Dysgraphia vs Dyslexia. Often, the symptoms overlap, but they translate to one common denominator, learning difficulties. Do you know what are the differences between the two conditions?
Q: What intervention programme should I let my child go for? There are so many out there. Any criteria I can use to assess if those programmes are going to help my child?
A: Parents do get overwhelmed when it comes to deciding which intervention programme to put their child through.
Having gone through the process myself and having learnt what dyslexia truly is, not just from a pure research perspective, but also through a first person’s experience (Ron Davis himself), this is what I think.
Many intervention programmes being offered today can be generally summed up as seeking to teach a child how to learn. Sounds perfectly legit right? However, to correct dyslexia (yes, it is possible), 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 (we all know they are smart cookies) to learn. Once the obstacle to learning is removed, then easeful learning can take place.
If a child is being taught how to learn without first removing the obstruction to learning, it will be an uphill task and the progress is slow. Time is not on their side, especially if they have already entered our Singapore education system.
Putting my daughter through the Davis programme was a game changer for her and I cannot be more thankful for that. If you are at the crossroad now, why not find out more about that programme?
Q: Can you explain with an example, how a dyslexic gets confused when reading, and how that leads to disorientation when the threshold for confusion is reached, and subsequently mistakes are made in the process?
A: Let me unpack this for you by using Ron Davis’ step-by-step breakdown of what happens when a 10-year old dyslexic reads the sentence, “The brown horse jumped over the stone fence and ran through the pasture”.
The first word “the” caused the mental imagery to go blank, because there was no picture for it. A blank picture is the essence of confusion. Using concentration, however, the child pushes past the blank picture and says “the” and forces himself to skip to the next word.
The word “brown” produces the mental image of a colour, but it has no defined shape. Continuing to concentrate, he says the word “brown”.
The word “horse” transforms the brown picture into a horse of that colour. Concentration continues and “horse” is said.
The word “jumped” causes the front of the brown horse to rise into the air. He continues concentrating as he says “jumped”.
The word “over” causes the back of the horse to rise. Still concentrating, he says “over”.
The next word, another “the”, causes the picture to go blank again. Confusion for the dyslexic has increased, but the threshold for confusion has not been reached. He must now double his concentration so he can push on to the next word. In doing so, he may or may not omit saying “the”.
The word “stone” produces a picture of a rock. With concentration doubled, he says “stone”.
The next word, “fence”, turns the rock into a rock fence. Still with doubled concentration, he says “stone”.
The next word, “and”, blanks out the picture again. This time, the threshold for confusion is reached. So the child becomes disoriented. The child is stopped again, more confused, doubly concentrating, and more disoriented. The only way he can continue is to increase his concentration effort. But now because he is so disoriented, the dyslexic symptoms will appear. It is very likely that he will omit saying the word “and”, or just as likely that he will substitute “a”, “an”, or “the” instead. At this point, he is no longer getting an accurate perception of the words on the page. He is now expanding a tremendous amount of effort and energy on concentrating, just to continue.
The next word, “ran”, because he is now disoriented, is altered into the word “runs”. He sees an image of himself running, entirely unrelated to the picture of the hovering horse. Then he says “runs”.
The word “through” is altered into “throws”. He sees himself throwing a ball and says “throws”.
The next word, “the”, blanks out the picture again, even more confused, and still disoriented. His only recourse is to quadruple his concentration. In doing so, he omits saying “the”.
By now, his disorientation has created a feeling like dizziness. He is feeling sick to his stomach, and the words and letters are swimming around on the page.
For the last word “pasture”, he must track down each letter, one at a time, so he can sound out the word. Once he does, he sees a picture of a grassy place. Even though he is disoriented, because of the extra effort and energy he puts forth in catching and sounding out each letter, he says it right, “pasture”.
Having competed the sentence, he closes the book and pushes it away. That’s enough of that! When asked what he just read, he is likely to answer with something like “a place where grass grows”. He has a picture of a horse in the air, a stone fence, himself playing ball and a grassy place, but cannot relate the separate elements in the sentence to form a mental image of the scene described.
To everyone who saw or heard him read the sentence or heard his answer to what it was about, it’s obvious that he didn’t understand any of what he just read. As for him, he doesn’t care that he didn’t understand it. He’s just thankful that he survived the ordeal of reading out loud.
Do you see some similarities between what was described above and what you see in your child when he/she attempts to read?
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 other 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.