Adam was a little boy in my year three class ( first year juniors) many years ago. He could hardly read or write despite having been given remedial support in his infant classes. He was, however, an exceptionally gifted artist and a gentle child who loved all creative tasks.
He was, in fact, the most severely dyslexic child I have ever encountered in the thirty years I have been supporting dyslexic learners. However, in those days, dyslexia was not recognised or acknowledged as a specific learning difficulty, requiring specialist support from the highest qualified teachers who have knowledge of how the brain learns. Instead many of these children were left in the hands of well -meaning but unqualified learning support assistants who did not have the specialist knowledge. Unfortunately in many schools this situation continues and parents are forced to pay for additional specialist help or deal with a child whose self-esteem diminishes year on year as he or she falls further behind in their literacy skills. How can they help their own child at home is often the plea?
So what is Dyslexia? It is a learning difference which primarily affects reading writing and spelling. Such children have difficulty with the phonological aspects of language in terms of segmenting and manipulating the basic sounds of language. They often having difficulty saying certain words and definitely have difficulty spelling them.
Martin says strangled eggs rather than scramble eggs
Tom says bald egg for boiled egg
Nickie talks about eggs in a cup
Some individuals produce near misses while other cannot remember the word at all.
Ben says camera picture instead of photograph
Emily reminded mummy to put the cushion along the bottom of the door to stop the giraffe (draught) from getting in. One wonders whatever could have been in this child’s mind?
Mandy says serstificate (rather than certificate)
If you cannot say it how will you spell these longer words? Can you remember eleven letters in the correct order to spell them if you cannot even say the word?
Other amusing phrases adults have been known to use are:
The women’s ‘Lubrication Movement’ (rather than Liberation).
He’s a deaf as a dodo
It’s always better talking to the horse’s mouth
He is as a mean as two short planks
Dyslexic are often the butt of people’s jokes.
It is a linguistic problem rather than a visual one, although some dyslexic individuals also have visual processing problems that impact on their tracking of print when reading, words may be omitted or letters decoded in the wrong order.
However, dyslexia does not always affect reading, as many dyslexics can read. However, it does affect spelling long term and verbally able individuals will struggle to spell the words they want to use. They often avoid writing or else struggle to find a simple alternative word that they can spell, for example ‘nice’ instead of ‘delicious’. Their written work often does not match their spoken language.
Dyslexia also has a significant effect on an individual’s processing and remembering information they hear and sometimes see. This slower processing makes it difficult for them to read fast or compose written work at speed. They also have difficulty with memory and time awareness. They can alienate employers by being late or medical professionals by forgetting appointments. They find it difficult to deal with more than one thing at a time and slow processing affects them in pressured situations such as exams or the need to address deadlines.
Dyslexia lies on a continuum of mild to severe and Adam was an example of a child with severe dyslexia. It was his gentle nature and his mother’s determination to help that finally allowed him to achieve success later in life. She changed him to a new school where teachers recognised and celebrated his artist talents and nurtured them. He still struggled with literacy and eventually left the school with those persistent low levels of reading and spelling. However, his teachers encouraged him to apply to Art colleges. He applied to five colleges and every one of these colleges offered him a place.
Dyslexia should not be a barrier to success for anyone. Many celebrities, entrepreneurs, artists and high-performing individuals have overcome or compensated their difficulties and achieved their life goals. In an ideal world all dyslexic individuals should have teachers with sufficient expertise who can help them to develop strategies for learning and make learning fun. With appropriate resources, small stepped teaching and a high level of success they can safeguard a dyslexic’s child’s self-esteem. Also, using an individual’s own islands of competence in other subject areas such as maths Science, Art. I.T. and Physical sports they can help to build that individual’s self-confidence and guide them towards certain career choices.
Adam was a prime example of how an exceptionally gifted artist with low level literacy skills can achieve his goals.
Margaret and I have found that many children that we have assessed at the ages of aged 6 and 7 have returned 10 years later asking for re-assessment as they are about to enter university.
Several years ago I receive a phone call from Adam’s mother who proudly announced that he had been awarded a first class honours degree in Art. He now owns and runs his own successful business.
There are so many success stories but also heart breaking ones for those who did not get the help and whose lives spiralled into criminality. Research tells us that 53% of the prison population are dyslexic or have learning difficulties that have impaired their development of literacy and numeracy skills.
Current research suggests that co-occurrence or co-morbidity among different specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Disorder, Specific Language Impairments and Dyscalculia is now the norm rather than the exception and so Dyslexics may or may not show signs of other learning difficulties.
Our aim has always been to make sure those dyslexic learners achieve their goals in life.