Math problem or trigger words? The majority of children could tackle a question like this with ease. However, to those children with dyslexia, they may stumble over such question. Why is that so?
Dyslexics tend to think primarily in pictures and images as opposed to words. When they encounter certain symbols (and all words are symbols), they get confused by those whose meaning they cannot picture. These are often high frequency words that we use a lot of in the English language, such as ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘by’, ‘to’, etc. When they cannot begin to think with that word in picture, they do not know how to make sense of a sentence.
So in the example question above, a dyslexic may be confused by the word ‘from’. The child may be able to recognise and pronounce the word ‘from’ when he sees it, but he does not know the meaning and so he does not know what he needs to do to begin to solve the question.
After much drilling and repetition to no avail to help the child understand the question, the child is then told by a well-meaning parent or tutor that whenever he sees such questions, he just needs to take the bigger number and minus the smaller number. By doing so, the child is taught rote learning, rather than have real understanding or true mastery of the subject.
If we could acknowledge the child’s picture thinking style, we can help the child master the meaning of ‘from’ and let him create a picture of what it means. According to the American Heritage Children’s Dictionary, ‘from’ means beginning at, starting with. Once the child understands the meaning, he can now picture what the question is asking him to do.
Subtract 79 from 139 means that he has to begin at, start with (ie from) 139, and then minus or take away 79, in order to derive at the answer. Visually, he would be able to put 139 down on paper, followed by the minus sign and 79 below 139 and then do his workings to get to the answer.
By extension, a dyslexic child very often can’t do problem sums not because he does not have the skill to do arithmetic, but because he does not understand what the question is asking of him in the first place, as he can’t think with some of the words that are in the question.
More than 30 years ago, Ron Davis had it figured out that dyslexia is not something complex but rather, it is a compound of simple factors that can be resolved step by step.
He explained that dyslexia is actually a product of a dyslexic’s picture thinking style, their ability to see things 3-dimensionally and their unique way of reacting to the feeling of confusion when they see symbols that they do not recognise (and all words are symbols). Because of these 3 factors at work, dyslexics encounter the difficulties we see in them when learning to read, write and spell.
This video illustrates what picture thinking vs word thinking is like and why dyslexics do not seem to recognise the same word which they learnt just seconds ago and as a result, produced mistakes in their reading, writing and spelling. It’s only by understanding this then can we tackle the root of the problem.
Ron said that once we remove the reason why a problem exists, the problem ceases to exist. How simple and logical is that? Once I understood Ron’s explanation, I knew instinctively that he had the right solution and I did not hesitate to put my daughter through the Davis intervention programme.
We recognise dyslexia by the challenges it presents, but we must not forget its strengths. Dyslexics have the ability to think in pictures, perceive multi-dimensionally (using all senses) and experience thought as reality. They have vivid imaginations and heightened awareness of the environment. They are highly intuitive, insightful and more curious than average. Most importantly, they have the primary ability to alter and create perceptions, which make them very creative people.
There are 3 ways people learn - visual, auditory and kinesthetic (tactile). This is different to the 2 thinking styles - pictures or words (or a combination of both).
A dyslexic is primarily a picture thinker, but can be a tactile learner, even though he/she is highly visual, and weak with auditory information.
This video, which is created by a dyslexic, shows a dyslexic’s way of thinking (not learning). Knowing how their brain works enables us to work with their strengths, not weaknesses.
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.
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.