Today, I want to touch on intervention programmes. This is one area that parents find mind boggling.
The key to helping a child struggling with dyslexia is early identification and intervention. Very often, I see the identification process being delayed because of lack of knowledge or parents did not pick up the red flags.
I went with my gut feel even when educators and doctors I consulted dismissed my concerns. These are people we deem as professionals and I fully respect them. But I have learnt that they may not necessarily be the best person to dispense advice. With persistency, I eventually spoke to a psychologist friend who pointed me in the direction of dyslexia and as a result, my daughter was diagnosed early and received intervention at 6 years old.
As far as intervention goes, different theories create different approaches. We should get it by now that dyslexics have an alternative way of thinking and learning. If we continue to look at dyslexia as a deficit instead of working with a dyslexic’s strengths, we are adding yet another obstacle to the child’s remediation journey.
To give you an example, because people still think the only way to decode a word is through phonics and if the child finds it difficult to process the sounds of letters or blending, they see it as a deficit and therefore, with all good intention, try to equip the child through drilling and repetitions.
Many intervention programmes target the symptoms and not the root cause. You may take the position that if a particular programme helps with a certain issue, such as the ability to recall and retain a spelling word learnt, why not? To me, the bigger question is, how about the child’s challenges in other areas such as decoding ability, reading fluency or comprehension? All these are necessary components of learning. Without a holistic approach, the child may seem to have made some progress in a certain area, but making progress is not the same as closing the gap. If a child is making progress, he or she may still be falling behind.
Therefore when evaluating any intervention programmes, keep in mind what we have learnt about how dyslexia develops. Find out if the programme works with a dyslexic’s strengths or is the focus still on what the child can’t do? How does the programme help the child resolve his confusion with common sight words? What is the approach to reading fluency and comprehension?
Many parents have the misconception that their child is dealing with some complex learning difficulties that will need long term intervention and that they will not perform as well as their peers. This need not be the case.
Dyslexia is a learning difference, not a limitation. It is a gift, not a disability. Approach correctly, your child can be remediated successfully. Of course, the child has to have the motivation to want to correct the problem and is able and willing to take responsibility for doing so.
To understand dyslexia is to know how it develops, not from the etiology angle, but how it happens functionally. Ron gave us an insight when he identified the 3 factors at work which led to the learning issue.
I have done up the flow chart above which hopefully gives you a clearer picture. It all starts with words/symbols that a dyslexic sees that confuses him. When he is confused enough, he will disorient and start to look from different locations mentally. The disorientation causes perceptual distortion which in turn produces the mistakes which we recognise as dyslexic symptoms.
Now that we realise the true nature of a problem, we need a solution, and Ron has developed a 2-pronged approach to correct dyslexia.
First off, since disorientation causes perceptual distortion of our senses which then manifests in mistakes, dyslexics need a way to ‘turn off’ their disorientation in order to have accurate perception. To this end, Ron has figured a way for dyslexics to mentally ‘switch off’ that disorientation when it happens, so that the individual will have a stable point of reference when looking at 2-dimensional text.
But having accurate perception is not enough. We need to resolve the root cause of confusion. Given that the source of confusion comes from trigger words (which are mostly common sight words), a dyslexic needs to master these words with all its 3 parts, in order for them not to cause any problem for the individual.
The 3 parts are (i) what the word means (which will be in the form of a picture to cater to the dyslexic’s picture thinking style), (ii) what it looks like (which is how you spell it) and (iii) what it sounds like (which is how you pronounce the word). A dyslexic may know what a word looks like and sounds like, but if he is missing the picture of what it means or represents, it will produce a blank picture and that adds to the confusion.
I like to use the analogy of a headache to simplify the problem/solution explanation above. Before the onset of a headache, one may feel tension building up in the shoulders, parts of the head, etc which we recognise as a symptom. To get rid of it, we typically pop a pill and the pain (symptom) goes away. However, if we do not fix the root cause of the headache (it could be due to life style, posture and so on), we will not be able to eradicate the problem.
Applying the same idea, if you address the source of confusion i.e. unrecognised symbols, then confusion will not set in. If there is no confusion, it will not trigger disorientation. If a dyslexic is in an oriented state, you can at this point begin to teach a child to learn and you will notice that the child will register what is being taught.
I always joke that there is only one thing consistent about dyslexics and that is, they are consistently inconsistent when it comes to learning. But once the obstacles causing the inconsistency are removed, then easeful learning can take place. The starting point is therefore not to teach a child how to learn (which many are doing by engaging tutors, sending them for enrichment classes and so forth), but to remove what’s preventing their ability to learn.
To quote Ron, he said “if you remove the reason why a problem exists....the problem ceases to exist”. It is on this understanding that I put my daughter through the Davis programme and I have not looked back since.
Just a quick recap, we’ve covered 2 of the 3 factors that explain how dyslexia develops, namely a dyslexic’s picture thinking style and perceptual talent.
The last factor that Ron talked about is a dyslexic’s special way of reacting to the feeling of confusion. He calls this disorientation. Ron said the symptoms of dyslexia that we see are actually symptoms of disorientation.
What is disorientation? It is a state of mind where mental perceptions do not agree with the true facts and conditions in the environment. Most people experience disorientation at one point or another. One example is, you are sitting in a stationary vehicle and another vehicle next to you moves, creating a false perception that you are moving.
For most of us, the disorientation we experience doesn't affect our day-to-day functioning. To a dyslexic, they disorient so frequently that it impacts their learning. So how does a dyslexic’s perceptual talent and disorientation help to explain the learning difficulties a dyslexic faces?
This is how. In response to a symbol a dyslexic sees that confuses him, let’s say the letter ‘b’ (see illustration below), he will disorient in order to identify the letter he is looking at. He will start looking mentally at the letter from different angles. When it is a real object, like a chair, it doesn’t matter which angle he looks at. It will still look like a chair. But when it comes to 2-dimensional symbols, like a letter or word, looking at it from different locations gives a different picture each time. The letter ‘b’ can be a ‘d’, ‘p’ or ‘q’, depending on where the individual is looking from.
So putting everything together, when a dyslexic sees a symbol which does not make sense to his picture thinking style, he gets confused and when that threshold for confusion is reached, it will trigger a disorientation and he will start looking mentally from different locations in order to figure out what he is looking at.
When this happens, sensory perceptions become distorted and the brain receives an inaccurate input. This then manifests itself in mistakes. The resulting negative emotions that follow lead to low self-esteem and the child starts developing coping mechanisms such as concentrating harder, pushing through, dependency on others, giving excuses and so on. The whole vicious cycle repeats itself.
Can you see how, if there is no solution to break that chain of causation, the child will continue to struggle and the learning gap gets wider and wider? In our next post, we will look at how to resolve the issues step by step. Don’t go away!
In our previous post, we looked at a dyslexic’s picture thinking style and how this can cause confusion for them whenever they encounter words whose meaning they cannot picture. 75% of a page consists of such trigger words and it’s no wonder when they try to read, they would make mistakes.
Today, we’ll look at a dyslexic’s perceptual talent. This is the ability to perceive multi-dimensionally. Simply put, a dyslexic can see an object mentally from many different perspectives, whether by moving their perception to different locations or by mentally manipulating and turning an object, much like rotating a 3D model in a computer to look at its other sides.
Matthew, the dyslexic metal fabricator whom I interviewed just before the start of Circuit Breaker, shared that when he was creating a piece of work, he could rotate the end product in different directions in his mind. He would sometimes have an exploded view of the product where he would pull everything apart and then figure out how to fit each piece back together.
Another mother whom I spoke with recently also related to me how her dyslexic daughter told her she is able to move her perception to different locations to view an object in her mind.
This perceptual talent that a dyslexic possesses allows the individual to think out of the box and to see the big picture. It enhances their performance and is an asset in many occupations such as architects, designers, inventors, scientists, engineers, actors and so on.
As with a dyslexic’s picture thinking style, this perceptual talent, while it is a gift, is also a source of learning problem. How so? Let’s hold our thoughts for now until we cover the last factor, and I’ll put the pieces together for you.
We have heard of many famous dyslexics such as Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Lee Kuan Yew, Bill Gates, Tom Cruise, Jamie Oliver, the list goes on. While having dyslexia won’t make every dyslexic a genius, it is definitely good for the self-esteem of all dyslexics to know their minds work in the same way as the minds of these great geniuses.
Ronald D. Davis, the author of the book The Gift of Dyslexia, taught himself to read at the age of 38. It was in this book that I found the answers to my daughter’s struggles and how to resolve them.
Ron said that dyslexia is not a complexity but a compound of simple factors that can be dealt with step by step. He figured out that dyslexia is a product of thought, talent and a special way of reacting to the feeling of confusion. Simply put, understanding these three factors helps to explain the anatomy of dyslexia.
Let’s now look at the first factor. Dyslexics tend to think primarily in pictures/images, as opposed to thinking with words. Picture thinking, typically at 32 pictures per second, is a lot faster than thinking with the sounds of words, which is typically 100-200 words per minute. This picture thinking style is not to be confused with the three learning styles, which are visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.
Thinking with words is sequential and linear in process, whereas when one thinks in pictures, they see things all at once without going through a step by step process (see illustration). This is why dyslexics are often good at problem solving and seeing the big picture. They show creativity in solving all kinds of problems and are good at seeing how things fit together.
But how does this picture thinking style cause learning problems? Essentially, when a dyslexic encounters certain symbols (and all words are symbols, so are alphabet, punctuation marks, speech sounds, math symbols and numerals), they get confused by those words (or letters, punctuation marks, numerals, etc) whose meaning they cannot picture.
To illustrate this, if I say the word ‘cake’, do you see an image of a cake or the word in your head? What about ‘rainbow’? Majority of us would see an image, dyslexics included. That’s picture thinking. If I say ‘from’ or ‘by’ or ‘if’, do you see an image or word? While most regular people will see the word, dyslexics will draw a blank. Ask your child and see what he/she tells you.
Many of the words dyslexics encounter which confuse them are often high frequency words that we use a lot of in the English language, such as ‘the’, ‘when’, ‘is’, etc. We call these trigger words. They are non-picture words which cause confusion for a dyslexic as the individual does not have a mental image of what the word means or represents, and many of these words have multiple meanings.
When a dyslexic is confused or triggered by a symbol, the individual will mentally move it around in his/her head and explore it from different perspectives. This leads us to the second factor, a dyslexic‘s perceptual talent, which we will talk about in our next post.
In the previous post, we looked at the symptoms of dyslexia. Once parents picked up some red flags that are of concern to them, the next step is to consider if you want to get your child tested.
The decision whether or not to send your child for assessment is a personal one. One of the resistance parents have is that they do not want to label their child. What I want to say is you are not labelling your child. Your child received a diagnosis and that diagnosis can open the door for you to get help, to make things easier for your child.
First, let’s understand the difference between screening and assessment.
- preliminary evaluation
- looks at symptoms
- indicates likelihood
- no age criteria for screening
- you can approach the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) or use an online tool at www.testdyslexia.com (free of charge)
- thorough evaluation through information gathering
- administered test for IQ, working memory, visual-spatial processing, phonological processing, etc
- minimum age for assessment is 6 years old
If you decide to go for an assessment, there are a few options available:
- MOE’s psychologists (check with your child’s school on this)
- Referral from a polyclinic, which will then direct you to KKH or NUH, depending on the child’s age
- DAS, which is private but subsidized
- Private psychologists. It can be an educational or a clinical psychologist. While both can administer cognitive tests, my preference is to go to an educational psychologist given the setting they work in. You can refer to the chart above for an overview of their respective scope of work
Each of the above option has its pros and cons and it’ll be good if you do your own due diligence beforehand. And it is important that you seek out a psychologist that specializes in the areas you’re concerned with.
The process of deriving at a diagnosis has an element of subjectivity. When I had my daughter assessed, we went to a psychologist who work in a team of 2 (most work singly), each administering different parts of the tests and thereafter reached an agreed diagnosis after taking into consideration both psychologists’ views.
There are psychologists who are box-tickers and do not make further observations or gather additional information that would aid in the assessment process. This can lead to a mis-diagnosis, which some parents have shared with me from their experiences.
In our next post, we will be examining the first of three factors that Ron discovered which explains how dyslexia develops, so stay tuned!
In today’s post, we are going to look at the symptoms of dyslexia. Symptoms are tell tale signs that indicate possible issues one may be facing.
How do we pick up whether a child may be struggling with a learning issue? We look at the symptoms displayed by the child. We are all aware that humans have five basic senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. There are also two less known senses, which are vestibular and proprioception.
The way our senses operate is that they work together to send information to the brain in order to help us make sense of our environment. When there is inaccurate input, it will lead to inaccurate output.
Ron said that the symptoms of dyslexia are actually symptoms of disorientation (which I will touch on later) and affect four of our senses, namely vision, hearing, balance/coordination (which comes from the vestibular sense) and sense of time.
Below is a list of some of the more common symptoms affecting each of our four senses, but they are by no means exhaustive.
- shapes and sequences of letters or numbers appear changed or reversed
- spelling is incorrect or inconsistent
- words or lines are skipped when reading or writing
- punctuation marks or capital letters are omitted, ignored or not seen
- words and letters are omitted, altered or substituted while reading or writing
- some speech sounds are difficult to make
- diagraphs such as ch, th and sh are mispronounced
- “false” sounds are perceived
- what is said does not appear to be listened to or heard
- dizziness or nausea while reading
- poor sense of direction
- inability to sit still
- difficulty with handwriting
- problem with balance and coordination
- hyperactivity (overactive)
- hypoactivity (underactive)
- difficulty learning math concepts
- difficulty being on time or telling time
- excessive day dreaming
- frequent loss of train of thought
- trouble sequencing (putting things in the correct order)
How many symptoms on the list did you tick off that correspond with what you see in your child? What should you do next? Who should you approach for help? What is the difference between screening and assessment? Stay tuned to our next post!
I first came across this statement 10 years ago when I laid my hands on the book, The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis, an American who was diagnosed with autism and dyslexia. That caught my attention.
Ron went on to elaborate that “dyslexia is a product of thought, talent and a special way of reacting to the feeling of confusion.” I will be breaking down Ron’s explanations into bite-sized posts in the coming days.
I hope the information will give you another perspective of looking at dyslexia and possibly direct your next step.
What is dyslexia? It is a language based, specific learning difficulty that impacts reading, spelling, comprehension, handwriting (dysgraphia), math (dyscalculia) as well as balance and coordination (dyspraxia).
Dyslexia has to do with the way the brain is wired. While most of us use our left brain to process languages, dyslexics use their right brain or the creative brain, which is responsible for daydreaming and imagination.
Dyslexia is not due to a lack of intelligence. For a dyslexia diagnosis, a person’s IQ needs to be average and above. That said, a below average IQ may not necessarily indicate the absence of dyslexia. Ron was initially tested to have low IQ and was labelled as “uneducatably mentally retarded” at the age of 12, but was later discovered to have an extremely high IQ of 137. In other words, a person cannot be dumb and dyslexic.
For a child with dyslexia, he/she is often misunderstood as being lazy, not interested in learning, not trying hard enough and/or gets distracted easily. As parents, I am sure such thoughts crossed our minds.
In the next post, we will be looking at the symptoms of dyslexia. These symptoms are often red flags that alert parents to their child’s struggles. Stay tuned!
To read meaningfully, one needs to be able to not only decode and pronounce a word, but also know what the word means and understand what is being read. And these skills must be applied consistently and not consistently inconsistent.
Do watch out for the illusion that your child is reading when in fact, he/she cannot recall facts accurately and/or presents a varied (not necessarily different) version of what was read.
You can cross check by asking the child, “what did you understand about the passage?” or “tell me/explain to me what you just read”, instead of “do you understand?”. A closed-ended question may not draw out the issues.
Matthias was diagnosed with dyslexia in primary school. He survived Singapore's demanding education system and went on to graduate with a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. Feeling lost at one point as to what he should do after completing his National Service, he decided to give a shot at metal fabrication, a trade he was exposed to at a young age by his parents. Besides working in the family business, Matthias also founded Baremetalco, a business with a focus on creative and artistic metal fabrication.
Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Matthias Yong and I am 25 years old. I am a second generation, and probably one of the youngest metal fabricators, in Singapore. My parents are in the business of fabricating stainless steel kitchen equipment/industrial metal fabrications and I work full time in the family business. I also have a company which I set up about two years ago, called Baremetalco, that focuses on creative and artistic metal fabrication. I went through the Singapore education system, completed my N level, then graduated with a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering.
When did you first know that you have dyslexia and how was it brought up or the circumstance that led to the knowledge of your condition?
I cannot remember when I first knew I was dyslexic but I have the impression it was my P1 English teacher who told my parents I had learning difficulties and recommended that they sent me to DAS. I just thought I was slower and had to attend ‘special tuition’ at DAS. It was not until I was much older, between my upper secondary and polytechnic period, where I got curious about why I was different from other children, and started finding out more about the condition.
What was going to school like for you? What did you like/dislike about our education system from a dyslexic’s perspective?
Our education system is too academically focused. Opportunities are given based on grades. As I was always borderline in my studies, I did not get to choose what I wanted to study/do. Needless to say, school was hard for me, especially during lower primary, where I struggled with simple tasks like ordering food. I remember ordering from the same stall every day because I was scared or did not know how to order from other stalls. In class, I would get stressed out from reading a passage or writing the answer on the board as it would usually end up with my classmates laughing at my silly mistakes.
What kind of help or intervention did you receive for your dyslexia and what role did your parents/teachers play in supporting/encouraging you in that journey?
My parents enrolled me at DAS and I was there until I finished secondary school. Being exempted from taking a second language also helped, as well as having 15 minutes extra time during examinations. In my secondary school, there was a special needs teacher/counsellor whom I could turn to to talk about the problems and struggles I faced.
When did you start developing an interest in metal work and how did it begin?
My interest developed about three years ago. Although I have been helping out at my parents’ workshop during the school holidays since young, I did not quite enjoy it. Maybe my parents had in mind to equip me with a skill since I was not doing well academically and thought it might be useful.
In the last year of my diploma course when I knew that I did not do well enough to qualify for university, I felt lost. During my National Service days, I had time to think and reflect on what I wanted to do. Many people advised me to do what I am good at, so I decided to give metal fabrication a shot.
Dyslexics are known to be creative and have great perceptual talent. I understand you are into creative and artistic metal fabrication. What is it like for you when you are creating? What goes on in your mind, if you can describe for us? And what is your vision for Baremetalco?
Sheet metal fabrication is very similar to origami. In my creation process, I see the end product and I can rotate the object in different directions, much like what you see in those computer-aided designs. Sometimes I have to have an exploded view, where everything comes apart and I have to think of how to make and fit each part together. It is like pre-planning and walking through the process before actually getting down to doing it. I am not sure if it is my dyslexia but I can visualise things better and faster and I find that it benefited me a lot. Especially in customised fabrication where I am always creating something different each time.
My immediate focus for Baremetalco is sustainability. As I work in the family business, I begin to see the problems and issues the manufacturing/fabrication industry faces in Singapore. I started to think of ways to differentiate ourselves from others and how to continue operating in Singapore’s environment as more and more workshops are closing down. That was when Baremetalco was born. I realised that the more complicated it is to fabricate something, the better positioned we are in getting the job.
Although you are out of the education system, does dyslexia still affect you in any way, whether in your work environment or interactions with others? What are some of the struggles you still have to deal with?
One of my struggles is articulating my thoughts and expressing myself. Sometimes, what I said do not even sound right when I think about it. As for work, thankfully we express a lot through sketches and drawings. I still have self-esteem issue because of my earlier years of being dyslexic. I tend to be quieter, even now.
Do you think dyslexics are often misunderstood by others and what would you say to people who do not understand what being dyslexic is like?
I disclosed that I am dyslexic to friends only recently. I do not think they are bothered or see it as an issue but this was not the case when I was younger, where I would be made fun of and laughed at. Looking back, I would tell my classmates that we are a bit slower in learning, that is why we made those silly mistakes. I feel that who I am now is partly the effect of those past experiences I went through when younger, such as self-esteem issue. Tried as I might (my friends used to tell me to be more open), sometimes I find that my friends still do not understand my challenges.
Lastly, any words of encouragement or advice to give to our parents and dyslexic children?
While academic is important, I hope that parents can help their children discover what they are good at, their strengths and support them, help them develop further. I know the circumstances are different for each one but seeing how stressful our children have to go through in their academic pursuits, I would definitely encourage parents to find avenues to nurture their children’s creativity. I was fortunate that my parents exposed me to what they were doing since young. In similar ways, let your children explore and expose them.
To the children, do not let your grades define who you are. Try to pick up something you are good at, like a skill, along the way.