The end objective of reading is to have comprehension. In the case of dyslexia, most children could not even read, let alone have any comprehension. And so, we continue drilling them in phonics, hoping that they will eventually get it and is able to decode.
I am not about to invalidate the merits of phonics. It has its place in the process of acquiring literacy for most people. But we need to acknowledge that while it works for some, it may not work for others, dyslexics being one such group. My daughter struggled with phonics and many parents have shared the same observations. If that’s the case, giving them more phonics programme isn’t going to work for them.
What do you need to consider before you buy into any phonics programmes?
You may have heard this before: when something is repeated often enough, it gets perceived as the truth.
There are some misconceptions about learning difficulties that are accepted by parents as the truth and so they figured there is nothing they can do about it and accepted things as they are.
It is important for us to question what we are reading or hearing. Don’t just accept what you’ve been told, especially if you have a nagging suspicion that something does not sound quite right.
The mistakes we see a dyslexic make when reading, such as omissions, substitutions, insertions and reversals, are as a result of disorientation.
Disorientation causes perceptual distortions in our various senses: vision, hearing, balance/movement and sense of time.
Just like the idea depicted in the picture, dyslexics need a way to ‘refresh’ their sensory perceptions so that they can turn off the disorientation, and have accurate perception.
In the world of learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, disorientation causes perceptual distortion which explains many of the symptoms of dyslexia.
When I was first shown this comic strip, I could see how it aptly illustrated what disorientation is like for someone with learning disabilities; experiencing an alternate reality.
You and I have also experienced disorientation. A classic example is when you are sitting in a stationary vehicle and another vehicle next to you moves, creating the false perception that you are moving.
The difference is that our disorientation does not so much as affect our day-to-day functioning. But to a dyslexic, they encounter disorientation so frequently that it impacts their learning.
Dyslexics think primarily in pictures or images, as opposed to thinking in words, and they learn differently.
Some educators still focus on what dyslexics can’t do, i.e. processing sounds of letters and words, and try to get them to do it through drills and repetitions.
This leads to confusion as they try to figure out the sounds and read laboriously, the end result of which are frustration and lack of comprehension of what they just read.
They need an alternative way of learning. If the current way is not working for your dyslexic child, perhaps it’s time to change.
This picture illustrates what dyslexics see when they are disorientated.
Disorientation is a state in which the brain is not receiving what the eyes see or what the ears hear; the balance and movement sense is altered and the time sense is either speeded up or slowed down. In other words, dyslexics experience perceptual distortions of their senses when they are in a disoriented state.
Dyslexics get confused when they encounter words or symbols they do not have a picture of (dyslexics are picture thinkers as opposed to word thinkers). When their threshold for confusion is reached, they will disorientate in order to try and make sense of the word or symbol.
When what they are trying to figure out is a real object, such as a chair, it does not matter where they are mentally perceiving it from when disoriented. The chair will still be a chair.
But if they are looking at symbols such as the letter ‘b’, depending on where they are mentally perceiving the letter from, the letter may appear to be a ‘d’, ‘p’, or ‘q’, therefore leading to mistakes when reading, writing or spelling.
There is a place that allows dyslexics to have accurate perception when dealing with texts and when they know where that place is, they are able to turn off the disorientation at will, and remove the feeling of confusion.
Whenever I interact with parents and ask how their children are doing, they will usually reply, ‘making progress’.
If you have an option, would you want your child to be making progress or closing the gap? Can you see the difference shown in the graph above? If a child is making progress, he or she may still be falling behind.
The phrase ’making progress’ is misleading and should be very concerning to parents who hear this description of their children. Children with dyslexia cannot be just ‘making progress’.
Many parents have the misconception that their dyslexic child is dealing with some complex learning difficulties that will need long term interventions and that they will not do as well as their peers. This need not be the case. It is possible for your child to close the learning gap and eventually catch up with his or her peers.
It is important to recognise the cause of the dyslexic symptoms and to remove that cause. In another words, the starting point is not to teach a child how to learn but to remove what is preventing their ability to learn. Once that obstacle is removed, then easeful learning can take place.
I am sure many parents can identify with the scenario depicted in the video below. It explains how a picture thinker and disorientation could lead to the challenges a dyslexic encounters, as well as suggestions you can adopt when communicating with them without getting frustrated.
From time to time, I will hold sharing sessions for parents of dyslexic children. Besides creating an opportunity for parents to meet and share their journey, I also wanted to create awareness about the intervention programme that helped my daughter correct her dyslexia and allowed her to tap into her full potential.
Many parents did not know that there are alternative intervention programmes available to help dyslexics and most have not heard about the Davis Dyslexia Correction Programme, an approach that was developed by Ron Davis, who is himself dyslexic and autistic.
Some queried if its evidence based so I thought I'll put the research here for anyone who is interested to find out more.
It is widely believed that human beings think in two different ways, “verbal conceptualisation” and “non-verbal conceptualisation”. Verbal conceptualisation means thinking with the sounds of words. Non-verbal conceptualisation means thinking with mental pictures of concepts or ideas.
Dyslexics are non-verbal/picture thinkers. Very often, when dyslexics look at words that describe real things, they don’t cause much trouble. In non-verbal thought, we can think with the word dog easily if we know what dog looks like. The animal we call “dog” is the literal meaning of the word dog. Seeing its picture is seeing its meaning.
It is impossible for a non-verbal/picture thinker to think with words whose meanings can’t be pictured, such as common sight words ‘by’, ‘the’, ‘if’, ‘to’, etc. These common sight words trigger disorientation in a dyslexic because he/she does not have a picture of the meaning of the word.
All words have three parts to it: 1) what it means, 2) what it looks like and 3) what it sounds like. To truly master a word is to know all three parts. Dyslexics often have missing picture of the meaning of a trigger word (which is often common sight words), and when that gap is addressed, the trigger word stops causing confusion for them.