Reading

Alexia Is Known As "Word Blindness," And It Can Happen To Anyone

Alexia is a form of dyslexia caused by a stroke or brain trauma, and it happens on a spectrum, causing problems as minor as difficulty focusing or the inability to read small words to larger issues, like all words suddenly looking like gibberish.

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Why It Matters

Imagine waking up in your bed like you do every day, but when you check your phone, all you see is gibberish. Weird — must be a glitch. You walk down to your kitchen. Yesterday's paper is still on the table, so you peruse the articles while your bagel toasts. Everything on the page is nonsense — literally, as if the words no longer have meaning. You look around your house and nothing is legible. This could be the story of someone realizing they have alexia.

You may know that dyslexia is a learning disorder that makes it difficult to read. Alexia, also known as "word blindness," is slightly different in that it's an acquired disability. That means that anyone could get alexia at any time. It's common for alexia to come along with expressive aphasia (the inability to speak in sentences), and agraphia (the inability to write). That means that not only do words look like gibberish when trying to read, but you no longer have the ability to write or talk in complete sentences. There's no complete cure for alexia, but there are ways you can live with it.

Why You Should Care

Alexia could happen to you. Take the strange case of Howard Engel, for example. Engel is a Canadian novelist who suffered a stroke in his sleep in 2001 and woke up with alexia. The stroke had damaged the part of his brain we use when we read, so words and letters no longer made sense to him. That's a terrifying diagnosis, especially for a professional writer.

He tried several methods to try to regain his ability to read: tracing letters with his fingers to learn words via motor skills, drawing the letters in the air to see them that way, and finally, tracing letters with his tongue. Strangely, this technique was fastest for Engel. As reported by NPR, "Engel has learned to read with his tongue, flicking the shape of the letters on his front teeth. Engel has reached the point where he can almost keep up with the subtitles in a foreign film." As frightening as the possibility of becoming alexia can be, it should be some comfort to know that the condition can be at least partially overcome.

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