon a wide audience.

When that does become available, the nature of a "Dyslexia Awareness Week" will become very different, since the technology will identify and support from the beginning, and the needs will be largely catered for. That is not to say there will no longer be a need for some labels and specialist support, but the nature of it will be very different. And in 112 years time? Only time will tell.

But a final thought: Have you ever noticed how in the science fiction films the consoles are all visual interfaces with no writing? Does that mean the champions of the Starfleet Academy (the Star Trek school) will be dyslexic individuals?

Obituary of Pringle Morgan

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