January 7, 2014
Words And Their Emotional Connections
Some of my fondest early childhood memories involve books. When I was little, my mother would sit me down every night before bed – unless she had to work – and read to me. When she was unable to, my grandmother would take up the task for her. We read all sorts of books. From Dr. Doolittle and The Jungle Book to Wendi and Richard Pine’s Elfquest which, to this day, remains one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. On other nights, usually when we were between books, my grandmother would tell me tales of mythic heroes from Greek and Norse mythology: from the stories of Jason and the Argonauts and Heracles to the tale of Thor nearly drinking the oceans dry. All of these wonderful stories filled my childhood with excitement and wonder beyond all compare, and I am forever grateful to these two wonderful women for giving me such a spectacular blessing. Reading and writing are two of my greatest passions, and to imagine a world without them is a path I truly fear to tread.
Earlier today I read an article about a woman who suffers from ‘alexia without agraphia,’ or “word blindness.” What this means is that although she retains the ability to understand and speak perfectly, there was apparently some damage done to the section of her brain that controls her ability to understand the written verse. In short, she cannot read and is unable to even learn how. According to the article, this woman – name unknown – who also happens to be a teacher, had a sudden stroke and developed alexia without agraphia as a result. She claimed to have been a very passionate reader, which is what makes her story absolutely heartbreaking, but fortunately there is something of a silver lining to her tale. Despite current models for teaching literacy, such as phonics, sight words, flash cards, writing exercises, not working for her, she has developed her own way of coping with her disability. When she encounters a word, she then goes through the alphabet letter by letter until she finds one that matches. Then she does the same with the next letter, and the next letter, and the next, and so on until she has decoded the word in her own mind. It takes a lot of time, sure, but at least she has found a way in which to cope, even if it takes something like this.
It was also discovered that there were words that, on an emotional level, she could still comprehend. When she was shown words of things she liked, such as “dessert” in their example, she knew that it was something good because the word itself made her feel good. Alternatively, words like – again, in their example – “asparagus” incited a completely opposite reaction as she knew that to be something she did not care for, even without being able to know exactly what the word was. On the surface, this might not sound like much, but for someone who has had something so dear to them taken away, it is still a blessing
So, what makes this a Miracle of the Modern? It’s our ability, as human beings, to overcome any challenge presented to us. We ourselves can be modern miracles. Learning about those who suffer from ‘alexia without agraphia’ is truly heartbreaking to a book lover like me, and I am thankful for the ways in which this horrible affliction can be overcome.
Never underestimate the power of a good book, my friends.
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