DYSLEXIA is a learning difficulty in which people struggle with reading and interpreting what they have read. It is neurological in origin and cannot be cured. It is a language-based difficulty with a cluster of symptoms. It is not contagious and is not a disability. Statistics show that, generally, 10-20 per cent of the population is dyslexic.
Each child with dyslexia is unique and the degree of difficulty varies from person to person. Hence the impact on the individual will vary according to the severity. The expertise of the teacher is the key to detecting and addressing the needs of dyslexics.
Teaching students with dyslexia requires a multisensory approach. Margaret Byrd Rawson, a former president of the International Dyslexia Association said, “Dyslexic students need a different approach to learning language from than employed in most classrooms. They need to be taught slowly and thoroughly the basic elements of their language — the sounds and the letters which represent them — and how to put these together and take them apart. They have to have lots of practice in having their writing hands, eyes, ears, and voices working together for conscious organisation and retention of their learning.”
There are many misconceptions and myths about dyslexia, foremost of which is the misconception that dyslexics read backways. This is not true. Another myth is that dyslexics have a lower level of intelligence. More often than not, the reverse is true. In fact, we should consider these people as gifted.
So let’s address the elephant in the classroom; the dyslexic student. Let me share with you the positive side of dyslexia — the prodigy that potentially exists in our dyslexic population. It is long believed that dyslexics have genius capabilities. Some famous dyslexics include Richard Branson, Tom Cruise, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Steven Spielberg among many others.
Researchers deem that whatever causes the weakness in phonetic awareness seen in dyslexia also, at the same time, promotes strengths in other areas of intelligence. Dyslexics often have big ideas and are very creative thinkers. Research has shown that adults with dyslexia soar in spatially oriented occupations such as art, mathematics, architecture, and physics. It is thought that dyslexia may mask giftedness or that giftedness may mask dyslexia.
Paula Dixon, founder of the Society Education & Technology (SET) foundation here in Jamaica and a dyslexic herself, says, “It is important that students be empowered to see their own strengths and that parents are supported to gain better awareness. Teachers must be coached on the best practices for dyslexia to create a success team for learners with dyslexia.” The SET foundation partners with the Your Empowerment Solutions (YES) Institute to bring dyslexia awareness to communities.
Dyslexia is routinely missed or misdiagnosed in children. One of the simplest clue to possible dyslexia is to notice if a child’s oral communication is strong but their reading or spelling is weak. That child may also be confused about complex instructions but might be strong in visual arts and sports.
So the burning question is: With statistics showing that 10-20 per cent of the population may be dyslexic, are our teachers trained and equipped to detect dyslexia and to teach students with this disorder?
The first step is for all students at an early age to be screened for dyslexia. This means that all teachers should be competent in recognising the signs and symptoms of dyslexia. A diagnostic assessment should then be done on students suspected to have this learning difficulty. It is the only way that dyslexia can be formally identified.
There also ought to be a general sensitisation of the population to remove the negative stigma associated with dyslexia which is what the SET foundation is all about. It saddens me that many dyslexic students are labelled as dunce, dumb, lazy, or failures when in fact they are highly intelligent and simply require a non-traditional approach to learning. This labelling has a profound impact on the child’s self-esteem and can lead to stunted academic and/or creative achievement.
When a child is professionally assessed and diagnosed with dyslexia, the child now sees himself or herself in a new light. This can be a pivotal turning point for the child as well as parents if this is also coupled with the special multisensory learning that the child requires.
Generally, dyslexics require extra time to complete tests or examinations and should be afforded this time as a rule of thumb. The child ought also to be allowed to type rather than handwrite their examinations as many of them have difficulty with fine motor skills making their handwriting illegible.
There is a vast amount of information available on instruction for dyslexics, which must be utilised for the greater good of our country. With this knowledge we can help to nurture and harness the genius within our dyslexic population.
Dr Karla Hylton is the Founder and CEO of Your Empowerment Solutions (YES) Institute, offering a host of workshops and science tutoring services She is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, Email: email@example.com, or visit www.yes-institute.com, www.khylton.com.