The other day I heard a parent saying, “My child suffers from dyslexia.” This absolutely broke my heart, not only with the automatic negative connotation, but I also wondered if the child in question had ever heard her speak about dyslexia in this way.
Thankfully, the majority of people don’t think this way, but it made me wonder about how much is truly known about this condition. Not just the areas dyslexics may struggle with but, more importantly, the strengths that are associated with dyslexia and how they can be built upon.
It is estimated that 1 in 10 people in the USA have dyslexia and they are only the people who have been diagnosed. Dyslexia is not just a problem with accurate reading and spelling, its main features are connected with phonological awareness (how we recognize and use heard language).
This can be even more problematic for non-transparent languages such as English where we have various combinations of letters for the same sound. Verbal memory and verbal processing speed can also be areas of difficulty.
For example, a person with dyslexia may have difficulty following a long instruction, often forgetting what the speaker has said as they finish their sentence. Additional difficulties may also be present in skills such as sequencing and understanding numbers, organization, time management and concentration.
This is because dyslexia, as with all specific learning differences, (SpLDs) can often be co-occurring. For example, a person with dyslexia can also show features of dyscalculia – difficulties in processing mathematical calculations. Likewise, a person with ADHD can show problems with processing written or verbal information as is common in dyslexia and so on.
Therefore, care needs to be taken when identifying the learning difficulty. If your child has been diagnosed as having dyslexia, it is worth further questioning the school or observing for yourself if any other SpLDs may be present.
The most important point to note is that having a learning difference such as dyslexia is not a sign of low intelligence and you do not ‘suffer’ with it.
The good news is that often individuals with a learning difference show many strengths that can and should be capitalized upon in order to raise self-esteem through the empowerment of success in learning.
Please repeat this as often as is necessary, ‘My child does not learn badly, they learn differently.’
I am sure that we’ve all read articles telling us that Einstein may have been dyslexic and reminding us of the success stories of dyslexic entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs and Sir Richard Branson. Yes, they certainly may be inspiring, but how does this translate in reality to your child?
A parent’s knowledge of their child is really second to none. They see the child in a safe and secure environment where they can be themselves, warts and all, where they don’t have to perform for a teacher or fit into a school system.
They can see perhaps that their child is focused and learns best when spending two hours building Lego. They may also see the degree of discomfort experienced by their child if they ask them to read a little from their favorite bedtime story.
The reality is, how can you ask a child to improve their spelling if they hate reading. How can they be expected to write a few sentences for homework if this very act causes distress and anxiety?
We really need to start thinking outside the box and play to the strengths of these children.
There are now innumerable studies which show that multisensory learning, ie. processing information using the different senses of sight, sound and touch can be of great benefit to those who struggle to retain information because of working memory deficits.
Dyslexics can have a strong tendency towards ‘seeing the bigger picture’ and so are likely to benefit from strong visual images which depict concepts, as opposed to long and wordy texts.
There are many free websites such as Spellzone which gamify spelling in a fun way so that the learning taking place is almost disguised. I often use such websites with my 10-year-old son, as he loves to show his mom that he can beat me at the games (as I get the satisfaction that his spelling is improving). We can even laugh if the other makes a mistake. Calm + happy = a brain open to learning.
Dyslexics can often present strong spoken skills. Many schools now have assistive technology which can translate spoken words into text. If this is not available, then most smartphones and computers nowadays contain speech to text apps on them. Older children preparing essays can be encouraged to dictate their ideas.
Additionally, why not encourage your teens to access free mind-mapping software to help plan a piece of writing? Dyslexics can struggle linking ideas together in written form so, again, if those ideas are represented in a more visual way they are likely to stick in the mind in an easier manner.
If you do not have regular access to a computer and have younger children, then encourage them to spell out letters in sand or try molding letters with play-dough. Remember when children (or anyone) are encouraged to learn in a multisensory way, the information will stick in their memories for far longer.
Just think of how a child’s self-esteem could be boosted if they experienced regular success in a skill that they had always failed at. We cannot underestimate how fear of failure can impact on a child’s motivation to attempt skills, such as reading, writing, and spelling.
Finally, I would like to leave you with a quote from Ignacio Estrada from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “If a child can’t learn the way we teach then maybe we should teach the way they learn.” This has never been truer for dyslexics and those with a learning difference.
This article was written by Suzanne Robertshaw.
Suzanne is a post-graduate certified teacher of Dyslexia and Learning Differences. She is also a teacher trainer who regularly speaks at conferences about supporting students with learning differences. She is passionate about promoting positive and inclusive learning for all and hopes to raise awareness of the many strengths of neuro-diverse learners as well as challenge some of the myths surrounding them.
You can contact her at [email protected]
Originally published on Curious Mind Magazine