Beneficial Methods for Conquering Dyslexia
This paper considers the treatments that work most effectively for teaching people with dyslexia how to read confidently. I will begin by reviewing the background of dyslexia. Relying heavily on sources I surveyed, I will briefly explore the benefits of early intervention while providing hope of treatment for those the system already failed. Finally, I will examine treatments that successfully aid young dyslexics in conquering their disease and suggest implementing these in all kindergarten classes.
Introduction and Diagnosis
Dyslexia is a major problem for many children who desire to read but cannot break the reading code. Peer pressure that results from the inability to decipher words into speech can even lead third graders to contemplate suicide (Berninger, 2000, p 183). Yet, Shaywitz estimates twenty percent of all school age children have the disorder. Sadly, in the same experiment she discovered only one-third of these children were in special education programs (Shaywitz, 2004, p 30). Every child who desires to read has the right to learn; however, many children on the edge of reading disabilities never receive remedial treatment until they fail multiple times. While the older dyslexic has the ability to conquer the disease, intervention at earlier ages is more effective and saves the child from stigmatization.
Although early diagnosis is a key factor in recovery, many disagree on how to identify children with the disability (Scruggs, T., Mastropieri, M., 2002; Stanovich, K., 2005). This delays treatment, reducing the chances of remediating the child to fluent reading. Intelligence tests and multiple years of academic failure are the most widely used methods of diagnosing dyslexia, but lead to widespread over- and under- diagnosis (Scruggs, T., Mastropieri, M., 2002). Genetic research is more accurate, but it is an expensive method of identification. However, researchers have not identified all the genes responsible for dyslexia. Additionally, while genetic influence exists (Taipale, M., Kaminen, N., Nopola-Hemmi, J., Haltia, T., Hannula-Jouppi, K., Kere, J., 2003), twin studies show it is not a determining factor as to whether or not a child will develop dyslexia (Shaywitz, 2004, p 99), and children without any genetic markers develop the disease from poor instruction.
MRI imaging is one of the most accurate diagnostic tools, but it also is costly and only available to researchers. It allows one to see which areas of the brain are active during language processing. The pictures clearly show the difference between those who have broken the code, dyslexics and dyslexics that have compensated for the disease. However, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis does not outweigh the cost in time and money of performing the test.
When children are unruly in class or difficult to teach, teachers often refer them for testing. Shaywitz points out the large percentage of boys diagnosed with dyslexia while very few girls receive this identification. Her reassessment of children in several schools found the number of boys was actually equal to the number of girls (Shaywitz, 2004, p 32). This creates more of a problem by placing children in classes where they will bore easily or by leaving children in classes that do not meet their needs.
In addition to under- and over- diagnosis, one also finds the problems of late diagnosis and not seeing the need for diagnosis. Some believe students must be over the age of eight before a proper identification of dyslexia is possible. Shaywitz argues that between four and five are the ideal ages for intervention. Conflicts arise over whether the learning disabled label will brand the child for life with a negative image, or whether the child will be allowed to fall through the cracks once labeled as dyslexic.
The school told the mother of a girl I once tutored that she should not have her child tested to eliminate the possibility of the child being stuck with the label. Additionally, because dyslexics and average readers learn on the same curve, some in education still assert children outgrow the disease or that there is no reason to change the child’s current reading program. While it is true that the curve is similar and dyslexics even make a slight gain on their peers, dyslexics always score far below good readers (Shaywitz, 2004, p 34).
Before addressing the question of how to solve the problems of diagnosis and treatment, we must first explore some terms common in dyslexia. The term as defined by the International Dyslexia Association is:
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge (August, 2002).
The phoneme is “the smallest unit of speech that distinguishes one word forms another” (Shaywitz, 2004, p 41). The phonological module is “the functional part of the brain where sounds of language are put together to form words and where words are broken down into their elemental sounds” (Shaywitz, 2004, p 40). Because the major problem with dyslexia is a breakdown in the ability to recognize phonemes contained in words, these terms are all important to any discussion of the disease.
If dyslexia is a breakdown in the ability to distinguish phonemes, it logically follows that increasing the amount and quality of phonemic instruction will aid the child in overcoming the disease. Parents and educators must realize the need for intervention and actively pursue it. Important to consider are the dyslexic’s developmental age at the time they begin supplemental instruction. Equally as important is to develop a program that focuses on the child’s strengths and interests.
To begin to aid a child in understanding the relationship between sounds and words, one must introduce the child to the sounds of language. Books filled with rhyme and alliteration such as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish are excellent choices (Shaywitz, 2004, p177 – 182). After spending time reading these books for pleasure, it is important for the teacher or parent to draw attention to which words rhyme and what rhyme is. They should have the child think of other words that begin or end in the same way. Children need to realize that words are related through sound before identifying that those sounds are represented alphabetically. All elementary teachers should spend time each day reading to their students just as parents should spend time each day reading to their children. Connecting words we speak to the phonemes that create them is essential to all readers.
Once the child can rhyme, the program must begin to help the child break words into all their sounds. Beginning with two sound words like key, bee, or it, the educator can teach the child to break the words into their respective phonemic units. Introductory work on syllables can begin. After the child realizes that words separate into smaller parts, the adult may teach three sound words like cat, seat, or call. At the same time, it will be useful to reinforce what the child already learned by asking questions like “What do you get if you put the /s/ sound in front of the word key?” or “What does /m/… /o/ …/m/ make?” All these things build phonemic awareness and are useful to all children learning to read.
Once the child has a basic understanding of phonemes, the instructor should introduce decodable texts that use relatively few phonemes to create stories. These books, such as the “Bob Book” series, slowly build confidence in the child’s reading ability. As the child begins to enjoy their ability to read, new books and sight words should be introduced. Sight words must be memorized. Children can make their own flashcards with words like is, are, was, one, and two. This allows them to read and write the word.
The child must practice writing to build legible handwriting and further establish phonemic awareness. Practice is the only way to learn. The more a child practices making letters correctly and sounding out words on paper, the better the child will become at it. All children should be given many chances even at the beginning of kindergarten to practice writing. Word cards with tracing paper clipped to them will aid in early instruction. In writing, having the child practice forming the letters correctly should be stressed. Allowing children to write four pages of a’s (for example) backward is not as useful as having the child trace one page of the letters correctly.
By the end of kindergarten, children should be practicing spelling skills. While children at this level should not be expected to spell well, invented spelling is an important step on the road to recognizing the phonemic roots of words. The more chances children are given to attempt to sound words out for themselves, the more they will master breaking words apart into their letters, and in return, the better ability they will have to decode written words.
As with all kindergarten children, teachers need to read enjoyable books and surround children with literacy. When children recognize the joy of reading, they desire to read. When teachers and parents read to children, they encourage larger vocabularies. Children who know the meaning of words like “ink” will have a better time decoding it when they come across it in texts they are reading (Shaywitz, 2004, p192).
Finally, it is important for children to develop self-confidence. Children should make progress as they go through an intensive phonics program. Tests can be performed to make sure they understand what was taught, but tests are teaching tools that evaluate teachers not students. When a student does not understand something, it should cue the teacher to reintroduce it in a new way. Additionally, children should not repeat a grade if they have failed to decode reading by the end of kindergarten (Shaywitz, 2004, p196).
Many teachers will look at the plan for educating dyslexic kindergarteners and think, “That is what I do for my class already.” This is because what Shaywitz proposes is an intensive phonics program. Others like Beringer (2000) utilize the same style of reading program to teach dyslexics. The two major differences between intervention reading and a standard kindergarten program are that many kindergarten programs try rushing phonics training and that intervention work is created around a theme of interest among the students.
Implementing this program for all kindergarten students would not lower the education they receive. However, if all schools focused on intensive phonics training for their kindergarten students, dyslexia could be conquered without extensive testing to discover which children have the disorder. When schools use tests to evaluate what they need to teach instead of how well students are learning, they can resolve many learning issues. Some may argue that children without learning disabilities will become bored with intensive learning, but often the children that learn to read too quickly develop other learning problems later on that could be corrected by skills learned from intensive phoneme training (Shaywitz, 2004, p196).
While dyslexia is a major problem that needs to be addressed, it can easily be eliminated from the classroom. Shaywitz and others have show through MRI’s that even dyslexics can conquer the disease and rewire their brains if they are instructed in intensive phonemic awareness. Because of the difficulty in recognizing the disease early and intervening, it is imperative schools adapt an aggressive stance on this learning disorder.
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Did you find any useful knowledge relating to Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities in this post? What are the key facts that grabbed your attention? Let us know in the comments. Thank you.