Teacher highlighted creative powers of dyslexics




8-1-1925 - 15-10-2012

SUSAN Parkinson, who has died aged 87, helped found, in 1992, the Arts Dyslexia Trust, an organisation that has significantly affected attitudes to the condition in Europe and America.

Herself dyslexic and trained in drawing and sculpture, Parkinson later became a teacher. As a result, she knew that many responsible for managing education considered dyslexia an affliction to be cured.

By contrast, she felt that dyslexics, often blessed with visual and creative prowess, had specific talents to offer the arts, science and business, despite their problems with reading, writing, learning by rote and organisational skills. She recalled that, while teaching at a school for dyslexic boys, she found their work displayed imaginative powers that far surpassed what she had encountered in the art colleges where she had worked.

She conducted small-scale surveys and tests that revealed that dyslexics generally have better visual-spatial awareness than non-dyslexics. By the time she retired in 1985, she was convinced that there must be some reason why a lack of ability with words should so often bring with it a higher than average ability in subjects requiring visual-spatial skills. Then she found that the Harvard neurologist Norman Geschwind and others had collected evidence on the subject.

It emerged that traditional academic education depends on the use of words and numbers that are understood sequentially, whereas visual thinkers, including many talented dyslexics, think three-dimensionally. Parkinson noted that there are profound differences between these ways of thinking. Her conclusion helped lead to a fundamental reassessment of dyslexia.

Susan Elizabeth Sanderson was born in Calcutta, the daughter of a wine merchant based in Bombay. The family returned to England in 1930, settling in a farmhouse in Kent. She went to art colleges in Maidstone and Canterbury, then to the Royal College of Art, where she flourished under the tuition of Frank Dobson and won the college's Life Drawing prize in 1948. A year later she married Richard Parkinson, and they set up a pottery that for a decade produced an array of elegant figures in fine porcelain, some directly representative but mainly witty caricatures of animals and people. Years later the Victoria and Albert Museum put three of her pieces on display in its ceramics cabinets.

After the marriage ended in 1962, she taught art for 22 years and later took a degree in research methods and statistics. What she learnt added to her teaching experience and led to the creation of the Arts Dyslexia Trust.

She had no children.

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