What Is Dyslexia?

Educators have not been able to agree on what dyslexia really is. Some authorities believe that it is strictly a language-processing problem involving the distinguishing of sounds of letters. Others believe that it is a visual/perceptual problem, since these children also reverse words laterally (b/d) and vertically (m/w) as well as scrambling letters (the=het) when they read and write.

I believe that both groups are correct. It is an auditory/language problem, visual/perceptual problem, and often a visual/motor (eye/hand) problem as well. I have worked with many teenagers who have been through years of tutoring in a good “phonemic awareness” program. Why were they still in my special education class? Although they now were able to decode very long, difficult words, because their problem with inadequate eye tracking had not been addressed, they could not read with any fluency. Words continued to “move” as they read, or reverse, or they had to use so much energy to keep their eyes tracking correctly that they forgot what they had just read. Therefore, in my classroom, I also addressed the eye tracking issue so that they could read fluently and with comprehension on grade level by the end of the year.

Through prayer, study, and observation, I realized that many of the learning “processes” had not become automatic for these students. For example, their eye tracking should have transferred to their automatic brain hemisphere six months after they practiced it. If it isn’t automatic, the child has to “think” about the eye movement so he/she doesn’t accidently say no for on.

Auditory processing, such as the process of remembering phonemes, or phonics, also had not transferred to the automatic hemisphere. In 1981 Dr. Roger Sperry, a Nobel Prize-winning neurologist, found that the name of a word, letter, phoneme, or person is processed in the left, auditory brain hemisphere. However, the picture of the word (what it looks like) is processed in the right, visual brain hemisphere. The reading problem that a child experiences when he cannot remember the name of a phoneme or sight word is that the left-brain name does not connect with the right-brain word picture.

This learning process can be likened to the 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, and you definitely wouldn’t drive for pleasure.1

Does My Child Have Dyslexia?

You can suspect dyslexia in your child when the following auditory and visual processing symptoms occur, and your child is about two years behind in reading. Not all reading problems indicate the presence of dyslexia. Again, there are many opinions, but many special education teachers consider that a child is considered to have “true” (not just auditory) dyslexia when he/she scrambles words and letters visually, auditorily, and in writing and tests two years behind level.

We, of course, would like to intervene before that child is two years behind, by treating the scrambling symptoms. I have found that this can be done quite easily in the home setting. Contact me at craft@ecentral.com to request a free copy of the Quick Word Recognition Test; put only the words “Quick Word Recognition Test” in the subject line. You can easily use this tool to easily and quickly assess your child’s progress throughout the year.

Some symptoms to consider (a child does not need to display all the symptoms to be diagnosed as having dyslexia):

Auditory Processing

1. Difficulty learning the names of alphabet letters when in kindergarten
2. Spelling has no phonetic pattern to it (Tuesday=Tunday)
3. Sounds out all words, including sight words (many, could, these)
4. Poor memory of words just read in a previous sentence in reading
5. Sounds out the letters in a word, but can’t put it into a whole (b-a-t)
6. Memorizes stories but can’t remember same words in another story

Visual Processing

1. Visually reverses whole words (on=no, was=saw)
2. Regularly reads big for dig
3. Very slow, labored reading (often takes a deep breath)
4. Reading a year and a half or more below grade level
6. Says words when he reads
7. Reads a word from the line above and adds to present line, often

What Is the Difference Between Dyslexia and Dysgraphia?

This is often confusing for parents and some educators...I present many workshops to teachers and teach college classes to special-education teachers about this confusing subject. Simply put, dyslexia involves much difficulty reading and spelling. Dysgraphia involves much difficulty writing.

Many children/teenagers with dyslexia often have an accompanying dysgraphia. They write almost no sentences from memory, because their right, visual hemisphere is not storing words efficiently. (Copying a sentence is not considered writing.) They have to think about the directionality of the letters, rather than the content of the writing.

Kids with dyslexia almost always also have dysgraphia. However, many kids who do not have dyslexia, and in fact, may read way above grade level, have just the dysgraphia.2 Be assured, this issue is also easy to correct at home.

How Can I Work With My Child at Home?

The approach I have taken to get children past the learning “block” of dyslexia, is twofold:

1. Some type of “midline” brain therapy. While NILD, NACD are some other midline therapies to explore, I use Brain Integration Therapy, a very inexpensive, 20-minutes-a-day home therapy program designed to eliminate the midline as a problem and restore proper eye tracking, encourage better recognition of letter sounds, correct writing reversals, and enable the child to store words in his/her right-brain, long-term memory.

2. In addition to this therapy, I use an intensive phonemic awareness and decoding program daily. For my classroom use, I created the Right Brain Reading Program, which is an Orton Gillingham-based phonics and spelling method. This tool can be purchased or can be easily made at home by the parent. 

If your child has symptoms of dyslexia, you have found that just having him read to you more isn’t helping. You’ve also found that regular phonics programs don’t work, because no matter how much the child practices, he can’t remember the sounds of letters. Many times he sounds out the pieces of a word: f-a-t, but he cannot put them into a whole word (fat). Sight words are his enemy, as the child tries to sound out each sight word (what becomes a laborious w-h-a-t). Curiously, the child’s comprehension is great—once he’s struggled through a passage.

By the time I see parents in my consultation practice, they have given up on spelling, and the only writing the child does involves copying sentences. To help a child who is facing this massive struggle learn to read, brain integration therapy exercises and once-a week “re-trainings,” which use physical movements to “re-connect” the two hemispheres, is the first step I show the parents.

Then I show them the Right Brain Reading approach. This is the most fun. I regularly can get a dyslexic 10-year-old who is a non-reader (can’t even spell his last name) reading eight sight words (e.g., many, they, city, what) and spelling them from memory in just a half-hour, using his strong photographic memory. The child’s eyes light up, because he suddenly feels so smart...and it didn’t feel like work at all.

The mom usually has tears in her eyes by this time, as she sees her child write a whole sentence from memory after just one session, using words that he couldn’t even read when he first came in! Of course, we still need to work on the phonics and phonemic awareness (also using right-brain strategies to make it easier), but now the child has faith in himself—he can become a reader!

This method of intensive phonemic training plus midline exercises takes about forty-five minutes to an hour a day of one-on-one tutoring but pays off handsomely in its results. And the great thing is that parents do not have to spend much money or have someone else tutor their child. They just learn to teach using different teaching strategies and administer the Quick Score Reading Test every four months, to make sure that the child is making progress.

You will be surprised by how easy it is to achieve improvement equivalent to a two-year growth in reading skills—in just a year’s time—by investing just one hour a day in reading this new way. This method works with first-graders to eighth-graders who have dyslexia.

Are there other proven intensive phonics programs that work with dyslexia? Yes. This is just the least expensive program. For a list of some of these other good programs, just email me at craft@ecentral.com.

So, go wild and invest in some colored markers and pictures, and have fun teaching your child how to use his/her powerful right brain to make the learning process easier. It doesn’t have to be so hard for the child, nor expensive for the parent, to teach a child with dyslexia to be a good reader or writer, in my experience.3

Be your child’s own Resource Room teacher. No special training necessary!

Endnotes:

1. Minds Behind the Brain: A History of the Pioneers and Their Discoveries by Stanley Finger

2. See my article, “Smart Kids Who Hate to Write,” on my website to see this subject described in depth.

3. To learn about the step-by-step teaching method that I used in my special education class of bright, struggling readers in school, download my Free Daily Lesson Plan for a Struggling Reader. To read further about the “Chemistry of Dyslexia” (why it seems to run in families, and the role of the child’s immune system), see the article titled “Essential Fatty Acids and the Brain” on my website, www.diannecraft.org. The research is powerful!  

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: April 12, 2013