Monday, September 21, 2009

Helping Teachers Understand Dyslexia

In my last post I talked about the importance of writing a letter of introduction to your child's teachers. This letter should contain some history, your child's strengths and weaknesses and your hopes and dreams for their future.

Along with that letter, I also outline from various sources what is Dyslexia, what is it like to be Dyslexic and how Dyslexia affects my particular child. Every child with Dyslexia is different and it is important to help your child's teacher understand how your child is affected. Here is the supporting documentation I give with the letter of introduction, it is long so bear with me, the information is important.

What is Dyslexia?
After having done much research on Dyslexia, I wanted to provide you with an overview of Dyslexia and indicate areas that affect Ben. Like most diagnosis, no two children are alike and Ben does not have some of the issues commonly associated with Dyslexia such as delayed speech or social interaction issues.

Dyslexia is a kind of mind. Very often it is a gifted mind - there have been many famous, productive, creative dyslexics. Every one of us is unique, different from everyone else, and people's ways of coming to terms with language are some of their normal differences.
Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by problems in expressive or receptive, oral or written language. Problems may emerge in reading, spelling, writing, speaking, or listening.

Dyslexia describes a child that learns differently. Dyslexia is not the result of low intelligence. Intelligence is not the problem. An unexpected gap exists between learning aptitude and achievement in school. The problem is not behavioral, psychological, motivational, or social. Their problems in language processing distinguish them as a group. This means that the dyslexic has problems translating language into thought, as in listening or reading, or thought into language, as in writing or speaking. Dyslexics are average or above average in intelligence. They tend to excel in architecture, engineering, science, music, art and sometimes math. They like, and are good at, hands-on activities. They often have the knack to see the "big picture" with comparative ease.

What it feels like to be Dyslexic:

When speaking to groups, I explain that being dyslexic is like running a 100-meter track race. In my lane I have hurdles, but no one else does. I have this feeling that it's unfair that I’m the only one with hurdles but don’t know how to explain it. Soon the feeling leaves me as the starting gun shoots and I take off running. I try running like the other classmates, because we have all had the same education on how to run. But then I hit the first hurdle and fall flat on my face. My parents and teachers are yelling at me from the sidelines “ try harder, the other kids are making it down the track ok, you must be lazy or slow”. Pulling myself up I try running faster and fall even harder after hitting the next hurdle. Then someone takes the time to show me how to run hurdles and like an Olympic hurdler, I outrun the other classmates. The key, though, is that I have to do it differently, the way that works best for me. Learning is like a tailored suit; it takes a while and is unique to everyone.- Girard j. Sagmiller

When we first began to figure out that Ben was different I came across the following information on Dyslexia and checked off the areas that Ben struggled with as a small child and the areas he struggles with now:

Common Signs: Pre-School
May talk later than most children
May have difficulty pronouncing words, i.e., busgetti for spaghetti, mawn lower for lawn mower May be slow to add new vocabulary words
May be unable to recall the right word √
May have difficulty with rhyming
May have trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, days of the week, colors, shapes, how to spell and write his or her name √
May have trouble interacting with peers
May be unable to follow multi-step directions or routines
Fine motor skills may develop more slowly than in other children √
May have difficulty telling and/or retelling a story in the correct sequence
Often has difficulty separating sounds in words and blending sounds to make words √

Common Signs: Grades K-4
Has difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation) √
May be slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds √
May confuse small words – at - to, said - and, does - goes √
Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including: -- letter reversals – d for b as in, dog for bog √
Word reversals – tip for pit √
Inversions – m and w, u and n √
Transpositions – felt and left √
Substitutions – house and home √
May transpose number sequences and confuse arithmetic signs (+ - x / =) √
May have trouble remembering facts √
May be slow to learn new skills; relies heavily on memorizing without understanding √
May be impulsive and prone to accidents √
May have difficulty planning
Often uses an awkward pencil grip (fist, thumb hooked over fingers, etc.) √
May have trouble learning to tell time √
May have poor fine-motor coordination √

Common Signs: Grades 5-8
Is usually reading below grade level √
May reverse letter sequences – soiled for solid, left for felt √
May be slow to discern and to learn prefixes, suffixes, root words, and other reading and spelling strategies √
May have difficulty spelling, spells same word differently on the same page √
May avoid reading aloud √
May have trouble with word problems in math √
May write with difficulty with illegible handwriting; pencil grip is awkward, fist-like or tight √
May avoid writing √
May have slow or poor recall of facts
May have difficulty making friends
May not understand body language and facial expressions of others
May have trouble with non-literal language (idioms, jokes, proverbs, slang)
May forget to hand in homework or to bring in homework √
May have difficulty with planning and time management √

Common Signs: High School and College Graduates
May read very slowly with many inaccuracies √
Continues to spell incorrectly, frequently spells the same word differently in a single piece of writing √
May procrastinate reading and writing tasks √
May avoid writing √
May have trouble summarizing and outlining √
May have trouble answering open-ended questions on tests
May have poor memory skills
May not adjust well to new settings or to change
May work slowly
May have poor grasp of abstract concepts
May pay too little attention to details or focus too much on them √
May misread information √
May not complete assignments; may complete them and not hand them in
May have an inadequate store of knowledge from previous reading
May have difficulty with planning and time management

Common Signs: Adults

May hide their reading problems; many subterfuges
May spell poorly; relies on others
Avoids writing; may not be able to write
Often very competent in oral language
Relies on memory; may have excellent memories
Often has good “people” skills
Often is spatially talented; engineers, architects, designers, artists and craftspeople, mathematicians, physicists, physicians (especially orthopads, surgeons), dentists
May be very good at “reading” people (intuitive)
In jobs is often working well below their intellectual capacity
May have difficulty with planning and organization
May have difficulty with time; often too early, late or forgets appointments.
Relies on digital watches; cannot tell time
Often entrepreneurs; may have lost one or more businesses they started

Here are the basic abilities all dyslexics share including Ben:

They can utilize the brain’s ability to alter and create perceptions (the primary ability). They are highly aware of the environment. They are more curious than average. They think mainly in pictures instead of words. They are highly intuitive and insightful. They think and perceive multi-dimensionally (using all the senses). They can experience thought as reality. They have vivid imaginations.

Struggles in School

Ben struggles with Reading although we have worked on this and brought him close to grade level. His biggest struggles are in Writing and Spelling.

I have detailed each area of difficulty as I have observed, been told by his teachers and tutors and by Ben himself:

Difficulties with reading

In reading, Ben has an inability to remember letters, words, or numbers. He often substitutes names he knows for names he does not. He has no ability to scan text to locate answers, he either compensates with his great memory, reads the full text over or just gives up and gets the answer wrong. When attempting to read, he has a tendency to skip over or scramble letters, words, and sentences. He often looses his place while reading. He tends to have a poor, slow, fatiguing reading ability prone to compensatory head tilting, near-far focusing (which we have worked on with his home program), and finger pointing. Ben still struggles with reversals of letters such as b and d, words such as saw and was, and numbers such as 6 and 9 or 16 and 61. Additionally, Ben has poor concentration and can be easily distracted, he has some sensitivity to light, and delayed visual and phonetic processing.

Difficulties with spelling

Spelling is just plain difficult for Ben. The observation of spelling errors in short, simple words is the way in which most dyslexic children are first identified and is true for Ben. Ben often spells words in the way they would be expected to be spelled if the spelling system were rational, for example: does/dus, please/pleeze, knock/nock, search/serch, journey/jerney, etc. He sometimes amazes me on how he can remember to spell longer words like “component” but then can’t spell “when”.

Ben also experiences difficulties with jumbled spellings. These are spelling attempts in which all the correct letters are present, but are written in the wrong order. Examples include: dose/does, freind/friend, siad/said, bule/blue, becuase/because, and wores/worse. Jumbled spellings show that the child is experiencing difficulty with visual memory. Non-dyslexic children and adults often use their visual memory when trying to remember a difficult word: they write down two or three possible versions of the word and see which spelling “looks right.” They are relying on their visual memory to help them, however Ben is unable to do this.

Writing letters or numbers backward

Children who are learning to write invariably will write letters backward. However, Ben often mixes up “b”, “d”, ”q” or “p” and the numbers 9 & 6. These letters are the same in their mirror image and cause him a great deal of confusion. When Ben becomes fatigued or is in a hurry he will write the letter “b” as an upper case or capital “B,” because it is much easier for him to remember in terms of the direction it faces. When Ben becomes fatigued he inserts capital letters in the middle of words. I have often used the font Lexia to assist Ben with his reading. This font assists dyslexics in distinguishing b, d, p, q, 9 & 6 because they all look different in this particular font.

Ben still struggles with left and right. He compensates by taking the time to remember which hand he uses to shift his motor bike.

By far my biggest worry with Ben is to keep his self esteem intact. He understands he has struggles that other students don’t but he struggles with appearing different than his fellow students.


Ben has been on a home program through NACD, since 4th grade. I homeschooled Ben in 4th grade to work specifically on reading, auditory processing, spelling strategies, and to help him research Dyslexia so he could come to understand his struggles and realize that they need not hold him back from accomplishing great things.

What are we looking for as Ben’s Parents

We want to see Ben succeed and not have his struggles overcome his abilities. Ben is a very bright boy but he learns differently. Ben can give good verbal answers but if he has to write them, he will reduce them down to something that will not make the grade. We would like to see adaptive technologies (Kurzweil, Dragon Naturally Speaking) utilized to assist Ben in making his educational process easier and more rewarding for him.

General Strategies for Teachers from Research

For dyslexics in school, it is often the way information is relayed rather than the difficulties most dyslexics have with basic skills that is the main issue to consider when teaching to the dyslexic. Key points for teachers include:
Focus on strengths while working on weaknesses. Provide a clear subject overview. Match teaching approach with learning style (ask the student how they feel they learn best). Link key concepts and constantly revisit previously covered areas of work, applying new knowledge when appropriate. Provide clear and concise visual handouts using plenty of diagrams, mind maps and even pictures. Use large text, preferably on colored paper. Build confidence by enabling the student to present work in a format that they feel confident with, i.e., verbally, through a mind map or even as a drawing. All of these forms of relaying information can prove to be at an equal level of understanding to that of a long essay and in many situations showing an even higher level of understanding. Promote good practice relating to the organization of students’ work. A dyslexic might have a weakness in this area. Files with color-coded subject areas for example will enable the individual to develop their organization skills (Juggins).

Varied Teaching Approaches Work Best

Using varied teaching approaches benefits all students but is essential when working with a dyslexic. Traditional teaching techniques are designed for the learning style of sequential learners. Concepts are introduced in a step-by-step fashion, practiced with drill and repetition, assessed under timed conditions, and then reviewed. This process works for sequential learners whose learning progresses in a step-by-step manner from easy to difficult material. By way of contrast, dyslexic learners are global thinkers. They need to see the whole picture before they can understand the parts (Evans).

The use of visual aids, such as video and other forms of visual representation, are of key importance to the dyslexic’s understanding. Visual diagrams and bullet points enable the dyslexic to see and understand the information being relayed more effectively and in a far shorter time. Plowing through truckloads of text is time consuming and often tiring. Short-term memory difficulties means that usually what is read never fully gets remembered or understood. Using diagrams, models and charts as notes are a useful tool in linking concepts and revising subject areas at speed. Unlike heavy blocks of swaying text, images are usually pleasurable to look at for the dyslexic. The diagrams that promote learning and itemize key points should be plain and to the point to be most effective. (Juggins)

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