We often wonder, “Is my child dyslexic?” or “Am I?” and “What exactly is dyslexia?” However, in our experience, and in that of most people working in the field, not everyone who has difficulty with language or reading has “dyslexia.”
When you hear the word “cheese,” what comes to mind?
Some people picture a slice of yellow American cheese in its own individual wrapper. Others see a “wedge” of white cheese just cut from a “wheel.” Still others picture Swiss or blue cheese.
What about products with cheese – cheeseburgers, cheese danish, cheese pizza, cheese puffs. How about cheese concepts – “How Cheesey” or smile and say ‘Cheese!'”
They all contain cheese, but what exactly is cheese?
The same can be said of “dyslexia.”
Everyone has different ideas about what dyslexia means. The word “dyslexia” is actually a medical term meaning “difficulty with words.” That’s a pretty broad concept.
Let’s narrow this down just a bit.
There is current brain research indicating that people with dyslexia probably have physiological differences in the brain structure and how it processes, or thinks about, information.
At the Learning Center, we look at dyslexia from an educational standpoint. In other words, what can we do to overcome any limitations dyslexia might place on students’ ability to learn.
We have worked with students with reading disabilities for over 13 years, and in that time we have come to recognize a couple of major symptoms that we would call “classic dyslexic symptoms.” These are: A significant phonemic awareness deficit, and a strong visual spatial thinking style.
What Is Phonemic Awareness and How Does It Affect Reading?
Phonemic awareness is a person’s ability to think about the number, order, and identity of individual sounds within words. It is the underlying thinking process that allows a person to make sense out of phonics, the sound system of our language.
The basic reading process is made up of three parts: Auditory (phonics), Visual (sight word recognition), and Language (the ability to use context clues and learn and apply new vocabulary).
In order to be an automatic, comfortable reader, all three of these processes need to be working efficiently together. If they are not, reading can be a frustrating struggle.
Current research and our clinical experience strongly indicate that weaknesses in the auditory part of the basic reading process, or inability to easily understand and use the phonetic code of the language, is a key factor in reading and spelling disorders.
A phonemic awareness deficit almost always keeps a person from being an efficient reader and speller. It usually causes individuals to be “disabled readers” in spite of the best efforts of parents and teachers.
For the second grader, it can mean being diagnosed as “developmentally delayed.” For the bright and creative seventh grader, it can mean spending countless frustrating hours doing homework and still failing. For the adult professional, it can mean making a “career” out of hiding the inability to read and write on the job.
Individuals with a phonemic awareness deficit find it terribly difficult to use phonics for reading and spelling. It has been said that these people simply cannot ever learn phonics. However, ongoing research in the field of auditory processing has shown us that this is not true. These individuals can be trained to develop their phonemic awareness and become effective readers.
People with phonemic awareness deficit may experience the following:
- Not accurate beyond their memorized vocabulary
- Low level of sight vocabulary
- Virtually no ability to sound out and/or blend words
- Many times bright and motivated
- Having to work “too hard” to read, spell, etc.
- Poor grades
- Written work is inaccurate
- Confuse words in reading that look similar (such as quietly and quality)
- Confuse words that sound similar (such as consonant and continent)
The Visual Spatial Thinking Style
The second “classic dyslexic symptom” is a strong visual spatial thinking style. People who have an auditory conceptualization deficit may or may not have the visual spatial thinking style.
Generally, these people tend to be bright, creative, “right-brained” thinkers, who think in concepts and pictures. They have the unique ability to see “in dimension,” or mentally “see” objects from all sides without actually moving their eyes or the objects. This talent lends itself to drawing, building, putting things together, and recalling concrete or visual information.
Many times, when “right-brained” children try to learn with the traditional “left-brain modes,” they are labeled as “attention deficit” because they mentally “leave” the classroom and create highly entertaining “movies” in their heads that are far more fulfilling and less disorienting than the symbolic ABCs and 123s.
Many times these individuals suffer from episodes that have come to be labeled simply “disorientation.” It is the uncontrolled loss of focus triggered by confusion, and it almost always occurs when working with symbols or when listening.
When the person experiences confusion about symbols (such as numbers and letters) his or her brain tries to understand. However, these individuals will usually go to their most comfortable thinking style, which is “seeing” in dimension. This can cause them to perceive the letter or word from different angles, recording different images of the word or letter in their mind. This makes it very hard to retrieve the symbols and often results in number and letter reversals or words “moving” on the page.
Small pieces of the language such as punctuation marks and small non-conceptual sight words such as the, of, and if may also be difficult for the visual-spatial thinker to pay attention to because it is hard to attach a concept or mental image to them.
Disorientation may occur when the individual is overwhelmed with too much information, particularly with language.
When disoriented, the person often loses track of what’s going on around him as well as losing track of time.
We don’t ever want to take away a person’s thinking style. It is a wonderful creative style that was and is shared by important individuals in our society such as Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Bruce Jenner, Greg Louganis and many more.
Our goal is to help students develop other learning styles in addition to their own so they don’t have to suffer from confusion with language. “Dyslexic” symptoms, triggered by confusion about flat, linear symbols and small pieces of the language do not have to become a way of life.
There is help!
Thankfully, both of these most common and classic dyslexic symptoms can be overcome so that children and adults with average or above intellectual ability can become efficient learners.
Dyslexia and other learning disabilities are not diseases. They are simply differences in thinking or processing information that can be changed permanently. For some learners, the traditional methods of reading have not been successful. These individuals must be taught in a different way.
Through carefully researched and consistently effective methods, we help clients to develop control over their thinking processes to make sense out of reading, spelling, written language and math.