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‘Dyslexia aixelsyd’ – understanding dyslexia

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by Lynden Punnett Dip.SpLD (Dyslexia) London UK

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a combination of difficulties that affect the learning processes of reading, spelling and writing. It is a persistent condition.

Weaknesses in:-

• speed processing

• short-term memory

• organization

• sequencing and

• spoken language and motor skills.

There may also be difficulties with auditory and/or visual perception, and is particularly related to mastering and using written language, which may include alphabetic, numeric and musical notation.

Dyslexia can occur despite normal intellectual ability and teaching. It is part of one’s make-up and independent of socio-economic or language background.

Some learners have very well developed creative skills and/or interpersonal skills; others have strong oral skills. Some have no outstanding talents. ALL HAVE STRENGTHS.

In October 2007, the BDA (British Dyslexia Association) Management Board approved the following definition:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that mainly affects the development of literacy and language related skills. It is likely to be present at birth and to be life-long in its effects. It is characterized by difficulties with phonological processing, rapid naming, working memory, processing speed, and the automatic development of skills that may not match up to an individual’s other cognitive abilities.

It tends to be resistant to conventional teaching methods, but its effect can be mitigated by appropriately specific intervention, including the application of information technology and supportive counselling.

Possible difficulties. Possible strengths

* Reading hesitantly * Innovative thinkers

* Misreading, making understanding difficult * Excellent troubleshooter

* Difficulty with sequences * Intuitive problem solving

* Poor organization or time management * Creative in many different ways

* Difficulty organizing thoughts clearly * Lateral thinkers

* Erratic spelling

By itself ‘dyslexia’ is often applied as a label without any real understanding of what it means. Some people think that if you are dyslexic it means you can’t spell and you might be “slow or lacking intelligence.”.

Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. Nor is being dyslexic simply about spelling difficulties, or not being able to read and write fluently.

Sue Fowler, a co-founder of the Dyslexia Research Trust, said that British people were particularly susceptible to dyslexia, because the English language was often pronounced differently from the way it was written, unlike Spanish or Italian, meaning that English-speakers must rely more heavily on the visual word form area in their brain.

“Teaching just phonetics, meaning how to sound out words, doesn’t help, like in Spanish,” she said. “You need the visual recall too.”

What causes dyslexia?

• The dyslexic brain is different from ordinary brains. Studies have shown differences in the anatomy, organization and functioning of the dyslexic brain, as compared to the non-dyslexic brain.

• Some people suggest that dyslexic people tend to be more ‘right brain thinkers’. The right hemisphere of the brain is associated with lateral, creative and visual thought processes

Dyslexia is not related to race, social background or intellectual ability, but there is a tendency for dyslexia to run in families and this suggests that the brain differences which cause dyslexia may be hereditary

• These neurological differences have the effect of giving the dyslexic person a particular way of thinking and learning.

This usually means that the dyslexic person has a pattern of cognitive abilities which shows areas of strengths and weaknesses.

The Characteristics of the Dyslexic Brain

• An inefficient short-term memory system, sometimes also called the working memory:

It can help to understand how this happens by thinking of short-term memory as a tape loop which, in the dyslexic person, is shorter and therefore, less can be recorded at one time, for eventual transfer to storage in long-term memory.

• A difficulty in processing sounds and making sense of them: As children, we reinforce what we learn by confirming our knowledge through speech. Being dyslexic can inhibit this process by making it more difficult, to interpret sounds and therefore, fix them in memory

• Difficulties with co-ordination and motor skills: As children, dyslexic people are often clumsy and find it harder to acquire good co-ordination. This changes as we become adults, but it does have an effect on the development of hand/eye co-ordination

• Difficulties with visual processing: This doesn’t mean that dyslexic people are bad at seeing things, but it does affect the speed with which visual information is processed, especially where it has to be put into sequences. It can also mean that there is a difficulty in retaining a mental picture of letter or word shapes.

Short-term memory isn’t only a characteristic in itself, it also influences the other characteristics.

For example, if you find it difficult to remember all the items in a list, then it can be difficult to remember the sequence of items in the list. At the same time, if you find it difficult to remember a sequence, that is, the order in which things are linked together, then it is harder to remember the individual items.

Remember these cognitive weaknesses are weak in relation to your cognitive strengths. They may be strong in comparison to another dyslexic or non-dyslexic person

Literacy skills are a very important issue. It is difficulties and under-achievement in this area, which are most often associated with dyslexia,

“Because of the development of compensatory strategies, by adulthood, the literacy skills of many dyslexics can appear superficially adequate. A closer investigation, however, will often reveal underlying difficulties that can seriously affect learning at the higher education level.” (NWP Report, Dyslexia in Higher Education, 1999)

Functional characteristics – reading and writing: Students can experience problems with reading.

As a dyslexic student you may:

• Need to read something over and over in order to make sense of it and understand what it means

• Read slowly and find reading very time-consuming. It may also be difficult for you to remember what you’ve read

• Find your reading is inaccurate, you might add words or miss them out

• Lose your place and have to start again

• Find that it is very hard to focus on the page, it may look distorted and demand huge concentration and effort. This is very tiring

• Find reading difficult because of unfamiliar or new vocabulary which is hard for you to remember

• Mis-read familiar words or phrases

These difficulties are related to the cognitive characteristics of dyslexia and are not to do with lack of practice or not understanding what the purpose of reading is. The important cognitive characteristics of dyslexia which have the most influence over reading are short-term memory and visual processing. In order to read ‘automatically’ we have to match the written symbols to their corresponding sounds – difficulties with short-term memory can make this task difficult

Students can experience problems with writing. As a dyslexic student you may:

• Find that spelling is a problem for you, especially small words

• Spell words in the way that they sound

• Confuse words or miss them out

• Write slowly, making lots and lots of drafts

• Write very quickly, in an attempt to write down your thoughts before you lose them

• Have difficulty making sense of what you have written when you read it back

• Have difficulties in structuring and organizing your ideas in writing

• Find it very hard to express yourself accurately in writing

Other important skills: Reading and writing, text based skills are still very important (whatever the subject), but they are not the only skills you need. The short-term memory configuration of the dyslexic brain also has an impact on other areas which are equally important:

• Remembering – information for exams, names, processes and instructions

• Oral skills – finding words, mispronunciation, listening, structuring – saying things in the right order

• Doing more than one thing at a time – combining two or more activities, for example, listening and writing

Parents, teachers, educators and employers need to be very aware of the difficulties encountered by dyslexic children and adults. All of these individuals have strengths that may not be immediately apparent. Any child or individual that displays a number of the difficulties mentioned should have a thorough assessment by an educational psychologist or relevant professional. Teaching methods and strategies need to be modified for the dyslexic child.

‘More of the same’ is not the answer.

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” – Ignacio Estrada

Lynden Punnett Dip.SpLD (Dyslexia) London UK

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