I was talking to one of the grandparents of a nine year old boy that we assessed recently. She was commenting on the problems he had doing a list of chores or remembering things like handing his homework in at school or even remembering his homework. She despaired at how difficult it was to get him to do these things unless she reminded him and had to keep reminding him until he got them done. She talked about how he had three things to do before he got on the school bus in the morning. He apparently was lucky if he got one or two let alone all three done.
This is typical behavior for boys in general but especially for Dyslexic children (both girls and boys). They are “big picture” people and not very good at the details. They get lost in details, sequences, lists and responsibilities. Usually they are not doing this on purpose and they are not trying to annoy anyone; they just can’t remember. This affects Dyslexics and Right-brainers of all ages.
My very right-brained sister is an accountant which is kind of interesting because much of accounting is all details. However the concept of a General Ledger which is the heart of an accounting system is all about the “big picture”. So she may not be very good at the individual items in an account in the ledger but she does see how the whole business connects to the General Ledger and how it connects to all the different accounts and departments. In this sense her ability to see the “big picture” of a business and its accounting system is probably more important than seeing the individual entries. Other “left brainers” who are better at the details can handle that part of the job.
By the way, my sister has adapted well to her difficulty with lists and chores. She makes thorough and constantly updated written lists and marks off each item when she completes them. She always writes down a task as they come up otherwise she knows she will forget. I love how she keeps track of her lists. She doesn’t use a Blackberry, Calender or DayTimer. Generally too much information for a Dyslexic. She takes a regular lined notebook (8 1/2″ x 11″) and draws a small square check box on each line on the left. She then writes the task beside the box. When the task is completed she checks the box (very satisfying for Dyslexics). She always keeps these notebooks when full because they can save lots of info.
Besides having problems with the details or a list, Dyslexics are often overwhelmed with mental images at any one time and their minds can’t focus or concentrate on instructions. When a parent or a teacher, for example, start talking to them they can either be swept up by their imagination at that moment or the words being spoken to them can create mental pictures or stories that will also take them away to other places. Then at some point they look at the teacher or parent and say “what did you say?” or go off and not do anything because they are caught up in their thoughts or maybe manage one thing that was asked of them.
Also if they get overwhelmed with their “list” they can start to shut down and you might find them sitting somewhere staring off into space a million miles away. As a Dyslexic I did this a lot when I was a child. I would not know where to begin or how to handle a whole list of jobs. My mother often would add more jobs to the first list and this would really confuse and frustrate me. Prioritizing the jobs can also be daunting and cause a Dyslexic to feel paralyzed, not knowing where to start. When I’m tired, organizing can become impossible and I get very scattered. My partner, Howie likes to tease me because every morning I ask him to help me figure out what we should get done that day and in what order.
How does a parent handle this issue with their child? First of all, be understanding. They do care and they do want to please you. Here are a few helpful tips:
– keep lists short – 2 or 3 items. When they finish then give them more. This way they don’t get overwhelmed and possibly shut down.
– teach them how to write down chores and school assignments on a piece of paper or on a white board on a wall. Be very specific and complete with the instructions. Ask them if the tasks are clear. If not, ask them what they don’t understand and write it down. This is teaching them to speak up in different situations such as a classroom when they aren’t sure and have more questions. Always tell them that there are no “stupid” questions. Draw a check box for them to mark each task off. If writing is really difficult for them then write it for them.
– keep instructions specific and clear. We had one mom we were working with tell us that this all started to make sense to her when her fifteen year old Dyslexic daughter had made a mess in the kitchen when she had prepared some food for herself. She asked her daughter to clean the kitchen. Her daughter asked what part of the kitchen. She thought her daughter was being cheeky. The daughter said “Do you mean the counters, clean the fridge, sweep the floor?” The mom laughed and said clean the mess she had made. She then realized how specific her instructions she needed to be.
– in the UK they are working on exercises that help with focus. Try this one: have the student stand on a cushion on one leg, then throw a beanbag from one hand to another for a few minutes. Do this twice a day. Try this before doing chores and see if it helps with their concentration.
– if a list is too much for them then give them one task at a time, check up on them to make sure they are not getting distracted. You can use reward systems such as when they get their homework or chores done they get to do some activity they enjoy.
– draw a poster of the chores or homework and mentally or physically walk through it with them so they can see the “big picture” and this might help them understand what they are trying to accomplish. If they want to use pictures from the internet or magazine that can be very helpful.
– Dyslexics tend to do a list of tasks all at once. For example if they are cleaning the house they will probably do a little here, a little there and eventually finish. They generally cannot do one room or job at a time. Let them do it this way because it feels natural and probably makes it easier for them to finish. Their homework would apply here also. This may sound odd but is completely normal and appropriate for some Dyslexics. You have probably noticed that they do this and you get irritated and telling them to get one job done at a time.
An example of this would be to wash the dishes, dust the living room, make their bed, take out the garbage, dust the dining room, dry the dishes, clean their room, sweep the kitchen floor, clean the closet in their room (this one may take days). From this you can see they are moving from one area to the next and back again.
– if they need music or the T.V. on in the background or an IPod for example let them have it. Sometimes this is the only way they can function well and be able to complete their list.
– be persistent but patient so they learn to follow through and complete things. You are training them for the future to handle responsibilities their way.
The ability to follow a list or instructions is an important problem area of Dyslexia and should be taken very seriously. You are helping to train them for working in the classroom with lists and assignments and the future when they are on their own in their personal and work life. With a concentrated effort from both the parent and child tremendous progress can happen. These kids are brilliant – teach them how to use their own personal tools and mental processes and success is within their reach.
Co-founder of DyslexiaVictoria Online