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Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of  joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for ever more.  Psalms 16:11

Dyslexia: How Do I Teach This Child?

By Dianne Craft

 

    What is dyslexia?   Educators have not been able to agree.  Some authorities believe that it is strictly a language processing problem involving the distinguishing of the sounds of letters.  They reason this is why the struggling reader cannot remember phonics sounds in order to decode a word.  Others believe that it is a visual/perceptual problem, since these children reverse words laterally (b/d) and vertically (m/w) as well as scrambling letters (the=het) when they read and write.   I believe that these are both correct.  Dyslexia is an auditory/language problem, visual/perceptual problem, and often also a visual/motor (eye/hand) problem.   However, my twenty-five years of experience working with these bright, but struggling learners, tells me that, basically, this is a midline problem.

 

     What do I mean by a midline problem?  

      Our brain is divided into two main hemispheres, the right and the left.  The left is our "thinking" hemisphere, and the right is our "automatic" hemisphere.  When children are suffering from dyslexia, the processes that should have been taken over by the right, automatic hemisphere like eye tracking, writing, and letter identification, are still in the left brain.  This means that the child has to think about the processes. 

     The learning processes can be likened to the car driving process.  If you had to think about how to turn the signals, and when to brake and accelerate while you were driving, it would be a very difficult procedure indeed!  When reading, recognition of letters, sight words, and letter combinations need to be retrieved from the right hemisphere where our long term memory is stored.  This is not happening with students with dyslexia problems.

     You can suspect dyslexia in your child if all three of these processing areas are impacted, and your child is past the first grade.  If your child has only a minor problem in these areas, it can be considered a learning "glitch".  If the problem presents itself more frequently, and your child is older, it would be considered a "dysfunction."  If the symptoms are much more frequent, and your child is above first grade and two years behind in reading or writing, it would be considered dyslexia. 

     The degree of the problem and the age of the child are major considerations in the determination of dyslexia.  Many times these children are not reading, or reading at least two years behind grade level.  They write almost no sentences from memory, since their right, visual hemisphere is not storing words efficiently.  Transposing numbers (19/91) is not considered dyslexia.  When a child reverses letters or numbers, even if only once in a while, you know that there is stress in the writing system.  The child is having to think about the directionality of the letters, rather than the content of the writing.  I always take reversals (reading and writing) seriously past the first grade.  One way to eliminate them is with brain integration therapy exercises.

 

Auditory Dyslexia

·            Difficulty learning the names of alphabet letters when in kindergarten

·            Spelling has no phonetic pattern to it (Tuesday=Tunday)

·            Sounds out all words, including sight words (many, could, these)

·            Little memory of words just read in a previous sentence in reading

·            Sounds out the letters in a word, but can't put it into a whole (b-a-t)

·            Memorizes stories, but can't remember same words in another story

·            Phonics rules are not applied in the reading context

 

Visual Dyslexia

·            In reading, reverses whole words sometimes (on=no, was=saw)

·            Regularly reads "big" for "dig"

·            Very slow, labored reading (often takes a deep breath)

·            Reading at least a year below grade level

·            Scrambles letters in a word, reading "left" for "felt"

·            Says words wiggle when he reads

·            Reads a word from the line above, and adds to present line, often

 

Visual/Motor Dyslexia  (Dysgraphia)

·            Reverses letters or numbers in writing

·            Letters not written below the line

·            When writing the alphabet, will ask "What does that letter look like?"

·            Cannot write words from memory

·            Copying words is labor intensive, like "art work"

·            Hates to write

 

     The approach I have taken to get children past the learning "block" of dyslexia, is two-fold: 

 1) Brain Integration Therapy is a home therapy program designed to eliminate the midline as a problem and to help eye            tracking, remembering letter sounds, writing reversals, and to enable the child to store words in his/her right brain.

 2)  A Right Brain Reading Program, including right brain phonics and spelling. 

     If your child is dyslexic, you have found that just having them read to you more isn't helping.  You've also found that regular phonics programs don't work, because either the student can't remember the sounds of letters, or if they can remember the sound, they sound out the pieces of a word, but cannot put them into a whole.  Sight words are their enemy, so most reading books are painfully slow for them as they try to sound out each word.  Once they've struggled through a passage, however, their comprehension is usually great.       

     Most parents of these students have given up on spelling, and the only ‘writing’ the child does is copying sentences.  Math, social studies, science, and Bible are the subjects that the parents concentrate on, with everything being read to the child. 

     To get a child, who is facing this massive struggle, to read, brain integration therapy exercises and once a week "repatternings", using physical movements to "re-connect" the two hemispheres is the first step.  Next, use a right brain reading approach.  I use readers, such as the well known Merrill Readers, which have as few sight words as possible since these require so much memorization.   Use a reader that will build reading independence by offering words that can be decoded easily. 

     I also use a systematic, color and picture enhanced phonics program.  For learning individual sounds such as consonants, vowels, and letter combinations (au/aw), superimpose the letter directly on a picture that gives that sound.  Then have the child read whole words, putting the vowel or letter combination in color, with the picture that gives the sound nearby.  By using this method of picture and color in whole words you will find that your child will soon be reading very long words.  By using this method, I have generally been able to achieve a two year growth in reading in one year.   This method is an intensive, right brain reading approach that involves about an hour a day of working together, but pays off handsomely in its results for second to eighth graders. 

     To get the child writing independently, have him/her do a writing exercise that crosses the midline to eliminate reversals, and then teach him/her simple spelling words by using color, picture, and looking up with the eyes, to engage the right, visual hemisphere.  I call this right brain spelling.  This method is explained in detail in the article, “Teaching the Right Brain Child”. 

     Therefore, if you suspect that your child is struggling with dyslexia, or even a processing dysfunction, don't continue to just have them read more aloud to you. Rather, start a systematic approach to reducing the midline as a problem, and teach them using color and picture to help them store words and sounds in their right brain hemisphere for easier retrieval.  Invest in some colored markers, pictures, and have fun teaching your child how to use his/her powerful right brain to make the learning process easier.  This method has proven itself over and over, even with the toughest learning problems.

 

Dianne Craft has a Masters in Special Education and is president of the clinic Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, CO.  For more articles on children and learning visit her website: www.diannecraft.org