“I do not want any child to cry the hours I did as a young person or hear the harsh words I did. I never quit trying to improve; even at 75, I keep keeping on.” One of my cousins recently wrote those words. She continued, “In college my third semester I made an A. Oh man, was I excited. I got to give a 20-minute presentation on my research paper. Talking was my best test to take.”
Every parent and every teacher needs to “get” the grief behind those words. Dyslexia, a widely accepted disability, continues to create feelings of inadequacy. All too often, adults accuse children with this disability as being lazy. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
In 2013, I retired from the teaching profession. Through the years, I sometimes had the opportunity to work with very intelligent children who struggled to read or write. From personal experience, I share two important facts.Individuals with Dyslexia Have Average to High Intelligence
According to the definition, dyslexia occurs at or before birth and manifests as problems with reading, writing, or spelling regardless of ethnicity or social-economic conditions. For many years, the dyslexia definition actually contrasted a high IQ with low reading achievement scores. Although this “discrepancy” model does not weigh heavily today, the dyslexia diagnosis cannot be assigned to a child with limited cognitive capacity. An individual with dyslexia can shout to the world, “I have an intelligent brain!”
Children with Dyslexia Are Not Lazy; They Work Hard
Even today, I sometimes hear parents or teachers indicate that a child isn’t trying hard enough. The implication suggests that laziness generates the underlying cause of poor reading ability. A child entering school wants to learn to read and write. Reading and writing do not turn out to be skills children blow off as unimportant. They ARE important. When a little guy notices that his classmate sounds smooth against his rough and tumble reading efforts, he cares.
There are children with wonderful ideas who feel like failures because they cannot read or they lack the ability to put thoughts on paper. Many years ago, one of my grandsons called after school. His fourth grade teacher had shoved his essay back at him saying, “This looks like the work of a first grader.” When his dad mailed the paper to me, it did look like the work of a first grade child. Why did this bright, inquisitive fourth grader have trouble with written expression?
Initially, I asked my grandson to dictate a story to his dad. Did he lack good ideas or were good thoughts hampered by an inability to put pen to paper? It became obvious that the child had many great ideas, which he could easily dictate. Like my cousin, this fourth grader knew that “Talking was his best test to take.”
When dyslexia manifests as a writing problem, we call the condition “dysgraphia”. Learning to keyboard properly made all the difference for this grandson. Once he learned to type efficiently, written communication challenges ended. All considerations about lack of intelligence or laziness vanished.
Children want to read and write. They want to please teachers and make parents proud. Slapping a “laziness” qualifier on a child demonstrates lack of understanding. Today, educators know enough to avoid this trap. Children deserve a fair chance to demonstrate what they know and to be provided with the tools they need to exhibit their intelligence and accomplishments.
Bounds, G. “How Handwriting Trains the Brain.” The Wall Street Journal. Princeton, MJ. Oct. 2010.
Clay, Marie, S.A. Warner, E. Richardson, and D. Holdaway. Dancing With the Pen: The Learner As a Writer. New Zealand: Ministry of Education, 1992.