How Do I Teach This Child?
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
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.
learning the names of alphabet letters when in kindergarten
has no phonetic pattern to it (Tuesday=Tunday)
out all words, including sight words (many, could, these)
memory of words just read in a previous sentence in reading
out the letters in a word, but can't put it into a whole (b-a-t)
stories, but can't remember same words in another story
rules are not applied in the reading context
reading, reverses whole words sometimes (on=no, was=saw)
reads "big" for "dig"
slow, labored reading (often takes a deep breath)
at least a year below grade level
letters in a word, reading "left" for "felt"
words wiggle when he reads
a word from the line above, and adds to present line, often
letters or numbers in writing
not written below the line
writing the alphabet, will ask "What does that letter look
write words from memory
words is labor intensive, like "art work"
The approach I have taken to get children past the learning
"block" of dyslexia, is two-fold:
Brain Integration Therapy is a home therapy program designed to
eliminate the midline as a problem and to help eye
remembering letter sounds, writing reversals, and to enable the child
to store words in his/her right brain.
A Right Brain Reading Program, including right brain phonics
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
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
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”.
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.
Craft has a Masters in Special Education and is president of the
clinic Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, CO.
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