Dyslexia is a fairly new word, (I could not find it in the 1971 Oxford English Dictionary), but it is one which we see and hear with increasing frequency, and it has become a buzz word in the educational community. Although each of the many books and articles written on the subject of dyslexia has a slightly different spin, the common ground most share is the death sentence to the student and his or her parents. I have even read, “Once dyslexic, always dyslexic.” Is this death sentence a reflection of the current societal thinking? In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a society where victims are everywhere.
Is the word “dyslexia” a scapegoat for the school system in which such labels originate and schools receive funds for students in special programs? How many sleepless nights have mothers and fathers spent blaming themselves or just lying awake trying to engineer a way to remove the unfortunate label while the powers that be (teachers, administrators, doctors) slam the gavel on the child’s file? When this gavel is slammed, does it condemn him or her to a life of special classes that go on and on year after year seeming to make little if any difference in the child’s ability to progress? As a parent, I would strongly resist any label that anyone wanted to put on my child.
My education degree is not in special education, but I have thirty-three years of experience teaching “dyslexics” in the classroom and in private tutoring. My students have ranged in age from five to thirty-five, and many have been labeled “dyslexic” for years. Their symptoms include problems in reading, spelling, and comprehension; and poor decoding skills (the inability to read phonetically). Many of these students have terrible handwriting and reversals; as well as auditory processing problems (the inability to store and retrieve information presented auditorially). Some of the challenges they face include visual processing problems, attention deficit disorders, hyperactive disorders; etc. There seems to be no end to the symptoms attached to the label. Most of these students have attended special classes specifically designed for them. While well-intentioned, these classes move the student along at a snail’s pace or not at all, and most use the same teaching techniques that did not work for the student in the first place. Self-esteem work is often a major part of these classes. Our society seems to value positive strokes above real learning, coddling ourselves above challenging ourselves, and it does not understand that self-esteem is a natural by-product of personal accomplishment.
The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) defines dyslexia as a “specific learning disorder that is neurological in origin,” meaning that dyslexia is a nervous system malfunction. I disagree with the IDA that all diagnoses of dyslexia are neurological in origin; however, I do not doubt that 20-25% of the population has some degree of learning difference—not disorder. We are all unique in our learning styles. Some understand numbers better than words. Some have auditory strengths; some have visual strengths. Some are kinesthetic. Some have a mixture of two or more of the preceding. The diagnosis of dyslexia relieves the system of responsibility, but it does not necessarily help the student who is having trouble learning.
To facilitate the educational system, all students are expected to operate within one learning style. Professionals in both the educational and medical fields encourage—indeed often demand—that a child take one or more of the popular drugs to help force him into the mold.Ritalin is just one drug prescribed to millions of America’s children, and its chemistry is so close to cocaine that it takes a chemist to tell the difference. I encourage you to read You Can Prevent or Correct Learning Disorders by Dr. Hilde Mosse. If you are not up for reading the entire book, please read the pages devoted to drug use in children.
More often than not, my experience with “dyslexics” has exposed environmental causesrather than neurological ones. Environmental causes are preventable and correctable. In order to learn well, children need daily, frequent, verbal interaction with adults—the complete sentence type of dialogue. The language and perception skills a child learns from personal, face-to-face, frequent, daily dialogue with an adult will go a long way in preventing learning problems by building good thinking skills. What keeps these good skills from forming?
Television, in my opinion, single-handedly causes more harm to children’s learning than diet, day care, and dairy products combined. This ingenious invention can connect us to the rest of the world and teach us much about the world and the people in it, but, in my opinion, the destructive aspects of TV outweigh the constructive ones. Television continually stimulates the viewer both auditorially and visually with short, choppy thoughts—which shorten attention spans. Children’s programs are the worst, as they constantly jump from one focus to another. Family shows are not any better with the constant interruption by commercials (which often focus on a pill to solve our ills). In many homes this TV monster is on much of the day and night even when no one is watching. Parents say, “Oh, our children don’t watch TV.” Further questions reveal that the children may not watch the TV, but it is on nevertheless, and what are the children doing while the parents are watching TV? They are engaged with and entertained by other electronic devices such as the computer, video games, books on tape, etc. The same attention and learning problems result from these toys. No amount of technology can replace the one-on-one, face-to-face, positive interaction with adults through dialogue and reading.
There are other environmental causes of learning problems and hyperactivity that I have directly addressed with my students and their parents: disorganization (household and personal), cluttered walls at home and school (visual stimuli), inconsistency in all aspects of life, too many outside activities, and pressure to hurry. Additionally, other negative factors include a noisy study environment, too little rest, MSG and other food additives, emotional turmoil, chaos, and tension at home and in the classroom. It is impossible for a child to concentrate for any period of time when he is overly excited or overly stimulated in any way. Most children are over-stimulated day and night. No wonder so many are hyperactive. “But we live in the 21st century,” you say, “This is part of life.” You must determine if it is more important for your child to fit into the culture or for him to have a good foundation for life.
The educational system inadvertently creates problems, too. Often the copy method is used in teaching children to form letters and numbers. The teacher stands at the board in front of the students and forms a letter or number with little or no instruction in how to accomplish this, and the student must try to mimic the forming of this letter or number on his paper. Casual teaching is popular, with the belief the child will get it in his own time. The correct formation of each letter and number must be taught, and then the student must practice it correctly. In English, we read and write from left to right and top to bottom. Beginning readers and writers must have consistent practice in forming their letters from left to right and top to bottom. The copy method often results in the student beginning the letter at the bottom and going to the top or starting the letter on the right side and going back to the left. Constant practice in forming the letters inaccurately teaches the brain to address the written word incorrectly, and dyslexia is born. Teaching rhyming words—bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, rat, sat, etc.—trains the child to look at the end (right side) of the word first and then look back to the beginning of the word (left side). We read from left to right—not from right to left. This may seem simple or inconsequential, but to a beginning reader and writer, it is very significant.Teaching systematically is imperative to preventing or correcting writing and reading disorders.
The popular use of workbooks that require one-word answers inhibits language development also. The child usually chooses from a list of four words to complete the sentence. The child may not even be able to read all the words in the sentence but can often make a correct choice. In workbook assignments, the student does not have to engage the entire language. The language appears in bits and pieces (what goes in the blank). Active practice in writing and speaking in complete sentences advances language skills.
Another hazard to linear reading is the comic book or cartoon. The inconsistent placement of words and the visual stimulation of the pictures encourage scanning and picture-gazing. Often children look for the pictures to tell the story and read only a word or two of a caption on pages where the pictures do not tell the story. Comic-book reading may not cause a problem in the experienced reader, but it hinders linear reading progress in the young or beginning reader and in the child who has a learning difference.
While the educational system creates some learning problems, others actually happen accidentally as the child grows. One correctable neurological problem is crossed hemispherical dominance. Hemispherical dominance is helpful in working with any learning. If a person is right-handed, his right ear and right eye should be dominant as well. If he is left-handed, his left ear and left eye should be dominant. If one side is dominant, he ishemispherically dominant. The dominant eye and dominant ear receive information and store it on the opposite side of the brain. If the right eye is dominant, but the left ear is dominant, then information is incorrectly filed and becomes hard to retrieve. This accounts for children being able to access previously learned facts one day but unable access the same facts on another day. For more information on this, log onto www.hope-future.org. This website will give you access to full information on hemispherical dominance and how it affects learning, and it will help in determining and reinforcing dominance.
My experience with dyslexics has taught me that consistent, multi-sensory, detailed instruction and practice is the approach that works. Whether the weakness is auditory, visual, or kinesthetic, the multisensory approach corrects the weakness and makes the strength stronger. I teach extensive phonics to my dyslexic students (no matter their symptoms) and have them practice daily. It is the consistency in correct practice that makes the difference. This method has been so successful that I can guarantee reading and writing success. Parents’ cooperation in removing or at least reducing the environmental hazards results in greater improvement. When this approach is faithfully followed, the outcome is always positive.
Some learning differences are more involved than others, but when the parents and students are dedicated to working consistently and correctly, the results are phenomenal, and thedyslexia goes away! The key is in the instruction, practice, attitude, and philosophy. The only question is, Are you willing to accept the challenge?
Sue Ellen Haning – has written 3 posts on this site.
Sue Ellen Haning lives in Lubbock. She homeschooled two of her three children through graduation and has taught or tutored many other students.