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.
An explainer video based on the book, The Gift of Dyslexia by Ron Davis which explains how dyslexia develops, signs to look for and solutions that help.
What is this gift that dyslexics have? Why must they be taught the way they think? What is causing them confusion that leads to the mistakes they make when reading or writing?
Ron Davis, the man behind the Davis Dyslexia Correction Programme, taught himself to read at the age of 38. Thanks to him, his unique and revolutionary approach has helped many dyslexics learn to read and to overcome other difficulties associated with it. Read more about the history of the Davis methods and what sets Davis apart. Dr. Angela L. Gonzales, a pediatrician and licensed Davis facilitator also shared about the Davis Dyslexia Correction Programme in the video.
"The key to reducing the struggles a child with dyslexia experiences is early identification and intervention."
In Singapore’s context where parents started sending their children for English enrichment classes around the age of 4, they should be able to decode words phonetically, transition to read with whole words and have comprehension of what they’re reading by the time they enter primary school.
However, if they are still struggling towards the end of their preschool education, then there’s more to this than meets the eyes. Think about it. If phonics was all they needed, then they should be on the road to reading, right? If not, then it warrants further investigations.
So assuming the parents then had their child tested and intervention is given. How do we evaluate whether a programme is working for the child? Firstly, set a time frame for yourself and then assess the effectiveness of a programme by considering the following:
1) in the area of phonics, evaluate the child’s ability to associate a sound to a letter and his ability to blend (any word and not just 1 or 2 syllabus words only)
2) in the area of common sight words, observe if the child can consistently recognise the sight words learnt or does he still “trip up” whenever he encounters a certain common sight word and mistake is made immediately thereafter, be it omission, substitution or reversal
3) in the area of spelling, assess if the child can consistently retain what is learnt and not forget the next day or a week later
4) to assess whether a child is truly reading and has comprehension (or is he merely giving the impression that he’s reading but is actually guessing by looking at the pictures or he has memorized the passage), take a book the child has read before, type out the passage and get him to read from the typed passage. Thereafter, get him to retell the story and then you can ask some explicit and implicit questions to see if he can answer them.
Be honest with your evaluation. Remember, dyslexia has to do with how the brain works, and does not affect intelligence. If a programme is working for the child, it is possible to close the learning gap within a reasonable period of time. In my daughter’s case, progress was rapid and she was able to read with ease 6 months after intervention.
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?
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.