Memory Techniques and Dyslexia

Image to express how Dyslexia can be helped by a Memory Palace methodAlthough I do not have dyslexia, as a Bipolar sufferer, I had a hard time. But I have worked with dyslexic students in my career many times.

And although it sucked at the time…  the tough times I had in school help me help others.

Why?

Because somehow I managed to climb the Mount Everest of education and get a PhD.

Yes, despite all my problems. And yes, after having dropped out of high school and returned.

It wasn’t easy.

Seeing things all the way through never is easy.

I couldn’t have done it without memorization techniques. I’ve talked a lot about these techniques in Volume 1 of the Magnetic Memory newsletter and my other books.

Now, as I help people like Jesse Villalobos use memory techniques to get a raise, the opportunity has come to speak again about memorization techniques for students from a fresh angle. Here’s a letter I received that shook my Memory Palaces into action:

Dear Anthony,

A dyslexic specialist who assessed my son recommended Christine Ostler’s Advanced study skills which is fabulous, and ” Taking the hell out of homework” too. Just got them and cant wait to read them – tricky bit is inspiring my teenage, dyslexic son to read…… Anything …. Because it is such a slog to read it and make it go in; all the effort is devoured in reading and processing , leaving so little to memorize what he has read: it is frustrating for him beyond belief and robs him of the joy of reading. Same problem with audio books because of wm capacity- feels like he is being talked AT when listening and stresses because he dreads not being able to remember what he has heard. 

He is very intelligent i am told but stressed out with exams and tests upon him big time for the next 6 years or so. He is bilingual French/ Eng having been born and schooled up to 11 yrs old in France. Then did German gcse at 14 and currently preparing for Italian too. He works soooooo hard just to jeep up and feels inferior to his peers because of it. Takes it all out on me because I am the only outlet for all that frustration and panic when he feels overwhelmed. 

So I am trying to encourage him with Memory Palaces and mindmapping (” inspiration”) but he sees it all as “extra” work instead of strategies for learning to reduce workload and learn and memorize more efficiently and satisfyingly. He resents me for “adding” to his existing workload therefore. 

Any observations or ideas you may have would be very much appreciated. 

Thank you once again. 

Here’s part of my answer:

I’m not dyslexic, but I have experienced serious concentration problems, depression and was beset by all kinds of behavioral issues that probably would have been called ADHD at the time if they had been using the term. (If you read my newsletters, you’ll probably get a sense of how I could be mistaken for having such a condition even to this day!)

But memory techniques certainly helped. In fact, they helped a lot.

One trick your son can try that we were talking about just the other day is to give himself permission not to memorize everything he reads and simply let it wash over him and pluck out the most relevant details. If you take a look at Vol. 1 of the Magnetic Memory newsletter, you’ll see a chapter on how to study for exams where I talk about some advanced methods for reading a book and other study methods that will probably help your son a great deal.

Audiobook Memory Improvement Hacks

Here’s something I did as an MA student, during which I had literally hundreds of novels I needed to read: I always chose ones that had an audiobook version wherever possible and got some software that allowed me to double the speed without affecting the voice. For Mac it’s called “Audiobook builder,” and I’m sure there are equivalents for PC.

In order to control my concentration, I would read the book while listening to the audiobook at double speed. Then I would listen to the audiobook again a few days later after having done something else without reading along. I advanced a great deal this way.

Audiobooks form a huge part of my reading technique too, not to mention my re-reading strategy.

Then, when my concentration was really bad, I would listen to lectures from The Great Courses series. They’re somewhat pricy, but often libraries carry them so you can benefit from them for free.

Although they don’t always come with transcripts so you can read along, they are usually very short lectures and easy to listen to twice. Most are extremely engaging and good for both general and specific knowledge.

Again, however, the trick that has always worked for me is to give myself permission not to memorize stuff. It’s reverse psychology, but I always wind up retaining far more, and merely by dilly dallying with my Memory Palaces because I can only if I want to, I tended to always use them.

I think that once your son has a taste of the power of Memory Palaces and using memory techniques, he will understand that it really isn’t more work. It’s a lot less. Unfortunately, that’s always going to be counter-intuitive with Memory Palaces because one does need to take a few steps back before launching forward … but hey, you can’t travel at warp speed without building the Starship Enterprise first, right?

As for feeling inferior to one’s peers, I think that happens to most of us at one point in our lives or another. It has certainly happened to me, even in adult life. I think many of us too have what is called “impostor syndrome,” the feeling that we aren’t wanted or don’t belong.

One can once again use permission to gain power in such cases. Simply allow those feelings to be there, recognize them for what they are (i.e. feelings, thoughts, ideas) and then move on to the next thing, patiently labeling them for what they are again and again every time they arise. The thoughts themselves may never leave, but with practice, they will have zero effect on one’s daily affairs.

Always Teach ’em How To Use A Memory Palace

Above all, I suggest that you continue to offer your son the knowledge of what Memory Palaces are and how to use them, but without pushing it. We don’t want anyone developing a bad taste in their mouth when it comes memorization.

One thing you could do to be very persuasive is use the technique yourself to perform some miracles he will be desperate to learn. You could say the alphabet backwards at rapid speed, or memorize the order of a randomized deck of cards. That’s real magic and it doesn’t take much effort to learn the technique. Model that amazing ability for your son and I’ll bet he takes it up for himself faster than you can remove the Jokers from the pack.

Now, in case anyone doubts the validity of using mnemonics as a “cure” for minds that buzz a bit differently than the so-called “normal” mind of the “average” citizen, I suggest you have a read of this amazing study:

EXAMINING THE KEYWORD MNEMONIC STRATEGY AS AN EFFECTIVE ACADEMIC INTERVENTION FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS LABELED EMOTIONAL OR BEHAVIORAL DISORDERED

Phew … That’s a mouthful.

But a good mouthful.

It’s a dissertation written by Karen A. Kleinheksel and because it’s written in scientific format, you get to read the conclusion in the first paragraph.

I’ll summarize it for you:

Previous research and new research confirm that the use of mnemonics helps children with these so-called problems focus, concentrate and develop self-esteem.

Oh, and mnemonics helps them ace their exams.

That means they have more time to themselves to do all the fun things that kids ought to have time to do.

It’s just really important that we don’t slather stress onto the mnemonics themselves.

There are some cliches about that. Here’s two for starters:

1. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink (which means in its way that you can lead a horse to water and fire a gun in his ear so that he runs away and never returns to the watering hole again).

2. You can’t be a prophet in your own land (which means that you can demonstrate the awesome abilities you want the other person to learn and then slowly reveal the secret in tempting ways that makes it impossible for them not to want to learn the whole system).

Until next time, teach someone what you’ve learned about memory techniques or at least show them that you’re listening. Teaching a skill is one of the best ways to learn it and helping people improve their memory is one of the best ways we can make the world a better place. The more we remember, the more we can remember. And the more we learn, the more we can learn.

Further Resources

How to Memorize A Textbook

2 Responses to " Memory Techniques and Dyslexia "

  1. Pamela says:

    I also have dyslexia and I am trying to learn Chinese hard to memember. If you think you can help me ok I am willing

    • Thanks for your comment, Pamela.

      Chinese is a great language and not such a tough nut to crack with daily practice. Here’s how I’m tackling Mandarin Chinese with notes on doing it from the Bipolar experience. Manic Depression is different than dyslexia, but I think they both present similar concentration challenges. Enjoy that post and let me know if you have any questions. 🙂

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