It takes hard work, but parents can help dyslexic children to succeed at school despite the stigma associated with the condition.
A mom tells her story
One day after school Brandon’s mom told him to remove his lunchbox from his schoolbag, put his shoes away and drop his clothes in the washing basket. About 10 minutes later she popped into his room, only to see him sitting on his bed – still in his school uniform.
“Brandon was always in trouble with me because I thought he wasn’t listening,” says his mom, Anne. “I thought he was lazy.”
To make matters worse, seven-year-old Brandon often got poor-behavior reports at school and was mocked by his friends because he couldn’t read or spell.
At the end of 2nd grade, Anne and her husband, Phillip, were told their son might have to repeat the year. He was swopping the letters “b” and “d”, he couldn’t spell, his concentration was poor and he struggled to distinguish right from left.
“He didn’t want to go to school,” Anne says. “He said he wished he was dead so he wouldn’t have to battle anymore.”
It turns out Brandon wasn’t a lazy boy. He suffered from the same thing Orlando Bloom, Steven Spielberg, Keira Knightley, and Jamie Oliver suffer from – dyslexia.
His parents were upset by this diagnosis and immediately sought help. Brandon attended a two-week intensive Edublox course. Then he attended lessons twice a week for 10 months, which included exercises to develop his concentration, perception, memory and logic.
At the end of that year his marks had improved remarkably. “He still swops letters occasionally and his spelling is a challenge but Branden [who turns 11 this month] has gone from being a shy child to a happy one.”
What is dyslexia?
The term dyslexia was coined from the Greek words dys meaning ill or difficult and lexis meaning word. Developmental dyslexia may be used to distinguish the problem in children and youth from similar problems experienced by persons after severe head injuries.
Dyslexia is not easy to define, mainly because the term encompasses a wide and differing range of characteristics. Traditionally, dyslexia has been defined in terms of a discrepancy between actual reading performance and what would be expected based on the child’s intelligence. The ‘true dyslexic’ was typically a person who, despite struggling with reading, is above average in intelligence. When children are less intelligent, their reading troubles have been ascribed to their general intellectual limitations.
Using brain imaging scans, however, Tanaka et al. (2011) found no differences between the way poor readers with or without dyslexia think while reading. Poor readers of all IQ levels showed significantly less brain activity in six observed areas. These findings were largely replicated by Simos et al. (2014).
The British Dyslexic Society describes dyslexia in very general terms as “…a combination of abilities and difficulties defined by its characteristics that affect the learning process in one or more areas of reading, spelling, and writing.”
The DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) uses the term ‘Specific Learning Disorder with impairment in reading’ to describe what others call dyslexia. It considers dyslexia “specific” for four reasons: it is not attributable to
- an intellectual disability, generally estimated by an IQ score of 65-75;
- a global developmental delay;
- hearing or vision disorders; or
- neurological or motor disorders.
Have your child tested
The diagnosis of dyslexia in South Africa is now easier, thanks to a test Sandra Swart, paediatric optometrist of Vereeniging, has developed with John Griffin, a professor of ophthalmology at Marshall B Ketchum University in California.
“It’s the first and only standardised diagnostic test South Africans can use to determine the type and degree of dyslexia,” Swart says. Anyone registered with the Health Professions Council of SA can administer the test.
She stresses it’s important to identify and diagnose the condition early. “A child with dyslexia can reach their full potential, but they should be tested early. They can be taught therapeutic programmes to deal with the problem.”
Signs of dyslexia
“Children with learning difficulties often struggle to see what they’re reading,” Cape Town-based educational psychologist Anel Annandale says. It’s also important to determine if there are other factors influencing the child’s ability to learn. The most common signs of dyslexia are:
- Swopping. Children with dyslexia often swop letters such as “b” and “d” or write “rot” as “tor”.
- Omissions. They read or write “bom” instead of “boom”, for example.
- A child who reads haltingly and often loses their place on the page.
- They see the letters of a word in the wrong order, for example, “etib” instead of “bite”.
- Dyslexic children often spell words phonetically.
- Poor or slow writing.
- Reads with little comprehension or doesn’t remember what they’ve read.
- Battles to follow instructions.
- Dyslexic kids often confuse left and right, and up and down.
Types of dyslexia
There are three main types of dyslexia and four additional types, each of which is a combination of the three main types:
- Motor dyslexia: When letters and numbers are reversed and the mirror image of a letter is written, such as the letters “b” and “d”.
- Phonetic (auditive) dyslexia: This is the inability to associate symbols and sounds with one another. In other words, you see a word but don’t hear the sound of it in your mind.
- Visual dyslexia: You see a word but can’t immediately process it. This sort of dyslexia is hereditary.
Source: Sandra Swart
Help for parents
As soon as a child is diagnosed with dyslexia their parents can take some therapeutic action:
- Give one instruction at a time. Don’t shout at the child if they don’t carry out the instruction. Rather repeat it.
- Tell the child’s teacher about their learning difficulties.
- Use the child’s strengths when helping them with homework. If they struggle visually but are aurally strong help by reading the work to them.
- Don’t do their schoolwork for them. The child must learn to be independent, no matter how much help they need.
- Don’t lose hope. With the right help, dyslexia is a temporary inability.
- Making special allowances for the child at school should be the last resort after all others have been exhausted.
Source: Susan du Plessis
Exercise, exercise, exercise
- Teach children from an early age to name their body parts – for example, right hand, left hand, left foot, right foot.
- Practise left and right continually. This should be practised over and over again daily so the child can internalise the concept.
- Play memory games. A simple game is to place toys, for instance, on a table and give them 10 seconds to look at them. Then cover the toys and ask the child to name them.
- Say a word − for example, “tree”. The child says “tree”. Say another word − “chair”, for example. The child then says “tree, chair”. Add another word and have them repeat each of the words including the new one.
What teachers can do
Share these tips for your child’s teacher:
- Create a positive learning environment where children are encouraged and every child experiences a sense of success and self-worth.
- If you suspect a learner has dyslexia talk to the parents as soon as possible.
- Enlarge the spacing between letters and words on the board, and on worksheets and examination papers. This helps dyslexic children to read on average 20 per cent faster and they make only half the mistakes they would otherwise.
Source: Susan du Plessis