Ronny is a clever boy but often stumbles through sentences. Even at age seven or eight, he’d jumble up the letters – calling a ‘b’ the letter ‘d’ or mixing up the words ‘was’ and ‘saw’. Teachers thought he was trying to be a trouble-maker and the kids would call him a prankster and giggle. He laughed along as well. But it affected his self-confidence, because when he muddled the words, Ronny wasn’t trying to be funny – he was just reading what he saw.
Ronny has a condition called dyslexia, a learning disability that affects about 20 per cent of the global population, according to the Yale Centre for Dyslexia and Creativity. It represents 80 to 90 per cent of all those with learning disabilities, it adds.
Dr Agniezka Montgomery, Paediatric Clinical Psychologist at the UAE-based American Centre for Psychology and Neurology, tells Gulf News: “In European literature, it is reported that dyslexic children constitute 10-15 per cent of students, 4 per cent of which are cases of very severe difficulties (according to the international classification of diseases ICD-10 / ICD-11, DSM-V), which could be described as deep dyslexia.”
What happens when you have dyslexia?
Dr Montgomery explains: “If you have dyslexia, you may read more slowly or have trouble recognising words. Often, people with dyslexia read at a lower level than expected. People with dyslexia may struggle to break words into sounds or relate letters to sounds when reading.
It’s important to understand that dyslexia is not a disease. It is a condition relating to how the brain stores and accesses information while reading. Having dyslexia doesn’t suggest lower intelligence.
“It’s important to understand that dyslexia is not a disease. It is a condition relating to how the brain stores and accesses information while reading. Having dyslexia doesn’t suggest lower intelligence. In fact, research has found no link between intelligence and dyslexia. Some highly intelligent and successful people with dyslexia include Thomas Edison, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stephen Spielberg.”
Signs a child has dyslexia
Signs that a young child may be at risk of dyslexia, explains US-based Mayo Clinic, include:
- Late talking
- Learning new words slowly
- Problems forming words correctly such as reversing sounds in words or confusing words that sound alike
- Problems remembering or naming letters, numbers and colours
- Difficulty learning nursery rhymes or playing rhyming games
Once a child is in school, dyslexia symptoms may become more apparent and include:
- Reading well below the expected level for age
- Problems processing and understanding what he or she hears
- Difficulty finding the right word or forming answers to questions
- Problems remembering the sequence of things
- Difficulty seeing (and occasionally hearing) similarities and differences in letters and words
- Inability to sound out the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word
- Difficulty spelling
- Spending an unusually long time completing tasks that involve reading or writing
- Avoiding activities that involve reading
Is it caused by something in the genes?
Dr Montgomery says that the condition does often run in families. “About 40 per cent of siblings of people with dyslexia also struggle with reading. As many as 49 per cent of parents of kids with dyslexia have it too. Scientists have also found genes linked to problems with reading and processing language.”
Are there different types of dyslexia?
There are several other learning difficulties that a person diagnosed with dyslexia may experience more prevalently, says Dr Montgomery. These are not types of dyslexia, and experts believe they are neurological in nature. These learning difficulties include:
• Left-right disorder. The inability to tell your left from your right is sometimes referred to as directional dyslexia.
• Dysgraphia. When individuals have difficulty with writing and other fine motor skills, which affects word spacing, sizing, spelling, legibility and expression.
• Dyscalculia. An impairment to the ability to performing accurate math calculations, problem solving and reasoning, learning number-related concepts, and performing basic math skills. Dyscalculia is sometimes called number or math dyslexia.
• Auditory processing disorder. Individuals with auditory processing disorder experience problems with the brain’s ability to process various speech sounds. This disorder is sometimes referred to as auditory dyslexia.
How is dyslexia diagnosed?
The only way to know for sure if someone has dyslexia is through a full evaluation, done either at school or privately, she explains. People qualifies to access and diagnose the condition are:
- School psychologists,
- Clinical psychologists, and
An evaluator will give a series of tests for dyslexia. They’ll test in other areas as well to see exactly where any weaknesses and strengths lie.
What are the things a test for dyslexia checks?
Testing for dyslexia, explains Dr Montgomery, should look at:
- Decoding (reading unfamiliar words by sounding them out).
- Oral language skills.
- Reading fluency and reading comprehension.
Can you outgrow dyslexia?
People do not outgrow dyslexia, although the symptoms do tend to vary by age, says Dr Montgomery. With appropriate instruction and support, people with dyslexia can succeed in school.
Are there medications for the condition?
"Dyslexia is a learning difference that requires a different way of teaching literacy skills. It is not a disease to be cured. According to solid research, the multisensory approach is the most effective teaching approach to develop literacy skills for students with dyslexia and related learning difficulties," says Rudolf Stockling, educational psychologist and head of the Assessment Unit at Dubai-based Lexicon Reading Centre.
If your child has dyslexia, how can you talk to their school about it?
Dr Montgomery explains that upon diagnosis that your child is dyslexic, your child should receive appropriate support from teachers. There are many accommodations that should be made to increase child’s ability to beat dyslexia.
Here’s a look at some of the supports teachers can use to help students who struggle with reading, spelling, and writing.
- Give step-by-step directions and read written instructions out loud.
- Simplify directions using key words for the most important ideas.
- Highlight key words and ideas on worksheets for the student to read first.
- Check in frequently to make sure the student understands and can repeat the directions.
- Help the student break assignments into smaller steps.
- Give self-monitoring checklists and guiding questions for reading comprehension.
- Arrange worksheet problems from easiest to hardest.
- Use large-print text for worksheets.
- Allow the student to use a text reader like a Reading Pen or text-to-speech software.
- Provide extra time for reading and writing.
Completing tests and assignments
- Grade the student on the content that needs to be mastered, not on things like spelling or reading fluency.
- Allow understanding to be demonstrated in different ways, like oral reports, posters and video presentations.
- Provide different ways to respond to test questions, like saying the answers or circling an answer instead of filling in the blank.
- Provide sentence starters that show how to begin a written response.
- Provide extended time for taking tests.
- Provide a quiet room for taking tests, if needed.
Can the condition manifest in other areas and not just while reading/writing?
"Dyslexia, if not identified and supported early enough, can impact the person’s wellbeing, self-confidence and overall attitude towards learning. This can lead to an overall academic underachievement, poor comprehension, maths and exam anxiety," explains Stockling.
Dyslexia impacts people in different ways, stresses Dr Montgomery. So, symptoms might not look the same from one person to another.
A key sign of dyslexia is trouble decoding words. This is the ability to match letters to sounds. Kids can also struggle with a more basic skill called phonemic awareness. This is the ability to recognise the sounds in words. Trouble with phonemic awareness can show up as early as preschool.
In some people, dyslexia isn’t picked up until later on, when they have trouble with more complex skills. These can include:
- Reading comprehension,
- Reading fluency,
- Sentence structure, and
- More in-depth writing.
“Some of the signs of dyslexia have to do with emotions and behaviour. People with dyslexia might avoid reading, both out loud and to themselves. They may even get anxious or frustrated when reading. This can happen even after they’ve mastered the basics of reading,” she adds.
Dyslexia doesn’t just affect learning, warns Dr Montgomery. It can also impact everyday skills and activities. These include:
- Social interaction,
- Memory, and
- Dealing with stress.
So your child has dyslexia – what should you say to him/her?
Handle it gently, say experts. Martine Diab, speech and language pathologist, Priory Wellbeing Centre, Abu Dhabi, says: “Some parents tend to avoid conversations with children related to their diagnosis, with a thoughtful intention of protecting them from feeling different. However, a child can sense the difficulties they are facing daily. After all, being students is one of the primary obligations of children; school is the place they spend the most time in. Recurrent failure in this role plays a major role in modelling the individual’s self-esteem. With that said, not putting words on what and why the child is struggling will actually take another direction, reinforcing the idea of shame, deliberate failure. It is our role as parents to have these transparent talks with our children, to free them from these false beliefs.
“The way the topic is tackled can differ in each family and depends on the child’s age and maturity. It also depends on the parents’ readiness to engage in this conversation. The key is to be prepared in advance. Do your own research and talk to the therapists working with the child or who already diagnosed them to confirm the information you have and get further tips that are applicable specifically to your child. This will help in choosing your words without connoting dyslexia as something bad, but rather a difference, while acknowledging the challenges that can come with it."
The way the topic is tackled can differ in each family and depends on the child’s age and maturity. It also depends on the parents’ readiness to engage in this conversation.
Some general ideas could be:
- Explicitly liberating the child from all the guilt that can come with the recurrent failure situations.
- Using stories about differences among people, and the variability in strengths and weaknesses. Some story books talk specifically about dyslexia; it can be read by the parent and/or the child depending on their reading proficiency.
- Talking about the prevalence of dyslexia so they don’t feel alone.
- Naming some famous people that might be ‘role models’ to them (i.e. artists) diagnosed with dyslexia
- Searching together for information about dyslexia so that the child feels proactive in the situation. Identifying which information applies to them, both in terms of strengths and weaknesses. This will allow the child to better understand their difficulty and focus on solutions.
- Discussing the accommodations that are in place both at home and at school. Older children can be partners in setting IEPs, including certain accommodations that they feel are helpful to them while reading/ writing.
- Referring to explicative videos online. It is preferable to watch it in advance so that we are familiar with the content and prepared about the kind of questions that the child might ask. Keep in mind that it is ok not to have all the answers.
- Give examples of ourselves, about our strengths and weaknesses and how we tweaked around them so that we reach the best possible outcomes.
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