What is Dyslexia?

The word ‘Dyslexia’ comes from the original Latin prefix ‘dis’ meaning both ‘lack of’ and ‘not’ and the Greek word ‘lexis’ meaning ‘word’ so it means a ‘difficulty with words’. This specific difficulty was initially flagged up in print by a medical doctor, Dr W. Pringle Morgan who in 1896 published an article in the British Medical Journal titled, ‘A case of congenital word blindness’ in which he described a fourteen year old patient of his called Percy who was a ‘bright, intelligent boy quick at games and in no way inferior to others but who spelt his name as Precy’ and ‘words written make no impression to his mind’. Dr W. Pringle Morgan would be delighted to see how support has developed for people such as Percy over the past one hundred and twenty years.

We now recognise Dyslexia as being a specific learning difficulty defined by the British Dyslexia Association in 2007 as:

‘Mainly affecting the development of literacy and language skills, it is likely to be present at birth and has life-long effects. It is characterised 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 abilities.’

And the presence of Dyslexia may now be assessed using recognised standardised assessment tools probing the individual’s: speed of processing both by reading aloud and silently and their writing speed and accuracy and various aspects of their working memory including their verbal, phonological and visual memory and also including their speed of coding digits to symbols.

If this very detailed information leads to a diagnosis, a teaching plan can be drawn up to support the individual’s weaker processing areas and to accelerate the development of their strengths to ease the frustration they are generally experiencing due to finding reading and writing so difficult.

Research has identified certain genes which predispose people to developing Dyslexia which appears to explain why it tends to run in families. It is amazing how many parents describe their own difficulties at school and beyond when they discuss the problems their child is encountering.

Fundamentals

Initially the alphabet sounds needs to be fully mastered and slowly linked together to make words so that there is a seamless understanding that putting individual sounds together make words. Spelling rules need to be taught until they are understood, for example: the letter ‘W’ changes the sound of the vowel ‘a’ after it to ‘o’ that is why ‘was’ is spelt this way as opposed to ‘wos’ which is far more logical! Homophones, which are words sounding the same but spelt differently, present problems for everybody, but are a Dyslexic’s nightmare. They need to be taught very carefully and thoroughly again in a fun but thorough way. Obvious homophones such as ‘right’ and ‘write’ and ‘there’ and ‘their’ and ‘see’ and ‘sea’ are so frequent in reading and writing that they just need to be overlearned and assimilated as soon as possible. Take every opportunity as a parent to support this even on holiday; ask your child to write ‘sea’ in the sand, it is about as multi-sensory as you can get, especially if the ‘sea’ rolls over it… and ‘beach’ in shells, to reinforce the fact that ‘beech’ the tree has nothing to do with shells on a ‘beach’. More seaside homophones: ‘sail’, as opposed to, ‘sale’, ‘shore’ as opposed to ‘sure’, ‘tide’ as opposed to ‘tied’, ‘current’ as opposed to ‘currant’ and let’s not forget ‘sun’ and ‘son’ and ‘rain’ and ‘rein’ and ‘reign’ and ‘weather’ as opposed to ‘whether’…

Phonological Processing

This is the processing of Speech Sounds as opposed to all sounds. If we cannot distinguish different phonemes, which are single speech sounds, very well, we cannot readily separate them. This leads to inaccurate spelling such as, ‘split’ spelt as ‘spit’. Reading becomes slow and imprecise and so no strong memory is placed for accurate recall. Think of poor Percy in 1896, ‘words, written, make no impression on his mind’. We have to assimilate phonemes accurately to replay them accurately. ‘Rapid Naming’ simply means how quickly we name things and in terms of the diagnosis of Dyslexia we go back to the basics and assess the speed of the individual’s reading of both letters and digits. Go back to the third paragraph and read the description of Dyslexia used by the British Dyslexia Association in 2007, it includes Rapid Naming difficulties. The most consistent deficit in all my own assessment score profiles of people assessed as being Dyslexic is below average reading of non-sequential letters, which is described as Rapid Letter Naming, because their long term recall of the sounds is slow and misfires with the precise timing mechanism required to link the sound of a letter to its image. Click the ‘News and Research’ button for a small study on this subject.

And Hearing

Background information prior to an assessment will establish if the child or adult has suffered multiple ear infections, which may have affected the ease of the individual’s natural assimilation of speech sounds. If a child is struggling to hear, the first step should be a visit to the GP, on a basic level, think of ear-wax, a quick syringe and all is well! And if the child needs an audiogram the sooner they have one the better for the child. Again if the child or adult will benefit from wearing aids to hear, the sooner they have them the better. If problems persist an assessment would be a good next step, having checked out vision as well…. who said life was easy!

Dyslexic children may enjoy Maths particularly if their major difficulty is with phonological processing because this is less overtly involved in calculating numbers. But some Dyslexic children have a very specific difficulty recalling integral steps in mathematical problems because they simply cannot easily recall the steps in the right order, but given the steps, happily achieve the correct outcome. They may struggle to see the numbers correctly orientated and misread the symbol directing the calculation. Tip:circle the symbol first! Some teenagers still count using their fingers but can fully understand the problem set and achieve the correct answer, with extra time. Individualised approaches work well when teaching children who struggle with maths; harnessing their strengths, and slowly encouraging them to take next steps in calculations seems to work, having fun along the way helps. Playing Snap, matching fractions to percentages to decimals can become quite riotous, but quickly fix the sets in their mind’s eye. Cutting up card to create fractions can be messy, but helps to explain the need to create, for example, common denominators.

Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is distinct from having difficulties with Maths due to Dyslexia as a result of the reasons described above. ‘Dyscalculia’ is having an intrinsic difficulty perceiving the underlying basis of numeracy. Individuals with Dyscalculia would struggle to place numbers highest to lowest or estimate the difference between 100 and 650 and require support from a specialist teacher.

Vision

Prior to having an assessment if you are coming yourself, or you are a parent bringing a child, it is vitally important that you or the child has an eyesight test prior to coming in case the whole problem is visually based. If the optician prescribes glasses let the child or you as an adult wear them for a couple of weeks and if necessary then come for the assessment.

Mears-Irlen Syndrome, is the sensitivity to the glare of text on a white ground. Placing differently coloured overlays across the white ground can help some people to read more accurately as without their chosen overlay the text can appear distorted in various ways but with an overlay the distortion goes away. If the overlay works the effects may be slightly increased reading speed and accuracy or dramatically increased speed and accuracy. I use a set of Cerium Overlays prior to all my assessments. If an overlay is helpful, using the chosen overlay in reading tests means that any persistent difficulties are not applicable to their co-existent Mears-Irlen Syndrome and so applications for Access Arrangements or DSA awards are not impeded. In making sure eye tests are carried out prior to the assessment it ensures that other issues may not be responsible for the colour overlay having such a dramatic effect, such as, Amblyopia. (See recent work)

The boy jumping in the picture is very active and has jumped very high off the ground so he probably has strong muscles and good co-ordination. But a child or adult with Developmental Co-ordination Disorder would find this sort of action demanding as DCD is a common disorder affecting gross and fine motor skills. Children may have low muscle tone and poor balance control so find it hard to run or learn to ride a bike and be prone to falling over and become anxious about joining in with their peers in sporting activities. They will probably find acquiring handwriting skills slow and possibly even painful. This is a medical diagnosis and children or adults are usually directed by their GP to be assessed by an Occupational Therapist or a Physiotherapist. This condition may co-exist with a specific learning disability such as Dyslexia, but not always. It is important to pinpoint, for example, if a child is writing very slowly due to difficulty physically writing or because they are Dyslexic which is impeding their processing of their thoughts into words, or both issues. Fortunately people may now overcome handwriting difficulties using assistive technology.