Dyslexia is all too often regarded as a stigmatizing label and there are many misconceptions about this minor learning disorder. If you love someone with dyslexia, you may well have come across some of these myths and stereotypes. So, to set the record straight, here are 15 reminders if you love someone with dyslexia. Pass it on to anyone else who may have the same problem.
1. They are just as intelligent as everyone else.
Dyslexia is just a minor difference in the way the brain processes sounds, letters, words and can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. It is just that the dyslexic sufferer’s brain is wired differently. Richard Ford and Albert Einstein are two inspiring examples of extremely gifted people who had the same problem, yet they made an enormous contribution to knowledge, literature and science. Dyslexia is not a measure of anyone’s intelligence.
2. They need to be spotted early.
The earlier the better. If you have noticed that there are problems with your child in processing letters, sounds, spelling and reading and maybe writing, then it may be time to get him/her tested. The Woodcock-Johnson-Revised Test of Cognitive Ability is one the tests used. Edison’s teacher had no idea what dyslexia was and sent home a note which read, “Too stupid to learn.” With the right help, dyslexic children can thrive and succeed. Look at the list of famous people here who had dyslexia and you will be amazed.
3. They are at risk of falling through the cracks.
The sad fact is that many people who struggle with dyslexia just give up because they are not helped or encouraged enough. We are in danger of losing dyslexics and the figures from one UK prison confirm that. They did a survey at Chelmsford prison of over 2,000 inmates and found that 53% had a problem with dyslexia. That is an incredibly high figure when compared to the rate for the law-abiding population which is around 10%.
Richard Branson’s teacher had a similar premonition when he remarked that he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire!
4. They need better support at school.
With the right training and use of special techniques, children can overcome their difficulties. A survey in UK found that many dyslexic students ended up frustrated because of unhelpful comments from their teachers. For example, 83% of them were told just to ‘try harder’. What was even worse was the fact that two thirds were forced to read aloud in front of their classmates.
5. They are likely to have inherited this disability.
Scientists have now identified 6 of the genes they believe are responsible for reading and spelling difficulties that children and adults encounter. These genes are those we all use to be aware of sounds, verbal memory and also verbal processing speed. Most experts agree that this is neurological disorder which is often genetic
6. They have problems with letters, sounds and spelling.
From the age of three, you can spot a child who may be dyslexic when they have problems matching sounds of the alphabet with the objects they can represent. For example, one student could not identify the picture of an apple which would illustrate the letter ’A’. Other examples are where words of several syllables may all get jumbled up such as “pasghetti” instead of spaghetti or they may spell animal as “aminal. They will often write the word “said” as “seb”.
7. They can spot what is out of place.
A dyslexic person is often quicker at discovering what is out of place in a problem, theory or experiment. This ability is what has driven dyslexic scientists to discover anomalies which have led to dazzling awards and prizes. An excellent example is Carole Greider (Nobel Prize in Medicine, 2009) whose discovery of the telomerase enzyme has led to extraordinary advances in the study of aging and cancer. It all started when Carole started investigating a research area which was so far off the beaten track that it was almost off topic.
“One of the things I was thinking about today is that as a kid I had dyslexia. I had a lot of trouble in school and was put into remedial classes. I thought that I was stupid.” – Carole Greider
8. They cannot be creative and they are bound to fail.
This is the greatest myth of all because dyslexics have a lot going for them. Not only are they intuitive and creative but they can be brilliant at hands-on learning and solving three-dimensional problems. These are all abilities which require a lot more than verbal skills, yet our society has always placed a premium on reading speed. What a pity that dyslexics’ talents are not appreciated more.
9. They can take meds for dyslexia.
No, there are no pills to take! There is no cure or medical treatment for dyslexia. Either you manage to use coping mechanisms or you may drop out. Using memory a lot more and substituting acronyms and nonsense words to represent words are ways that children can cope with their reading and spelling difficulties at school.
10. They need more support and encouragement.
If your loved one has dyslexia and missed out at school where it was never even recognized, you may want to offer help and support now. They may still have problems remembering a name or a fact. Help them get assessed if necessary and then encourage them to get coaching where they can learn more coping strategies. They may need specific help with time management, planning and passing on phone messages, for example.
11. They may need help to discover how they learn best.
Supporting a loved one with dyslexia will involve examining what their learning style is. They may benefit from getting instructions through the auditory channel. Max Brooks, the Hollywood screenwriter, who is dyslexic was helped by his mother when she recorded all the material he needed for learning on audiocassettes!
12. They often hide their problems at work.
Between 10% and 15% of the US population are thought to have dyslexia. In spite of that, dyslexia is often a closely guarded secret as individuals are afraid that disclosure may damage their career. A lot depends on the employer’s attitude to the problem. If they are committed to helping their workers reach their full potential, they will provide screening and support. The problem is that many employers do not.
13. They may have problems at college.
Dyslexic students find that using audio recordings are a great way to fast track their studies because reading is, inevitably, slow. If you need to download recordings of a vast array of literature and textbooks together with magazines, you may find the Learning Ally site is useful. Voice recognition software is a great help too in writing essays and assignments.
14. They use a different part of their brain to read.
When a neuroscientist discovered that her son was dyslexic she wept because she realized how many obstacles he would face in life. She has written a book on this which has the fascinating title, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. She explains how the dyslexic brain has to learn to juggle letters, sounds and words in the phonological part of the brain, on the right hand side. The non dyslexic person uses other areas and the result is faster reading and writing. The dyslexic’s brain is wired differently to everybody else’s and it takes more time. Reading aloud to a child from an early age may give them an advantage.
15. They are at a disadvantage if they are English speakers.
Part of the problem is that the letters in the English language can have many different sounds. Think of the letter “a”. It can have five different sounds as in safe, apple, alive, acorn and wash. Now in Spanish, the letter “a” always has the same sound so that is why there is not nearly as much dyslexia among Spanish speakers or other languages where there are regular phonetic rules.
The best way of all to encourage a loved one is to push them to get assessment, training, coaching or other support at school and at work and remind them that failure is often the way to success.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison
Featured photo credit: Reading together /San José Library via flickr.com