Did you know that Albert Einstein was dyslexic? How about Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates?
Dyslexia is NOT a disease… it’s NOT something to be cured. People (10-20% of the population) are born dyslexic, they are not born WITH dyslexia.
One thing I know for sure, based upon all of my research and experience on this subject, is that it is extremely misunderstood.
If you suspect, your child may be dyslexic, fear not… they CAN and WILL be able to learn to read and write as well as anyone. Dyslexia has NOTHING to do with intelligence!
Dyslexia has everything to do with a learning style that favors the right hemisphere of the brain. Dyslexic children/ people are classically right-brain dominant and this dominance, or preference if you will, is most easily observed during the developmental years of childhood. It’s between the ages of 5 and 7, during the Foundation Stage of life development, that right-brained children are physiologically wired to learn, and will be drawn to, more creative outlets such as art, music, building with LEGOS, cooking, nature, etc. As well as History, Science, Social Studies, and Geography.
Right-brained kids are visual, they learn by making pictures in their minds. Everything they learn is converted to a picture which is stored for later use when they are physiologically ready to begin reading and writing, which happens during the Transition Stage at 8-10 years of age.
Left-brained learners, on the other hand, are very word and language based. Their brains are ready to read during the Foundation Stage, 5-7 years of age. They are naturally drawn to reading, arithmetic, spelling and writing in the early years and tend to learn in a very auditory and sequential manner, therefore phonics works wonders as they begin reading fluently at 5-7 years of age.
Knowing all of this… to which hemisphere preferential are our schools structured to best support learning to read? Yep… left-brained or auditory-sequential learners. Because they are physiologically ready!
What is Dyslexia (the short version, for now)?
My favorite definition for dyslexia is “difficulty with words”. A more formal definition may refer to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Dyslexic children usually experience difficulties with other language skills too, such as spelling, writing and pronouncing words… I mentioned earlier that these are the strengths or “gifts” for little left-brained learners. Dyslexics read/view symbols, such as letters and numbers, in 3-D form. They are visual-spatial learners and see almost everything from multidimensional perspectives. How amazing is that?
What Causes Dyslexia?
The exact causes of dyslexia are still not completely clear, but anatomical and brain injury studies show differences in the way the brain of a dyslexic person develops and functions. “Develops” is the key word here… as I mentioned, most dyslexics are just beginning to be ready to read between the ages of 8-10 during the Transitional Stage. By the time they reach the Integration Stage at 11-13 they tend to become fluent in the language based subjects. It’s at this pinnacle stage that both left and right-brained learners (by the way, ALL dyslexics are right-brained, visual-spatial learners) are ready to utilize their weaker hemisphere’s strengths more reliably so as they enter high school abilities we consider strengths for either preference have begun to fully integrate.
What Are The Effects of Dyslexia?
The impact that dyslexia has is different for each person and depends on the severity of the condition and the timing and effectiveness of the instruction or remediation. The core difficulty is with word recognition and reading fluency, spelling and writing in the early, developmental years. Some dyslexics learn early reading and spelling tasks, especially with excellent instruction, but later experience their most debilitating problems when more complex language skills are required, such as grammar, understanding textbook material, and writing essays, especially if expectations are unrealistic based upon what they are physically not able to do, (yet!).
Dyslexia can also effect a person’s self-image. Students with dyslexia often end up feeling “dumb” and less capable than they actually are. After experiencing a great deal of stress due to academic problems, a student may become discouraged about continuing in school. Therefore it is CRUCIAL that we create awareness not only for children/students so that they don’t give up on themselves and start to hate reading and school in general, but educators as well! Need I elaborate?
What Are the Signs of Dyslexia?
The problems displayed by individuals with dyslexia involve difficulties in acquiring and using written language especially at an early age, 5-10. It is a myth that dyslexic individuals “read backwards”, or upside down although spelling can look quite jumbled at times because students have trouble remembering letter symbols for sounds and forming memories for words. As mentioned before… dyslexic, spatial, right-brained learners see things in multiple dimensions; this is especially true for letters and numbers. Dyslexics will often experience letters and numbers jumbling up or moving around on the page as they see them from all angles. Left-brained, more 2-D learners will have a difficult time understanding this phenomena. I choose to see it as a precious GIFT! Many dyslexics grow up to be brilliant engineers, physicists, scientists, builders, artists, musicians, poets, actors, and inventors! They bring COLOR to our world!
Other Challenges Experienced By Dyslexics Include the Following:
- Learning to speak
- Learning letters and their sounds
- Organizing written and spoken language
- Memorizing number facts
- Reading quickly enough to comprehend
- Persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments
- Learning a foreign language
- Doing math operations and showing their work
However, although dyslexics may be challenged, many DO eventually integrate once they move out of the Integration Stage and into High School and College. Also, not all students who have difficulty with these skills are dyslexic. Formal assessment is the only way to confirm a diagnoses of suspected dyslexia.
How Is Dyslexia Supported?
With proper help and most importantly awareness, many dyslexics eventually learn to read, write and spell well. Early identification, based upon observation of preference in childhood during the Foundation stage, will allow for nature to take it’s course so that children are properly supported and NOT discouraged as they work toward achievment in school and in life. Most dyslexic students need support and help from a teacher, tutor or therapist specially trained in using a multi-sensory, structured language approach. Someone who understands how dyslexic minds (right-brained learners) develop! Many dyslexic individuals need one-on-one help and support so that they can more forward at their own pace.
Modifications and Accommodations in the Classroom
Many schools are able to help dyslexic students within their own classrooms. Some of these modifications include:
- Giving a student more time on a test
- NOT pressuring them to read, write or spell fluently until 8-10 years of age
- Support learning words by sight initially, rather than phonetically (phonics comes later)
- Putting NO time constraints on testing (NO timed tests!)
- Listening to tapes to help them sound out letters and words
- Reading silently… dyslexics read better this way! No pressure to read aloud in school
- Using a computer software that allows them to type rather than write
Accommodations can be made for dyslexic students inside as well as outside the classroom. Some accommodations include:
- One-on-one tutoring to help with reading and writing skills
- Sensory and motor skill therapy
- Reading tests aloud to the students as they answer the questions in writing or orally if necessary
- Being read to orally so that they are able to form pictures as they listen
There are MANY advantages to being dyslexic… many, many gifts. I’ll write about those in my next post. Until then…
“Once children learn how to learn, nothing is going to narrow their mind. The essence of good teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another.” ~~~ Marva Collins
- Cindy Gaddis, The Right Side of Normal;Understanding and Honoring the Natural Learning Path for Right-Brained Children, 2012.