“Hey! What’s happening? What’s going on here?” These questions expressed a smidgen of the confusion and pain our grandson experienced in second grade. In third grade, Elliott got answers to his questions. His school diagnosed him as a child with dyslexia and dysgraphia.
Our conversation began last spring when Elliott said, “Grandma, I really suffered in second grade. I didn’t understand why the other kids started to read really well and I couldn’t make it work. Nothing in school worked for me.” With diagnosis in hand, he became caught in a web of anger toward school, dyslexia, and most of all — himself. Elliott’s feelings probably matched those of countless other youngsters. How frustrating to be trapped between the realities of above average intelligence along with the limitations of a brain that processes — not wrongly — but differently.
Elliott has always been a smart little guy. He likes insects, enjoys a strong vocabulary, and plays electronic gizmos with dynamite execution. Cute, curious, lively — all the qualities that should have propelled him into academic success. No wonder he felt confused.
This week, I got an up close and personal reminder of why I remain interested in children with dyslexia. One of our grandsons, a quirky third grader, came home with a diagnosis of mild dyslexia in reading and mild dysgraphia in handwriting. I did not feel surprised or dismayed. Through the years, some of the most fascinating children I have met faced similar labels.
His mother sent the school report to me earlier in the week. Sunday evening, walking out of a restaurant, Elliott looked up and said, “Grandma, do you know I have dyslexia?” “Yes, Elliott. Do you know that to even get that label means you have a smart brain?” He nodded. I have great faith in this tall, lanky kid. His brain works in wonderful ways. From the time Elliott was tiny, he amazed me with his interest in most things science. Today, he glibly whizzes through technology, and, with the exception of word problems, he handles numbers well.
Elliott has an older cousin who received a similar diagnosis in grade four. At that time, one of our older grandsons called after school and said, “Grandma, I cried all the way home from school. The teacher said my writing looks like the work of a first grader.” Stories and ideas explode in the brains of both of these grandsons. They have questions exploding and numerous thoughts to express. Creative, insightful, and funny, both boys struggle to put pen to paper. Elliott also works hard to read orally. As a former educator and a forever grandmother, I relish the thinking patterns of these young men.
When do accommodations enhance education? When do they water down learning experiences? As a former special education teacher, I believe our goal should be to make learning as fluid as possible while maintaining high standards. Accommodations change how a student learns the material. Accommodations do not change the final outcome or difficulty of material. I share the following examples, which students in my classes taught me.
- Instead of reading a text, a child can listen to an audiobook or oral presentation. Many years ago, a third grade boy taught me the importance of teaching content, such as science, at the child’s thinking ability instead of his reading level. This little guy loved technology (before technology could be found everywhere). He succeeded in math and he adored science lessons. He could not read orally. At that time, I was young and operating from the idea that if I could find books with an easy enough vocabulary, he would succeed. This intelligent little boy felt insulted by the “baby” books I asked him to read. Finally, I realized that no matter how simple the words and sentences, this child continued to omit phrases, hesitate, reread, and twist known words. I had to find a way to get the science information from the written text into his brain. I decided to find or create an audiobook or read the words aloud to him. While listening and following along, he began to succeed
by Jamie Martin
You may have noticed a little friendly competition between Apple and Google, the technology giants who are in constant battle to be King of the Hill. During his keynote presentations, Apple’s Tim Cook often jabs at the adoption rate of new versions of Android compared to those of iOS. Google’s inexpensive and versatile Chromebooks are steadily taking over the school market, which once seemed ripe for widespread iPad adoption. Currently, the Apple Watch has slipped past Google Glass as the most intriguing device in the wearables category. The back-and-forth of tech dominance can be dizzying and difficult to follow.
While the debate over which company holds the crown continues, one thing is for certain: The rivalry has been a boon for students with dyslexia. During the past decade, assistive technology (AT) has increasingly become the great academic equalizer for students with language difficulties, and Apple and Google are currently leading the charge. Their strong desire to outdo each other has led each to produce great technology with enough available AT to make them invaluable resources for the dyslexic community. The truth is that if you are a student who has difficulty reading and writing, you can look to either company for helpful accommodations. Better yet, you can study the vast menu of AT options on Mac desktop computers, Chromebooks, iOS devices, and Android devices, and select the combination of tools that will work best for you. Continue reading
“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. Continue reading
Imagine my surprise years ago when a child who read a passage beautifully, could not paraphrase the meaning or answer a single question. Not only did I question myself, I wondered if some kind of distraction hampered understanding. Years later, I learned that a few children suffer from a condition that some call Direct Dyslexia. Regardless of the name used, the child fails to gain meaning.
A child with Direct Dyslexia easily decodes any word that fits the rules of the English language, identifies irregular words, and sounds fluent and comfortable when reading orally. All of the reading skills work well except understanding and recall. What can be done about lack of comprehension?
Comprehension always involves thinking and means the same as understanding. True reading requires the brain to decode the squiggles we call letters and to also bring meaning to the task. Both skills must be in place for true reading to occur. When a child struggles to understand reading, try the steps listed below. Continue reading
In an earlier blog, I wrote about Deep Dyslexia. Today, I share ideas about Surface Dyslexia. Both types have challenges with oral fluency. (Fluency includes rate, accuracy, and intonation.)
Surface Dyslexia and Fluency
Children with Surface Dyslexia demonstrate such proficient use of phonics that they use this skill for all areas of decoding. When confronted with irregular words that do not follow phonemic rules, the efforts to sound out words fail to be useful. As a result, fluency falls apart.
Helping With Fluency
Ideas that help children with Surface Dyslexia also aid those with Deep Dyslexia. Consider suggestions below.
- Set up Buddy Reading with peers. Reading in pairs protects the child with poor oral reading. Asking a child with weak fluency to read orally in front of a small group or the whole class usually creates embarrassment. (Note: If you are a parent reading this, please request that your child’s teacher avoid asking your child to read orally in front of peers.)
- You may want to purchase commercial recordings for the child to listen to and follow along with eyes and fingers. When a child hears the text while seeing the print and sliding a finger under the words, three senses provide input.
- Enlarge the print. For a child struggling with oral reading, larger print often makes a significant difference. Consider using a size that would be appropriate for a child with poor vision. (Larger print has been the most successful modification I have used.)
- According to Marianne Wolf in “New Research on an Old Problem,” repeated reading of short passages is currently considered the best way to improve fluency.
Phonics instruction provides a tool that helps readers decode (break the code) created by combining written symbols and letter sounds. Two types of children struggle with phonics. Both types lack the ability to discriminate between similar sounds. Children with Deep Dyslexia also have trouble with sight words.
Children with Phonological Dyslexia benefit from flash cards but fail to hear subtle differences in sound-to-symbol combinations. (The sounds are not logical.) Elephant /e/ and igloo /i/ require auditory discrimination, which is the ability to hear small differences in sounds.
Phonics from Project Read® offers excellent methods for teaching letter sounds because movements and pictures serve as reminders of sound differences. Consider the steps below. Continue reading
Teachers of children with dyslexia take many additional educational hours. Academic Language Therapy (ALT) provides the most extensive preparation a teacher can take for helping children with dyslexia. The Rawson Saunders School for Dyslexia in Austin endorses this reading therapy program.
Not every teacher gets to take ALT classes. When I taught pre-service teachers, I learned about four distinct reading challenges. Each challenge named a type of dyslexia. For this writing, I focus on Deep Dyslexia.
A child that fits this classification displays similar characteristics to a child with poor hearing and poor vision. With weakness in both auditory and visual processing, the child needs to add movement, touch, taste, and smell to the normal auditory and visual processes. Dropping to an easier reading level fails to help the child with Deep Dyslexia. The characteristics continue no matter how easy the reading task. Continue reading
Amy Campbell, who serves as the school counselor at the Rawson Saunders School for Dyslexia, provides a powerful post about children with dyslexia. I am grateful to Amy for contributing this valuable message. Rawson Saunders School for Dyslexia provides a unique and powerful education for children with special needs.
Student Empowerment and Dyslexia
Being the counselor at Rawson Saunders, the only full-curriculum school in Central Texas for dyslexic students, has gifted me the opportunity to get up close and personal with dyslexia. It’s impossible to put into words all of the many different dimensions, challenges, and gifts our dyslexic students display and experience, but these student quotes reflect some important ideas and represent perspectives that have been expressed by a large majority of our students. The students at Rawson Saunders have taught me some important things about dyslexia and empowerment. Continue reading