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Question and Answer: Dyslexia and Genetics
If dyslexia does not have a biological cause, why does this problem, according to statistics, tend to run in families? I quote from your website: "Hornsby, for example, state that 88 percent of dyslexics had a near relative who had similar problems with reading and spelling. According to an American study the risk that a child will have a reading problem is increased from four to thirteen times if one of the parents has a similar problem. This tendency for dyslexia to 'run in families' have been confirmed by numerous studies."
It would be foolish to deny that genes may play a role in human capabilities and talents or even difficulties. However, to determine the relative importance of the role of genes and the role of the environment will forever be impossible. How much does the genetic make-up of a person contribute to his talents or difficulties, and how much the fact that the family members share the same unique environment? Take Mozart as an example. He was one of the most brilliant musicians of all time. All the members of his family were musicians and from the moment of his birth he was continually exposed to music. Suppose he had been adopted immediately after birth by other parents who played no music. Would we then have known about Mozart? It is possible, but highly unlikely.
The brilliant work done by the late Shinichi Suzuki of Japan also shows how musical talent may be developed by exposure. Suzuki trained thousands of violinists, who from a very young age took part in concerts lasting more than two hours, playing works by Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt. He started stimulating these future violinists from before birth. As a result of his research he concluded that what a child becomes, is totally dependent on how he is educated. "Talent is not an accident of birth," he said.
One should never lose sight of the fact that statistical evidence is often no more than circumstantial in nature. Circumstantial evidence must always be interpreted. Unfortunately it can easily be misinterpreted.
It may be useful to present an example of how unwise it can be to base conclusions on statistics only. Until recently, the inhabitants of some towns in South Africa were allowed to use well water for domestic purposes. In some of these places, the water, when used as drinking water, caused a discoloring of the front teeth. Except in the case of a person with dentures, all the members of the family — father, mother and children — would then have discolored front teeth. The concordance must have been 100 percent. As already indicated, however, the discoloring of the teeth was not caused by genetics, but by the circumstances which the family shared (i.e., that they all drank the same water).
Another example of the circumstantial nature of statistics is the fact that children raised by English-speaking parents speak English, children raised by Spanish-speaking parents speak Spanish, and children raised by French-speaking parents speak French. Except for exceptional cases where children do not learn to speak at all, the concordance would be 100 percent. Surely nobody would attribute this fact to heredity, but to the fact that a child learns to speak the language (or sometimes languages) which he hears on a daily basis.
It should be noted that, unless they speak to him in Spanish, the child of the English-speaking parents will not be able to speak Spanish, not because there is anything wrong with him, but simply because his parents did not teach him to speak Spanish. The inability to speak Spanish will also run in the family, but is certainly not genetic.
The fact that dyslexia often runs in families can therefore not be attributed to genetics, but can be caused by the fact that the family members share the same unique environment. Of course such problems can also be the result of learning, or the lack of it.
We contend that, even if it were possible to inherit a learning disability, a human being is not merely a slave to his genes, but can learn to overcome this problem. Human life can be compared to a game of cards. At birth, every person is dealt a hand of cards — his genetic make-up. Some receive a good hand, others a less good one. Success in any game, however, is almost always a matter of erudition. It is undeniably so that there are often certain innate qualities that will give one person an advantage over another in a specific game. However, without having learned the game and without regular and rigorous practice, nobody will ever become a champion at any game. In the same way the outcome of the game of life is not solely determined by the quality of a person's initial hand of cards, but also by the way in which he takes part in the game of life. His ability to take part in the game of life satisfactorily, perhaps even successfully, will be determined to a very large extent by the quality and quantity of education that he has enjoyed.
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