BY ANGELA SHAW
I may not learn in the same way as you, my little sister, or other kids my age, but I can get there. With your support and understanding, my future is bright.
Across our nation, intelligent and creative students are encountering an unexpected struggle in learning to read, due to an invisible barrier caused by the condition of dyslexia. The term Dyslexia is derived from the Greek language: dys, meaning poor or inadequate, and lexis, meaning words or language (Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine). Newfound understanding about the way the brain works and how to circumvent hurdles to reading through scientifically proven methodologies is providing today’s educators with innovative strategies, in order to provide students with tools to unlock the reading code. As teachers gain deeper understanding about dyslexia and its link to a phonologic weakness within the language system of the brain, the promise of learning for all becomes a reality for students of all ages. Below is a child’s wish list to provide mindful insights toward keeping a solution-focused partnership in support of our students with dyslexia.
1. MY DYSLEXIA IS A DIFFERENCE IN THE WAY I LEARN TO READ. IT DOES NOT MEAN I CANNOT LEARN, BUT THAT I LEARN DIFFERENTLY.
I am a child with dyslexia. Research-based discoveries about how the brain learns to read are creating opportunities for students who, like me, learn differently. Using new teaching strategies, based on cutting-edge research, will help me and other kids to break the code and become a reader. Please allow me to learn through these research-based strategies, even though they are different from your experience. I realize that it takes extra time and effort to teach me, but it will be worth it in the long run. In addition to a patchwork of symptoms and clues, reading scientists have physical evidence through brain imaging that has led them to discover how to identify and teach students with dyslexia to become skilled readers. I am not broken, but different. I can learn to read accurately through another neuro-highway and even repair some of the circuitry that is causing the roadblocks to fluent reading. Reading scientist Sally Shaywitz, from Yale University, has written a helpful book that my parents and teachers can read called Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. My family and teachers can also get information about dyslexia from organizations like International Dyslexia Association.
2. DYSLEXIA IS NOT A PROBLEM WITH SEEING; IT IS A DIFFERENCE IN BRAIN CIRCUITRY AND NEURAL PATHWAYS IN THE LANGUAGE SYSTEM DEEP WITHIN MY BRAIN THAT HOLDS ME BACK FROM BECOMING A SKILLED READER.
It is true that I read and write some letters and even some entire words backwards, but lots of kids who do not have dyslexia do the same thing when they first begin to read and write. I really dread reading, but I love math because numbers make sense to me. Problems in the area of the brain that allows me to understand and express language are causing me to have difficulty learning to read, spell, remember and pronounce words. The wiring required for phonologic inspection, the sound structure of spoken words, was not properly installed before I was born. Help me to build an alternate reading pathway through understanding the sound structure of spoken words. I have a tough time separating individual sounds that make up words. I am not even aware that individual sounds make up words. I hear and spell words in jumbled clumps, a lot like the kid who sees leaves on a tree as fuzzy clumps of greenish shapes attached to branches until he is fitted with a pair of glasses and then comes to see that a leaf is a fragile and separate entity existing on a stem of its own. Read aloud to me. Share nursery rhymes and rhyming songs with me. Playing rhyming games or sound counting games helps me unlock the mystery of the sound structure of words. Count sounds in spoken words with me. A fun and interesting way to connect sound structure can be accomplished through clapping syllables in spoken words or people’s names. Even if I am an older kid learning to read, my phonemic receiver is cloudy and needs fine tuning to understand and build phonemic awareness essential to reading and spelling.
3. PRONUNCIATION AND EXPRESSIVE LANGUAGE IS DIFFICULT FOR ME.
I know it is sometimes a lot of work to follow a conversation with me. I use a lot of pronouns or do not quite have the exact word. I have some confusion with right/left, before/after, etc. (IDA, 2014). Basically, it sounds like I am not fluent in my own language. Words are in my head, but I cannot quite get them out. I pretty much have to memorize every word that I speak, read, or write. I am sure you have noticed that I sometimes stumble and sputter when I speak. I twist long or unfamiliar words around in the middle or leave off beginning sounds and chunks on certain words. It is not that I do not have the word; it is just that I do not know the structure of the word so it is hard to articulate the correct form. I have to remember the way the word sounds when you say it and the way it feels in my mouth when I say it. Once I remember how it feels and sounds and use the word enough times, I can recall and say the word more fluently. Actually, my thinking and reasoning skills are strengths for me. Please be patient with me, as I articulate my thoughts. If you do, I promise you I will relax and my word retrieval skills will become smoother. My receptive language ability is in great working condition. I can usually recognize the correct word, if given a choice. A useful strategy that often helps me is if you casually and correctly repeat my mispronunciation, within the context of our conversation. I may hear or even see the difference in your pronunciation. Once I rehearse and feel it in my mouth, I will try it again in the future. I rely on your encouragement and positive interactions to keep me motivated to keep trying.
4. FOCUS AND BUILD ON MY MANY STRENGTHS RATHER THAN WHAT I AM NOT ABLE TO DO YET.
I am smart, but I have trouble learning the skill of reading. I may have difficulty with naming letters, and reading and spelling words, but my reasoning, thinking, and understanding abilities are intact and may even be advanced. The area that is compromised in my brain is the phonologic part of my brain. This is where sounds of language are processed. I may struggle with reading a passage aloud, but my creativity and curiosity coupled with my outstanding vocabulary and superior intelligence allows me to listen to a much higher-level narrative and answer questions about it with relative ease. I will probably amaze you with my ability to grasp complex math concepts or abstract ideas. My curiosity and thirst for learning has shaped me into a natural problem solver. Given time or context, I can deliver great oral presentations or figure out complex ideas or words. I learn to read best when instruction is clear, systematic, and builds upon information that I have already learned and internalized. Please let me listen and speak, as well as read and write and I will grow and show my reading abilities. I promise you I will get lost if you just pass out an assignment and point me in the direction of READING the instructions. It is best to offer me verbal instructions or read the answer choices aloud to me so I can show you what I truly know. Also, if you notice that I am whisper reading or subvocalizing as I read, don’t be worried. It is only because I use a different brain pathway than most people do when they read. This pathway happens to be the region responsible for articulating spoken words and is a little slower route, but it can also help develop my awareness of the sound structure of a word because I physically form the word with my lips, tongue, and vocal cords (Shaywitz, 2003).
5. I REMEMBER PRINTED WORDS BEST WHEN I HAVE MANY EXPERIENCES WITH THEM.
Just because a word is small does not mean I will remember it. Little words like on or the are tough to remember because they are not linked to actual objects that I can draw or see. Even if I cannot quickly sound out the word cat or boat, I get hints from the story and pictures. Encourage and support my intense interest in a subject. I will muscle through the maze of words to learn more about my topic of interest. Through my exploration, the repeated vocabulary will guide me toward becoming a fluent reader. Not only will I learn to read really long specialized vocabulary, I will want to read the other words and make sure I have soaked up every bit of my ardent curiosity in this topic. Also, because I have deep knowledge about the topic, just seeing the big picture of the article or story at hand will lessen my anxiety as I encounter pages and pages of words (Shaywitz, 2003).
6. I WOULD MUCH RATHER GET IN TROUBLE FOR MISBEHAVING IN CLASS, THAN HAVE OTHER KIDS KNOW I CANNOT READ.
Have you ever noticed that I mysteriously need to use the restroom or start chatting or clowning around before it is my turn to read aloud? Please do not expect me to read aloud in class in front of other students or at home in front of my siblings. I really want to participate, but I do not have the skills to read aloud. If you give me a chance to review and practice a section, before I read aloud, I can be part of the group. Asking me a question about what someone just read, allows me to use my strengths in listening and understanding.
7. MY DIFFICULTIES WITH READING GO BEYOND THE CLASSROOM WALLS. BOARD GAMES, MENUS, AND EVEN GOING TO THE GROCERY STORE CAN WREAK HAVOC ON MY CONFIDENCE.
It is hard for me to fit in socially. My inability to participate in seemingly simple activities often moves me to the vague edges of social groups. Playing board games is embarrassing because I cannot read the words on the board. An outing to a local restaurant for lunch is a reading nightmare. Ordinary places like the grocery store easily become a maze of letters and unrecognizable words. Instead of a board game, maybe a card game with numbers or pictures would be fun for all of us. Linking menu pictures with words or discussing options before ordering, would make a family outing lots more enjoyable for me. Practicing with a menu’s structure and words helps me become more independent when I go out with friends. Helping me to see the organization or big picture of a grocery store or department store, gives me some context so that I can navigate the aisles and departments with confidence and purpose. Honestly, the written word does not always catch my attention, which is why you might see me entering or exiting from the wrong door.
I know that I learn to read at a slower pace than what you would expect, but please be proud of me for what I can do. Celebrate my successes! I have a sea of strengths that may have developed just because of my alternate route in learning to read. You have probably noticed that I have exceptional empathy for others, a talent for coming up with original and creative insights, and I am probably more resilient and adaptable to change than a lot of other kids my age. I may not learn in the same way as you, my little sister, or other kids my age, but I can get there. With your support and understanding, my future is bright.•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Angela Shaw is a specialized academic instructor in So. California. She synthesizes her diverse education and experience to provide students learning that will grow for a lifetime. Shaw’s publishing focus is upon special education topics to include articles such as How to Find the Best Educational Services for your Child with ASD (August 2016, Autism Parenting Magazine) and Dyslexia: Legislative Updates Supporting Innovative Pathways Toward Student Achievement in Reading (September 2016, Exceptional Parent Magazine). Shaw earned her Masters’ Degrees in Special Education and School Counseling from Azusa Pacific University.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. S.v. “dyslexia.” Retrieved
June 14 2016 from http://medicaldictionary.thefreedictionary.com/dyslexia
International Dyslexia Association (2014). IDA dyslexia handbook:What every family should know. Baltimore:
Info@interdys.org. Retrieved June 15 2016 from http://dyslexiaida.org.
Shaywitz, S., (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. New York: Alfred A. Knopf