Dyslexia. It’s a word many parents dread when they hear it in reference to their own children. What their “lay” minds take in is that they have a child who will face struggles throughout his/her schooling and in life. Dyslexia never goes away. There is no medication to mitigate the symptoms; worse, it is an invisible disability which (if undiagnosed) subjects the sufferer to lots of misunderstanding and criticism for things over which s/he has not control.
As parents research their child’s dyslexia and receive information from the experts, they come to understand many things that they want others to understand as well. Here’s 20 of them.
1. They read differently.
The brain anatomy of a dyslexic child is different. The area that understands language operates differently than the average individual’s. The brain has to translate symbols on the page of a book (for example) into sounds. The sounds then have to be combined to make meaningful words. The parts of the brain that do this are not as well developed with dyslexia, so affected children will have to engage different parts of their brains to compensate. Part of this compensation is enhanced by specialized reading programs which are research based and multi-sensory, as well as by audio books that allow kids to keep up with their classmates in school.
2. They cannot overcome dyslexia by reading more.
Those who do not understand dyslexia (including some teachers) think if parents just read to their children more, and if elementary aged children are just forced to read more, somehow the dyslexia will be “cured.” Nothing could be further from the truth. While reading to a dyslexic child has great benefits (I.E. information, exposure, stimulation of imagination), it will not help him/her become a better reader. Likewise, forcing a dyslexic child to just read more, in a traditional manner, only leads to frustration, anger, and behavioral issues. It is the equivalent of forcing an adult to go to a job every day at which s/he cannot perform the tasks and is not ever given the training to acquire the skills to perform them. How long would that adult remain on that job?
3. They are not lazy or unmotivated.
The undiagnosed dyslexic kid is often labeled as these things both in the classroom and at home. However, remember to consider the following issues:
– They may not hear multi-step instructions. While the 2nd and 3rd instructions are being given, their brains are still processing the first
– In school, during reading class, they are still de-coding the first sentence while classmates have moved on to the 5th or 6th.
– It takes them far longer to complete worksheets and tests. When they do not get things finished, the teacher may be inclined to keep them in from recess to make them finish. What they don’t understand is that this child is exhausted from the effort just to complete what he has, and needs a break just as much as his peers.
4. They often need tutoring outside of school.
If the tutoring is designed for kids with dyslexia, some studies have shown, the brain actually changes (this is called neuroplasticity) and “rewires” itself, resulting in enhanced reading skills. For the older student, facing essays and papers for which research must be completed, as well as the normal rounds of standardized testing that come at specific milestone points in schooling, tutoring for reading, writing, and test taking must continue. Private tutoring services that have specialists for kids with learning disabilities are numerous in both the United States and in the UK. With their help and their special approach, children with dyslexia can pass any type of exam, including 11 plus mock exams easily.
5. They don’t “see” the world backwards.
Yes, they occasionally reverse letters and words, but that is because those words and letters appear differently to them on the printed page. What they view in the world, they often see holistically (rather than in detail). They have a grand ability to see what is “out of place.” Carol Grieder, a molecular biologist with dyslexia, won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2009 because as she looked at DNA molecules through a microscope, she saw something that should not be there. She discovered a new and extremely important enzyme that is today the subject of cancer and aging research. In this case, her dyslexia was a wonderful “gift” to the world.
6. They need “ear reading”.
This is the term advocates and parents use for audio books. While the obvious benefit is that are able to stay up to date with their classmates in all content areas (textbook publishers all offer their publications in audio format), they are also able to conduct research and to complete book reports/reviews. Another benefit is an increased vocabulary and the ability to “hear” good grammar.
7. They need accommodations in school, at all levels.
While they may not always qualify for an IEP, there are other individual plans that can be put into place that allow for longer assignment and test-taking time, modified assignments (e.g. half of the spelling word list), and orally provided exams.
8. They can be disorganized.
Their failure to have attention to detail causes disorganization, impacting both school and home life. Their rooms may be messier than most, and cleaning them up is truly challenging. At a young age, parents would do well to “walk” dyslexic children through each step of the process for cleaning their rooms and putting things in proper places. In school, older children specifically may have difficulty organizing and managing their time, and may need lots of tools, such as cell phone alarms, a picture schedule, and so forth.
9. They feel dumb and stupid.
They are aware that others in their classrooms are reading better, are completing assignments on time, and do not take as long to learn things. This can really impact self-esteem over time, causing them to withdraw. Teachers must capitalize on strengths and interests, and publicly recognize them in the classroom. Parents need to promote their kids’ strengths and talents with outside activities. Art, music, sports, designing, building, and science are typical areas of strength. Having successes and recognition for those successes is extremely important for adult productivity and happiness.
10. They need to socialize.
When their bad feelings about themselves cause them to withdraw, they may cease to involve themselves in social activities or in making new friends. It is important that parents of young children take a proactive approach to socialization. This may include joining a support group, in which there will be plenty of opportunity for their children to be involved in activities, or enrolling them in clubs, Scouts, or sporting activities. Older children must be encouraged to get involved in activities that will support and reinforce their strengths or talents. For teens, getting a part-time job can be huge!
11. They have average to above-average intelligence.
There is nothing wrong with educators and parents sharing good news with these kids about their IQs. They should continue to re-enforce the facts that a huge number of highly successful people had/have dyslexia. Here’s a few: Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Jay Leno, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise, Muhammed Ali, Steve Jobs, Tommy Hilfiger, Picasso, and Richard Branson. There is virtually no field in which dyslexic people have not excelled.
12. They need technology.
There are a number of apps which have been recommended by medical and psycho/educational professionals that serve dyslexic students well, from those that convert any text to audio, to voice-command word processing programs, to phonetic skill building in gaming formats. Schools should be cognizant of needs and ensure that these tools are available.
13. They are exhausted by detail.
This pertains particularly to reading and to worksheets in math that are “cluttered.” Spreading content out in larger print and recommended fonts will help a great deal. They will also need frequent breaks. While other students can focus on an activity that involves reading and writing, and accomplish a great deal in a 20-30 minute period, the dyslexic child will complete far less and need breaks after 10 minutes of focus. Beyond that, they will complain of headaches and dizziness.
14. They see what others do not.
Dyslexic children will state the words on a page are moving, that they are alternating between light and dark, or that they are flip-flopping. It is easy to think that they are making this up; however, they are not. It is important to validate what they are seeing as “real” for them.
15. They are visual thinkers.
They learn by pictures and hands-on experiences. This is one reason that many do well in lab sciences. They also remember in pictures. If they can be given visual representations of concepts, they will cement that in their memories. What they read will not be cemented unless there are other senses involved as they read.
16. They should not be “lumped” together as one.
Dyslexic kids are individuals. Their disabilities come in all ranges. Some may exhibit symptoms of ADD, while others will not. Some have real difficulty putting thoughts into words, while others are much more verbal. Some are of average intellectual ability, while others are truly gifted. Some have “acting out behavior;” while others are too quiet. It is unfair to treat all dyslexic children as if they are one homogeneous group.
17. They are frustrated with their disability.
While others who live and work with these kids can certainly become frustrated, it is important to be empathetic. Try putting yourself in the kid’s place and see dyslexia through the eyes of the person actually living it. These kid needs support and encouragement, not disapproving remarks, like “try harder.” S/he is trying!
18. They will be dyslexic for a lifetime.
But with strong interventions and flexibility on the part of teachers, they can develop methods to compensate, earn college degrees, and take their places in many career niches.
19. They can add great value to an organization.
Because they tend to be creative and are visual thinkers, they are often able to “see” solutions that others cannot. In these cases, being dyslexic is a strength in itself.
20. Their sense of hearing is exceptional.
Perhaps because their ability to use their eyes well to learn, the sense of hearing has strengthened, just as it is for those who are blind. However, they are often unable to filter out all of the sounds around them, greatly impacting their ability to focus. The use of headphones when they are engaged in audio learning will help them greatly.
Each of us have strengths and areas of challenge. Our children with dyslexia are no different. Unfortunately, learning has been so intimately tied to reading that they have been at a clear disadvantage. Things are rapidly changing; however, in this wonderful age of technology. We are reaching a point at which we will be able to honor all learning styles, not just those that have traditionally met with success.
Featured photo credit: Rick&Brenda Beerhorst / girls with butterfly book via flickr.com