*Disclaimer: I’m sharing about this because I care about students, colleagues and parents who are affected by it. I’m no expert at this. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about anything. I only reference websites I believe are reliable sources of information.
If there is one myth I could dispel about dyslexia it would be this:
Dyslexia is directly related to the intelligence of a person.
IT’S A MYTH. Many parents panic when their child is diagnosed with dyslexia because they think that it means their child is mentally challenged. Hello, no. NO. Dyslexia does not affect general intelligence.
Dyslexia is defined as “a type of specific learning difficulty identifiable as a developmental difficulty of language learning and cognition. It is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling” by the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS).
In fact, here’s what the DAS website says on its homepage:
Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that makes it very difficult for people to read, write and/or spell. It has nothing to do with the person’s intelligence.
To expand on the above, having dyslexia means the child would experience difficulty in learning to read, write and/or spell so they will need to be equipped with strategies to help them overcome it. Once they master those strategies, they will be less hindered by it.
To put things into context, we must understand that reading and writing are very complex processes. It might seem easy to us because it’s
just putting sounds/letters together. But in fact, when you break down the number of steps taken cognitively to read or write, it is much more than that. Let me exemplify.
To read (taking ‘dog’ as an example):
- Look at the letters
- Identify first letter d from a list of 26 letters in the English alphabet (52 if you think about the different symbols representing each letter in capital and small letters)
- Recognise that d is not b since the rounded part is facing the left, not right.
- Recall the sound associated with the letter d.
- Store the sound into working memory.
- Repeat steps 1 to 5 for the letters o and g.
- Ensure the letter and sounds are arranged in order in the working memory.
- Piece the sounds d+o+g together to say the word dog.
- Equate the word dog to their prior knowledge of that specific animal.
I wrote 9 steps, and it already looks exhausting. In actual fact, it took 19 steps just to read and understand the word dog. That’s for a child without dyslexia. Imagine being a child with dyslexia, the flow somewhere between steps 1 to 9 is disrupted, and they might have to try it all over again. It is honestly frustrating. And that’s just reading. Writing is a whole other story which would involve having to recall the symbol that represents the letter that in turn represents the sound. It’s a daunting task.
So, be patient and empathize with them. It’s not that they can’t do it. They just need a little more time, the right strategies, and encouragement. Acknowledging that it is tough could also help them feel less alone in their struggle and more motivated to keep trying.
Dyslexics are not in anyway condemned to a lifetime of failure and doom. Dyslexics can have a successful career even in writing. Dav Pilkey, the author of the children’s book series ‘Captain Underpants’, is dyslexic.
A non-exhaustive list of accomplished dyslexics includes Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci (not DiCaprio), Stephen Spielberg and our very own MM Lee. So yes, parents can worry (and they can’t help it) but they shouldn’t lower their expectations of what their child can achieve in life.
Here’s a list of other myths about dyslexia busted by the DAS: Read more
Sometimes teachers know it in their gut (and by gut I mean years of experience) that a child needs help but can never get them diagnosed. Other times, when we identify them and do all the necessary paperwork for a referral, it takes donkey years for the diagnosis to be confirmed.
Teaching can be quite frustrating when we are caught in such a situation. We know it, yet we can’t do much about it. As powerful as we are, to have the ability to nurture future world leaders, we are equally powerless.
But I think teachers, consciously or subconsciously, live by this quote:
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Where we are, we can make changes to our lessons to help our students. I found a list of guidelines from here, and I’m listing a few simple changes we can make in class to help our dyslexic students.
- Ensure our writing on the board is well spaced.
- Keep words to a minimum in presentation slides.
- Use familiar, clean fonts.
- Break tasks down into small easily remembered pieces of information.
- Print outs can be more effective than getting students to copy off the board.
- Seat the child near the teacher for easy monitoring.
- Give the child a little more time to complete their writing tasks. (If it is not that important and you have to move on, assure the child that he/she can copy it from a friend later.)
- See the child holistically. (Praise them for their effort instead of reprimanding them for mistakes made. Then, challenge them to do even better. Think attribution retraining!)
Little changes we make to our daily practices can mean a world of difference to them.
Also, although there is no formal research conducted on the effectiveness of this, here are 2 fonts designed to make reading easier for people with dyslexia. You might want to try it out with your students and decide if it works for them. Only use the fonts if it works for them. (There are mixed reviews on the effectiveness of such fonts.)
Download the open source font here: opendys
This is a patented font that’s free for home use designed by Christian Boer who is dyslexic himself. You’ll have to key in some personal paticulars to get it: dyslexie
Once downloaded, you can install the fonts on your computer. If you’re not the administrator of the computer, get help from your school’s IT personnel to install it 🙂 Happy Monday everyone! 🌞
Useful websites on dyslexia and resources for educators & parents: