Linda Siegel of Saltspring Island is a professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education at UBC, where she holds the Dorothy C. Lam Chair in Special Education. In conjunction with National Dyslexia Awareness month, she published Understanding Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities (Pacific Educational Press $29 2013), a highly readable overview that incorporates the lives and works of Einstein, Hans Christian Anderson, Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendall (with whom she has corresponded) to expand awareness and understanding of learning disabilities. In 2012 she received the inaugural Eminent Researcher Award from Learning Difficulties Australia and she has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden). 9781926966298
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Why Agatha Christie couldn’t spell
by Eric Wilkins
It is often presumed that Albert Einstein was an eccentric who had learning disabilities. Linda Siegel's Understanding Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities (Pacific Educational Press $29) makes short work of the myth.
"As a young man working in a patent office,"; she writes, "he [Einstein] edited poorly written and ungrammatical applications. A person with dyslexia could not have done this type of editorial work.";
That's not to say that other famous figures, such as Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie, didn't have severe troubles in school, or later in their careers.
When Agatha Christie was writing a mystery set in the Caribbean, for instance, she had to remove Caribbean from the title-changing it to Nimrud and Its Remains-due to her frustrating inability to spell Caribbean.
Hans Christian Anderson was terrible at spelling, math, geography and foreign languages. William Butler Yeats was dyslexic. So is Olympic gold medal diver Greg Louganis who twice attempted suicide after he was bullied at school-mainly for stuttering.
Throughout her study, Siegel reflects upon the work and lives of remarkable people to illustrate how having dyslexia, or other learning disabilities, is not remarkable.
In the case of Churchill, she elaborates on the specifics of his early struggles, from his endless stream of tutors to his dismal report cards. His chronic failures in math were obvious. She suggests that Churchill may have had a mathematics disability called dyscalculia.
Agatha Christie suffered from developmental output failure. Growing up she was "a poor speller, she had terrible handwriting, she made many mistakes in arithmetic, and she had trouble learning foreign languages.";
One of the points stressed by Siegel throughout the book is that all of these unfortunate situations are, if not something one can overcome, at least manageable. With Agatha Christie, the key was her unwillingness to give up; she kept on with what was most difficult for her.
Published in conjunction with National Dyslexia Awareness month, Understanding Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities is a helpful guide to a wide range of learning disabilities, how to identify them and how best to deal with them.
For literary types, it's especially intriguing because Siegel comfortably references Jane Austen and George Eliot, and she has corresponded with Ruth Rendall about how Rendall, a novelist without dyslexia, could have fashioned such a convincing portrait of someone with dyslexia in her novel A Judgement in Stone.
As a professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education at UBC, Siegel holds the Dorothy C. Lam Chair in Special Education and she has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden). In 2012, she received the inaugural Eminent Researcher Award from Learning Difficulties Australia.
She challenges the use of complex and time-consuming testing that is currently used to diagnose learning disabilities and provides alternate, pragmatic techniques for testing for disabilities in reading, mathematics, spelling and writing. Her study also provides first-hand accounts of people living successfully with their learning disabilities, having overcome deep feeling of inadequacy.