‘Not studying or not performing well in school’ is a complaint that could stem from multiple causes. Dyslexia is one important and intriguing condition affecting school performance negatively.
What are the probable causes of school failure?
When an averagely intelligent child is performing below par in a class, there are many possibilities to consider. The problem may either be in the child or in his family environment or his school.
Such a child may be suffering from some chronic illness, medication effects, vision/speech/ hearing impairment, behavioural problems like ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or unnoticed seizures.
Sometimes family environment may be responsible for such school-failure. Child abuse, parental neglect or parental conflicts can make a child anxious, depressed and unfocused.
School conditions like language barrier, incompetent teaching or class-work that is either too difficult or too simple can also result in poor scholastic performance.
What is a learning disability?
Learning disability refers to a group of problems related to one or more of basic processes involved in learning. Here a student is an individual is of at least average intelligence but has problems in listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing or doing math.
This term excludes those with physical/sensory/mental impairment, emotional disturbances and those having cultural, socio-economic or environmental disadvantage.
What is dyslexia?
How common is this condition?
Dyslexia represents 80% of learning disorders. In UK, 4-8% of school-children are estimated to have dyslexia of varying degree.
Is it curable?
It is a lifelong condition and is not ‘cured’ as such. Children suffering from it do not outgrow it and hence dyslexics (individuals with dyslexia) are seen in all age-groups. Timely and appropriate intervention can help these children to succeed in life.
How is it caused?
It is caused by some genes determining brain development. It appears to be an inherited condition and often runs in families.
Dyslexics have a different brain structure and functioning. The nervous connections in their brain are wired differently and they use a different part of the brain while reading than normal people.
What are symptoms of dyslexia?
- Delayed speech
- Difficulty in learning new words
- Frequent mixing up of sounds in words
- Difficulty in rhyming
- Slow reading and writing.
- Difficulty in reading, spelling, memorizing
- They reverse (‘bog’ for ‘dog’), invert (‘we’ for ‘me’) or transpose (‘on’ for ‘no’) letters in a word.
- They often substitute similar-looking but different-meaning words in sentences.
- They often omit, add or substitute small words and suffixes.
- They misspell even when copying from a board or a book
- Frequent erasures and over-writings.
- Difficulty to follow rapid or multiple instructions
- In teens and adults:
- Difficulty in reading, spelling, memorizing and summarizing
- Difficulty in learning new languages
- Difficulty in time management
What is dysgraphia?
Often dyslexics show a tendency of dysgraphia or poor, illegible handwriting. Unusual pencil/pen grip (too high, to low, too tight or with thumb over fingers), difficulty in cursive writing, unusual positioning of letters and a slow, labored writing process are pointers to this condition.
How is dyslexia diagnosed?
There is no single definitive test to diagnose this condition. Screening tests usually combine oral and written tests.
A formal psychological and language skill testing is carried out. A detailed history from parents and teachers; interview of affected child and his parents; thorough evaluation of the child’s reading, writing and language processing and screening for associated disorders are must.
What are the associated conditions?
- Attention deficit disorder is found in almost 40% of dyslexics. This co-existence dramatically increases risk of indulgence in drug abuse and anti-social activities.
- Light sensitivity (Scotopic sensitivity syndrome/ Irlen syndrome/Perceptive dyslexia) is associated in 3-8% affected individuals. This sensitivity makes them difficult to see small black print on white paper. Printed words seem to shimmer and move and get immersed in white rivers for such individuals. They show a dislike for fluorescent lights and shade the page while reading. Colored lenses or plastic overlays can correct this condition to some extent.
- Dyslexic individuals are prone for frustration, anger, low self-esteem, depression and poor family/peer relationships.
How is dyslexia managed?
There is no magic cure and medicine for this condition. The intervention needs to be a continuous process with regular adjustments.
Phonemic awareness is an important step. Each word is broken into basic sounds, the smallest sound unit being termed a ‘phoneme.’ Then the relationship of this phoneme with the written symbol of letter (‘grapheme’) is taught and then the rest of the rules of language are incorporated into the training.
Daily sessions of independent and supported reading and writing can then improve the situation a lot. Use of audio-books and special computer softwares is helpful.
Multi-sensory approach involving vision, hearing, speech, touch and motion is employed. That is to learn ‘A’, the child sees it on board, hears it from the teacher, repeats it himself, draws it in air and then writes it on a paper.
How can normal schools help dyslexics?
Milder varieties of dyslexia are common and are likely to be present in every school. Introducing phonemic awareness since early classes, reducing load of homework and writing in general and if possible, relaxing time-limits for tests are some helpful measures. Special tutoring for scholastically weak students is desirable.
Is there a bright future for dyslexics?
Being a dyslexic doesn’t mean the end of the world. With positive parenting and proper intervention, they can overcome many handicaps.
In addition, such individuals have many hidden strengths, thanks to their unusual brain. Dyslexics are found to have artistic, musical, mechanical, athletic, creative and intuitive abilities in abundance. They do well in professions like architecture, interior designing, teaching, marketing, performing arts, scientific research and athletics.
Mozart had it, so did Einstein, Agatha Christie and John F. Kennedy. They didn’t do too badly in life. Did they?