What is Dyslexia?
Although the term has fallen out of favour among child psychologists and other experts, dyslexia is popularly used to mean a disability in processing language.
There are three types…
• Visual (trouble recognising printed letters or words)
• Auditory (trouble distinguishing certain sounds or connecting sounds to letters)
• “Expressive writing” (trouble drawing or writing legibly or trouble proceeding from thinking a word to writing it).
There are no statistics on the incidence of dyslexia. Boys are diagnosed with dyslexia more often than girls, though some research indicates that this may be at least partially due to bias on the part of some medical professionals.
Nobody knows for sure, but most experts agree that some type of neurological dysfunction is involved. In a 1998 study at the Yale University School of Medicine, researchers mapped the brain activity of 29 dyslexic readers and 32 normal readers. For dyslexics, the images showed reduced activity in the part of the brain that processes language and increased activity in the area involved in the spoken word. Researchers called this a glitch in the circuitry for reading that makes it difficult to link printed letters and words with the sounds they represent.
Dyslexia runs in some families, which points to a genetic factor. More than a third of people diagnosed with dyslexia have a relative, often a father or uncle, who is dyslexic. Some healthcare professionals believe visual dyslexics have poor central vision… that their eyes approach the printed word at an angle, or off centre. But most experts say there’s no sound basis for this theory. Eye exercises don’t alleviate dyslexia,though many dyslexics find it helpful to use a special marker card, a finger, or a pencil to keep their eyes in the right place as they read. Vision aside, this approach may work by providing them with another sensory link to what they see.
Be aware of the early warning signs. These include…
• An inability to learn the entire alphabet or to write it in the correct order
• Difficulty in copying words or sentences. Your child may reverse letters or words (writing d instead of b, for example); this is common among preschool children but normally disappears by age 7.
• Confusion over identifying similar-looking letters and words. Your child may have trouble telling p from q, may read words backward (saw instead of was), and may fail to distinguish uppercase letters from lowercase letters
• Confusion over similar-sounding words. When you say, “Could,” your child may hear it as “good.” He may also hear extra sounds that aren’t there (“blizzared” instead of “blizzard”)
• Trouble retaining concepts after reading or hearing them. Your child may be unable to summarise or explain something he’s just read, he may have a hard time following oral instructions, or he may constantly ask you to repeat what you say
• Confusion about direction when reading or writing. One of the developmental milestones that playschool teachers watch for is the practice of navigating a page of text from top to bottom and left to right. Kids need some time to pick this up, but you should probably be concerned if your child is still struggling with it in first or second class.
• Difficulty following instructions. You may sometimes think that your child is deliberately disobeying you, but what’s probably happening is that he’s losing track as you explain what you want him to do
• A dislike of reading, writing, or drawing. Your child may show little interest in these activities, or he may actively avoid situations in which he’d have to do them
• Trouble expressing thoughts. Not only is writing difficult for children with dyslexia, but so is talking. If your child had a tough time acquiring language skills, including vocabulary and grammar, in early childhood, he may now struggle to express himself clearly with you or others
These basic approaches can smooth the way for children with dyslexia: special teaching techniques in the classroom; behavioural therapy to teach good study habits, including time management; and intensive instruction, if necessary, from a therapist who specialises in reading disorders.
Most teachers aren’t formally trained in managing dyslexia but can apply techniques to guide your child without disrupting the class. Remedial teachers can advise your child’s teacher. Effective classroom strategies include…
• Teaching the alphabet in sequence. Most children learn a letter here, a letter there, eventually putting the set together in its customary order. But dyslexic children need a more structured approach. Your child can master this critical first step by tracing the alphabet in sequence on a chalkboard. The next steps are to write the letters himself using the teacher’s model, then to write the alphabet by himself from memory
• Using a multisensory approach. Learning experts generally advocate teaching to a dyslexic child’s strength – for example, using visual tools if your child’s main difficulty is with auditory processing. And your child may benefit from being able to touch his subject matter, so his teacher might provide wooden letters or flash cards that he can feel and move around
• Writing out instructions. Dyslexic children often do well when a visual aid backs up what they hear. Your child’s teacher might try putting homework assignments on the board or using a poster to chart the day’s activities
• Easing the pressure. If timed tests or drills rattle your child and rote exercises leave him exhausted, discuss other ways his teacher could develop his skills and measure his performance. Could he have more time on tests or not be timed at all? Instead of 20 addition problems, could he do 10? Such minor adjustments can make it much easier for your youngster to keep up
• Maintaining a placid classroom. Dyslexic children often have trouble tuning out noise and other distractions. His teacher may be able to help just by having him sit near her in the front row. If your child’s dyslexia is severe, it might be that he would do best in a special class for kids with learning disabilities. Your child’s teacher and the specialists who were involved in his diagnosis can aid you in making this decision
• Kinesilogy is a great way to help with brain integration and therefore help dyslexia.
What can I do?
Read up on dyslexia, both on your own and with your child. Some recommended books on the subject include: Overcoming Dyslexia, by B, Hornsby; How to Detect and Manage Dyslexia, by P. Ott; and Dyslexia Matters, by G. Hale.
Keep reading to your child. You may need to read slowly or stop periodically to talk about what he understands and doesn’t understand, but reading together will stimulate his interest in books… and is a pleasure neither of you should miss.
Have your child read aloud to you. This is a good way to figure out the kinds of mistakes he tends to make. Correct him gently, and stop if he becomes tired or upset. Read with your child. Paired reading is a wonderful technique.
Keep your home orderly and your routine as structured as possible. You can write rules (when to feed the dog, what to pack in a knapsack for school) on colourful poster boards and tack them up where your child will see them. Get a chalkboard and some coloured chalk for your child’s room, so he can practise his letters in an enjoyable, low-key way. Hang up easy-to-read charts, clocks, and calendars: Your child should be able to see what time of day it is, when his birthday is, what season it is, and how many days are left until Christmas. These time markers will help him to comprehend order and sequence.
Resist the impulse to discipline your child in situations where his dyslexia may be to blame (when he forgets to bring a book home from school, for example). But don’t let his learning disability be an excuse for misbehaviour, either; make sure he understands your rules and enforce them appropriately.
What should I tell my child?
Explain that he has a problem that makes it difficult for him to make out letters or sounds. You may want to say that his brain works differently when he reads than most people’s brains, but nobody knows exactly why or how. If he’s been mixing up his letters, point it out as an example of what happens with dyslexia.
Tell him, too, how much you love and value him, and reassure him that your feelings could never be affected by how long he takes to read a chapter or add up some numbers. Self-esteem is critical to overcoming dyslexia, and your child may already be anxious or depressed about doing poorly in school. Remind him of his talents, and point out that his friends all have different strong and weak points.
Finally, talk to your child about what’s ahead. Discuss your expectations and hopes… and his. Make sure he knows that he can excel so long as he works hard. Be candid about the moments of frustration and disappointment that he’ll endure: homework may take more time, tests may be more difficult, and doing his chores may take more commitment and concentration. What he might find especially tough is having less time to play – seeing siblings and friends romping in the yard while he’s still inside with his books. But tell him that he’ll have the full support of everyone who loves him and that you’ll do everything you can to help him reach his goals.