Coping with Dyslexia
Learning to read is crucial for every child in our literacy driven society and poor reading ability reduces the chance of a productive and fulfilling life for a child with otherwise normal intelligence and cognitive skills.
Early RecognitionEarly identification of dyslexic children is crucial from many points of view. From a practical perspective, all the studies show greater success when specialised teaching techniques, tailored for dyslexic learners are started at an early age.
Doubtless, the dyslexic brain is more open to learning the earlier that multisensory methods are introduced. Additionally, a child whose dyslexia is diagnosed at a later age will usually have suffered through the first years of schooling. He and his parents will have been frustrated by his inexplicable inability to keep up with the class, despite his normal intelligence. He may well have endured criticism by teachers for laziness and bullying from other children. Many such children develop an aversion for school and for books in general and their self esteem may be very damaged.
Even after appropriate diagnosis of dyslexia is made, such a child will have many mental and emotional blocks to overcome before becoming a proficient reader, and the chances are lower that this will occur.
Multisensory TeachingTeaching in schools usually makes use of sight and hearing, as the children read from the blackboard or textbooks and listen to the teacher's instructions and explanations.
The fundamental abnormality in the brains of dyslexics seems to affect the areas responsible for building connections between the visual and auditory senses, so traditional teaching methods tend to leave dyslexics floundering in a sea of incomprehensible letters and inaccessible spellings.
In multisensory teaching, other senses are involved, especially touch and movement. The parts of the brain which handle sensory inputs from these modalities seem to function normally, so the dyslexic child finds it easier to learn.
For example, a dyslexic child may have seen b and d written down many times, and may be quite capable of hearing and making the "b" and "d" sounds in speech, yet his brain may be incapable of retaining the connection between the visual and auditory input and applying it to reading and writing. Every time he sees one of these letters or has to write it, he may get confused.
In a multisensory approach, the teacher may give the child a strong tactile memory of b by making the letter out of plasticene, playdough or clay. The child may be told to trace the word with two fingers while saying each part of the word. Alternatively, the child may draw the letter very large on the floor, involving their whole body and sense of balance. They can then access this kinetic (movement related) memory next time they need to write the letter.
Coloured FiltersSome dyslexics find it hard to read due to a sensation of glare from the white page, or because the words seem to move around or become fuzzy.
They may read better through a coloured transparent filter such as tinted spectacles.
Understanding PhonemesThe logic of all alphabet languages is built upon the understanding that every word consists of a sequence of speech sounds called phonemes, represented by letters. Despite the many irregularities in English, teaching methods that emphasise the importance of breaking words down into phonemes tend to be much more successful with dyslexics than other, visual memory based methods that may succeed with non-dyslexics.
Dyslexic children who receive effective phonological training and multisensory teaching from preschool and early school years often end up reading as well as their peers, though some language skills may never come automatically to them. Older children and adults may benefit from similar techniques, and may need to develop compensatory and coping strategies. They may also benefit from technological supports like IT equipment and entitlement to special provision in examinations such as additional time to allow them to read and comprehend exam questions.
A new direction that may in the future help dyslexics is musical training. The accurate timing skills that it fosters may help to improve speed of mental processing and thereby assist dyslexic children as they learn to read and write.