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Narrative Reasoning and Dyslexia

What is it, how does it affect you, and how to activate it!

What is it?

According to The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice, "Narrative reasoning is an inductive cognitive strategy of telling and interpreting stories to inform."

In non-science terms, Narrative reasoning is the ability to create mental scenes/pictures to hold essential ideas, concepts, and information. It is the ability to remember things using examples, stories, and experiences.

Why does it affect dyslexics?

Dyslexics are prone to strong narrative reasoning because of how our brains are built. We can quickly understand patterns and lots of details because of how fast we process the information, but our working memory gets tired fast. When working memory gets tired is where our narrative reasoning kicks in.

Narrative Reasoning in Action

Once I took an Anatomy and Physiology class at university where we had to memorize all the bones in the body! As a dyslexic, I knew there was no way I would be able to shove all that information into my working memory and then pass a test. So I created a cute saying to remember the bones in the arm. "Mr. Phalanges met at the Carpus (metacarpus), at the Carpus, Ulna hit Radius on the Weenus, and it was Humerus." I included a picture to help you get it. 10 years later can remember the bones of the arm because of this silly little saying I made up. Don't ask me the leg bones; I never made up a song for those, so I have no clue what they are!

Have you ever been asked by someone where their keys are, and while you can't give them directions like "on the right side of the dresser," you can tell them every precise detail about their location? Like "they are underneath last month's phone bill, next to your wallet in front of the lamp on the dresser." That would be your narrative reasoning kicking in. You can think in clear specific pictures and images! This kind of visual thinking is a very dyslexic trait and a considerable strength.

Can you remember when teachers told you, you were not good enough because of your dyslexia? Can you remember where you were and the exact words they used? Can you see it in your mind like watching a movie? Narrative reasoning allows you to see experiences you have had and relive them. Seeing these movies is not how "normal" brains work and is a rare trait employers are looking for. It is also a double edge sword. Reliving exact situations is excellent for memory recall but can also hurt if you replay your mistakes repeatedly.

How to Activate your Narrative reasoning

While every dyslexic is different most of us should be able to use our narrative reasoning. Here are some tips to help you jump-start the process.

Trying to recall the location of something.
  • Start by visualizing the item in your mind (think of your keys)

  • Zoom out a little and try and see the items next to it (they are next to your sunglasses and a water bottle)

  • Compare what you see with what you know (pull up a mental picture of your entry table, kitchen counters, etc., then compare the two mental images)

  • Begin describing the things you see out loud, and start the hunt!

Trying to memorize something.
  • Lay out the information you need to memorize (color coding things, highlighting, and doodles can help a tone).

  • Look at each section of what you are attempting to memorize and talk through the areas (the top right area is a doodle of a cell, the top left section is definitions of the parts of a cell, etc.).

  • Take a deeper dive and talk through the sections again (the definition for mitochondria is highlighted in blue, the definition of a nucleus is written in pink, etc.)

  • Take a third deep dive and read through any details you have not reviewed yet!

  • Snap some "mental pictures"!

  • Test your mental pictures against what you are trying to memorize (ok top left corner has 6 definitions. The first one is on mitochondria, and the definition is...).

  • Then repeat! The more your review your mental pictures, the better you will be able to remember everything.

Trying to recall a memory of something.
  • Pick a memory or question (Why did I cry at my 9th birthday party?)

  • Start with a fact you know about whatever memory you are trying to bring back up (my birthday cake was big and had Rugrats figures on it).

  • Zoom out on that fact and build a setting (I was next to my sister, and my dad was on the other side of the cake with my brother.)

  • After you have the setting, press the play button on what actions were happening (my sister was singing happy birthday, my dad was taking a picture of me, and my brother was looking grumpy).

  • Let the memory play out for as long as you can (everyone finished singing happy birthday, and my brother, because he was mad it was not his birthday, decided to spit all over my cake, which made me cry).

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Thank you, Natalie! I was trying to explain just this sort of thing to my 9 year old the other night. She thought everyone could think in pictures and 'mind films' and I was trying to explain that it is special! And no, not everyone can do it! So much of the struggle at that age (from what I remember) is thinking you can't do what others seem to do easily, and that the things you can do are nothing special. Thank you for sharing this!

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