To begin with, dyslexia, like all learning disabilities, can be very complicated. So, what I plan to do is write a series of three articles that will help children, teens and adults who are still in school or adults who are dealing with work and everyday life situations. The various posts could also help teachers at all levels of the learning spectrum. The topics will cover :
- What dyslexia is and what can be done,
- Using a tape-recorder to enhance reading, and
- Strategies & technical aids (that can be used in school or everyday situations).
This is not an academic exercise. This is simply by a blogger who also happens to be a retired educator who previously worked with children and adults who have this problem. What I write will be completely based on a college level textbook I personally wrote which was published back in the early 1990’s.
I can use that handbook, even though it was written sixteen years ago, because none of the information is dated. Everything I wrote then is as relevant today as it was then because learning strategies don’t change. They are simply commonsense techniques that we all use to learn, but which people with dyslexia don’t use automatically.
What has changed are the number of electronic devices that are available today that weren’t available then. Yet, the original Franklin Spelling Ace is still the phonetic spell checker of choice.
Dyslexia is a reading disability that affects all aspects of your life. It’s much more than reversing letters or words, that is just one symptom. It is also about the proper sequencing of ideas — which can affect how effective a person is at problem solving. Although some would separate dyslexia with dysgraphia (writing disabilities), in the U.K. and Australia, the term dyslexia is used to include all types of “learning disabilities.” I am going to use the term dyslexia in that broader sense.
I worked with children, teens and adults and the problems were often the same. Children usually hated school because not being able to read affected everything the child had to do. With teens, they were ready to drop out or just wanting to be finished. And, with adults, while some were far from reaching their potential, others struggled and yet were doing exceptionally well at their chosen work or service — because learning disabilities has very little to do with IQ, other than the higher the IQ the more frustration will be felt.
First and foremost, overcoming the effects of dyslexia involves learning effective learning and memory strategies. Why? Because the memory is what learning and information processing is all about. Just think about what happens to a person who is suffering from dementia? The memory, or lack of it, affects the person’s whole life.
The memory consists of three inter-connected processes — immediate recall, short-term memory and long-term memory (where facts, colours, sounds and emotions are stored). So when information or emotions are taken in, something happens that allows us to hold on to that information long enough that it can be processed into our long term memory. Later, when we need that information again, all we need to do is think of a word or idea and, all of a sudden, it’s there. At least, that is how it works in theory.
For example, let’s say you visit the home where you were brought up. Someone else may have lived there for forty years after your family left, but the minute you walk through the front door, all the emotions and events that happened there (positive and negative) come flowing over you. It can be an overwhelming experience. You were not even aware that all those memories were stored inside your brain.
How do you remember things? Let’s say you are at a party and you are about to be introduced to six people, what do you do? Do you try and associate a word to a name? Or, what do you do when you are given a phone number on the run — chunk the numbers together and say it out loud several times? Yet, although those techniques (chunking, association and verbal rehearsal) are simple and commonplace, many individuals with dyslexia don’t use them automatically.
Now, I need to ask — when you (or your children) are reading “silently,” are you able to “hear” what you are reading in your head? That is what is called sub-vocalizing. It is imperative that individuals be able to do that with ease for letters, words and information to be readily processed.
So, although, reading is visual because you see shapes, it is also auditory because each one of those shapes has a sound. If you can only read by reading out loud or whispering, you need to learn to use a tape-recorder to train your mind to read silently. I will write about that in Part 2.
Reading involves two processes: fluency and comprehension. In the first instance, fluency means being able to “say” or “decode” the letters and combinations of the letters, as well as knowing what words mean. It then means being able to put those words in sentences. That first phase is called “The Learning to Read” phase and should be completely automatic by the end of Grade 3.
The next phase is comprehension, “The Reading to Learn” phase and involves being able to identify one or more main ideas, make inferences and draw conclusions. As I said above, without fluency being completely automatic, comprehension will be very difficult if not nearly impossible.
Here is an example of a simple compensation that individuals, parents or teachers can use. Have children use post-it notes of all different colours and sizes to help them keep track of information. The notes act as a memory technique and the papers can be shifted this way and that to put a story in a proper sequence.
In Part 2 I will talk about the use of the tape-recorder. It is an inexpensive way of training your mind, or your child’s mind, to process information that is presented verbally — an absolutely essential skill and one which is a major symptom of dyslexia.