All entries for Saturday 22 October 2011

October 22, 2011

questions on dyslexia….

So, I've been continuing my reading for my masters assignment which is going to be on the misconceptions and negative connotations associated with dyslexia and the impact of these on the self-confidence, classroom contribution and subsequent achievement of dyslexic pupils. I'm really interested in SEN and dyslexia in particular because it is the most common of the learning disabilities (estimated to affect 4% of the population but ranging between 0.05% and 30% in different schools) and yet very little is actually known about it. Many neurologists have suggested theories of causes but I've come to the conclusion that no one really knows. What I do know is that eight out of the ten books I've read so far refer to Dyslexia as a learning disability and it is defined as a disability by the 1993 Education Act. For this reason, many pupils are reluctant to admit they have dyslexia because they fear they might be labelled as being "stupid" or "lazy". Pupils also reported feeling agressive, frustrated and depressed as a result of being discouraged by psychologists and educators who considered themselves to be realistic, or put under pressure by over ambitious parents. These secondary emotional problems were rarely mentioned by the authors as being a symptom of dyslexia but have been shown to be a block to learning. Many dyslexics also develop coping strategies which allow them to go through everyday life, often masking their symptoms, but these become compulsive behaviours and do not actually facilitate learning. For example, learning the alphabet song helps many to remember the sounds of letters but they then struggle to recite the aplhabet without singing the accompanying song. I am not dyslexic but I know that I remember telephone numbers, pin numbers and account numbers by saying them in a rhythm and struggle to recite the numbers without that rhythm.

The word dyslexia is built from "dys" meaning 'difficulties' and "lexis" meaning 'written word'. However, dyslexia presents as many symptoms which are specific to individuals and varied in severity. This makes diagnosis and treatment difficult. I do question whether treatment is the correct word to use here because some argue that dyslexia is not a disability but rather a gift and should be reclassified as a "difference in ability". R.D. Davis wrote an interesting book called "The Gift of Dyslexia" which identified eight basic abilities shared by all dyslexics which, if not oppressed, result in higher than average intelligence and extraordinary creative abilities:
1. They can utilise the brain's ability to alter and create perceptions;
2. They are highly aware of the environment;
3. They are more curious than average;
4. They think mainly in pictures instead of words;
5. They are highly intuitive and perceptive;
6. They think and perceive multidimensionally;
7. They can perceive thought as reality and
8. They have vivid imaginations.

These children often expressed talents such as walking before learning to crawl, remembering events perfectly, and "just knowing" the answers to complex algebraic equations because they could 'see' the numbers and calculations. The author has identified over 200 trigger words which some dyslexics struggle with because they have no pictorial representation (e.g. the, go, leave, do) and so they can't visual the sentence in their mind. However, the author also pointed out that there are numerous great minds that also had dyslexia such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Walt Disney and Winston Churchill. In fact a tv reporter was quoted as being surprised that so many people could be so intelligent "in spite" of their dyslexia! Although dyslexia may hinder a child's literacy and/or numeracy abilties, it has absolutely no effect on intelligence and often the pupils understand the work in class but struggle to record it in their books. Pollock and Waller interviewed pupils on what they struggled with and what was helpful in class in their book "Day-to-Day Dyslexia In The Classroom" and found that students struggled to copy off the board if there were too many words, weren't allowed enough time for writing and spelling, felt ignored, felt under pressure when required to read aloud and couldn't work if they were shouted at. However, the pupils found it helpful when teachers were kind and understanding, revision notes were tape recorded, they were not rushed, they were allowed extra time to plan and check work and if they were allowed to answer questions orally rather than written.

In my belief it is very important to eradicate these misconceptions of dyslexia because all too often the label is attached to people with varying effects. Some parents have been blamed for using dyslexia as an excuse for a child which is failing academically, although really they are perfectly capable of learning but it just needs to be facilitated in a way which is applicable to that individual. Some parents push their children too much, with extra tutoring sessions and homework, because they believe that the child is going to have to work extra hard to keep up with his or her peers whereas they may be excelling is some areas and perhaps too much importance is placed on literacy and numeracy. These children may begin to associate heavy concentration (and the resultant headaches) with reading and writing and learn to hate such activities. I have noticed when reading through some IEPs (Individual Education Plan) that some children have been noted as being exceptional athletes or artists or enjoy music and drama and I believe it is our responsibilties as adults to use these IEPs when we plan our lessons. After all, they're not written just to sit in a plastic wallet in the bottom of some drawer. Some pupils have been known to blame every mishap on their dyslexia and live their live entirely free of blame rather than accept their condition and work with it. Some educators and professionals may discourage children from attempting to achieve their aspirations to 'protect' them from disappointment.

Needless to say, I think we've barely scratched the surface of Dyslexia but I'm finding my research incredibly interesting!


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