Of late, more and more children are being diagnosed with Dyslexia, which is a learning disability pertaining to learning a language. In USA about 14-18% of the population is diagnosed to be Dyslexic. Similar figures exist for the UK and other developed countries. It is estimated dyslexia is prevalent in about 15% in a given population. The majority of such cases remain undiagnosed. This article should help parents of Dyslexic children and school teachers in understanding Dyslexia better and manage their problem in Reading.
The word Dyslexia is derived from the Greek root “dys” which means poor or lack of, as in dysfunction; and “lexis”, which means word or language. Dyslexia is a learning disability that pertains to difficulties with reading, writing, spellings, speaking, or listening.
Dyslexia is neither a disease nor a behavioural, psychological, motivational, or social problem. It is also not a physical problem such as with vision, listening or speech. Also, Dyslexia is not a lack of intelligence. In fact, many dyslexics are often gifted and creative. They have exceptional talents in certain areas such as arts, architecture, electronics, music, engineering etc. Every dyslexic is unique and has individual strengths and weaknesses.
Dyslexia is caused by connectivity problems associated with language processing areas of the brain, and unique and individual differences in the structure and function of the brain. Processing of language means translating language from reading or listening to thoughts in the brain or expressing the thoughts to language by speaking or writing. Thus they have a problem in interpreting printed words or expressing themselves.
Understanding the Reading Difficulty in Dyslexics
Some erroneously think that nothing can be done about dyslexia as it is not a disease and so there is no cure. The fact is through proper guidance and training dyslexics can overcome this disability to a large extent.
Reading is a natural and easy task for normal children. However, reading in itself is a complex task for the brain. The following steps are involved:
– learning the letters and how each letter of the alphabet has a different sound
– learning how speech sounds makeup words and connecting these sounds to alphabet letters
– learning to use these sounds in words
– learning to automatically recognize words which have been learnt
For Dyslexics, this process doesn’t take place automatically or effortlessly. The problem areas are phonemic awareness, phonics, and rapid word recognition. Dyslexics are not able to make the connection between the letters of alphabet and sounds, as easily as others.
When children start attending school this problem is noticed. The child encounters difficulty with spellings and reading. Some signs of dyslexia include difficulty with:
• learning to read and write his or her name
• handwriting and fine-motor coordination
• learning the letter names and sounds, alphabet sequence, days of the week, colours, shapes, and numbers
• learning to talk or speaking in the language
• spelling words, learning to identify syllables and speech sounds (phonemes) in words
Dyslexia is formally diagnosed through a comprehensive test by a specialist or psychologist.
How To Help The Dyslexic Child In Schools
It is possible through proper assistance and training to make children with dyslexia to overcome learning and reading disabilities. Academic therapists, also called education or academic language therapists, are trained to work with Dyslexic children, can offer the right assistance and guidance.
Incorporating Dyslexic-friendly elements in study materials:
Children with dyslexia require multisensory delivery of language content. Multisensory means using all sensory pathways of learning at the same time, such as seeing, hearing, touching, writing, and speaking. The following must be incorporated in the study material to help them read better:
1. Read out loudly, clearly and at a convenient pace. This helps them use their auditory senses.
2. Use pictorial and visual material and encourage the child to visualise.
3. Use lots of gestures and body movements.
4. Stress on the phonemic awareness and how to utilise it.
6. Explain the big picture first, before going into the details.
7. Adopt a multi-sensory teaching approach to reading.
Avoid Making Reading Only A Visual Experience:
Dyslexic children use several regions of their brain while reading. Teaching methods that engage these regions works best to teach them. Therefore visuals, motions and movement, auditory elements must be included in their teaching methods.
In the earliest stages when introducing the letters of the alphabet, try to shift the focus away from the written letters which are lifeless, instead focus on A being an apple, B a banana and C a cat etc. This will bring alphabets to life and make them more meaningful. Another approach is to teach ABC through Blocks and cut-out letters; visuals, jingles and practical activities.
While Using Blackboard in Classroom:
• In case of writing several lines of text, use chalks of different colours so that it is easy to read between lines.
• Letters should be well-spaced.
Reading In Classroom:
• Indulge in several repetitions so that the child gains confidence. Introduce new words gradually one by one.
• Avoid asking the child to read something which is above their abilities, as this might de=motivate them.
• The child should not be asked to read aloud with other students unless he has been helped to practice and familiarize with the text first. The ridicule from his classmates will discourage him.
• Try to make reading a fun activity.
• Encourage Dyslexic child to proofread and correct their mistakes. They are not able to spot errors when they write, but later on, may realise some of the mistakes.
• Poor spelling is due to Dyslexia, and it is not due to low intelligence.
Specialised Teaching Kits for Dyslexics children
Schools can get special teaching kits and products that are multi-sensory to help Dyslexic children.
How Parents Can Help Their Dyslexic Child In Reading
Parents can help their child overcome Dyslexia. They must understand that the traditional approach to reading will not work with Dyslexics as they learn in an entirely different way.
Some of the effective methods that the parents can use are:
Teach Your Child Phonemic Awareness: Phonemic awareness means understanding that words are made up of individual sounds and the combination of sounds makes each word. The English language has 44 phonemes or speech-sounds expressed by the letters of the alphabet. The sounds can either be blended for reading, or segmented for spelling. Phonics can be taught through regular practice, and making it fun to learn by means of games, songs, and actions or movements.
Multi-sensory Approach to Reading: Reading must involve multiple senses such as seeing, hearing, feeling (tactile), and awareness of motion (kinesthetic) to enable more areas of the brain to get stimulated and contribute in learning.
Personalised Methods: There are no standard methods that will work with all Dyslexics children, as their brains are very differently connected. You will have to be creative to understand what will help the child most. The learning method must be personalised for individual requirements.
Making special Reading Sessions: Make reading programs that are multi-sensory and includes:
– Simultaneous body movements, auditory exercises and visual elements.
– Phonics and phonemic awareness.
– Patterns, stories, cartoons, visuals etc.
Reading Together With The Child: Reading to the child is very important. While reading, draw attention to the pictures in the book. Ask questions like, “What is this?” or, “What is the colour of the bird?” These help in understanding words and relating them to other objects and actions. While walking with the child, draw attention to the street signboards or posters. Encourage him to read or look for certain words.
Read Aloud For The Child: It helps children to:
– Imitate you and get inspired to read
– Gain confidence
– Focus on one word at a time
– Develop a natural reading rhythm
– Remember what has been read
Repeat Every Word: Read a short sentence audibly and make the child repeat every word. Then make him repeat words in groups of two, then three and so on. Try to make reading a fun activity.
Teach Your Child Eye-tracking: Tracking is the ability of the eyes to move smoothly across the text. Many dyslexics suffer from this problem. This may explain a lot of the symptoms of dyslexia, such as letter reversal or missing out words while reading.
Success Despite Dyslexia
To conclude, Dyslexia need not prevent a child from attaining success. Many well-known geniuses have been Dyslexics. there are many renowned scientists, artists, athletes, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, political leaders, who achieved great success in life despite having Dyslexia. All it requires is encouraging and supporting the child to build confidence and achieve success in the areas where he can excel.