As a Dyslexia assessor and consultant I have often been asked how I became involved. The journey for me to understand Dyslexia began in 1985 when I was told my daughter was Dyslexic. I was living in California, married and raising three kids. My daughter, Genevieve was in grade two and had been in a remedial reading assistance program for two years. Despite Gen being in this program, her teacher had placed her in his top reading group. I had been assisting in the classroom as a parent volunteer. One Friday the teacher took me aside and told me he wanted to show me something he had discovered about Gen’s reading.
He said his practice with the reading groups involved having the children taking turns reading a story out loud on Mondays and then rereading it on Fridays. This helped to develop their reading fluency.
The teacher went on to say that Gen could not read the story on Mondays when it was her turn to read. However on Fridays she could read any passage in these stories. He asked me to sit in to listen to her. While the children were reading he would continually go back to Gen and ask her to read. Gen seemed to have no difficulty with reading the story at all. After “story time” he told me he believed Gen was Dyslexic but he didn’t know very much about it.
He thought Gen was memorizing the pictures and text with the first reading of the story and remembering all of it. Now this may sound impossible but I am willing to bet there are a lot of parents of Dyslexics who have experienced this with their children and couldn’t understand what they were doing. These parents probably read books repeatedly to their children as they were growing up until the children were “reading” these books to their parents. The puzzling part was these children had problems with their letters and numbers and trying to learn to read words individually or in new stories.
The teacher suggested that Gen could be tested by the learning disabilities specialist in our school district. I agreed and Gen was given a set of psycho-educational tests used in Individual Educational Programs (the infamous and frightening IEP process) in the schools to evaluate children with possible learning disabilities.
The results were frustrating; Gen was very intelligent, high IQ and proficient in many skill sets but very Dyslexic and would probably be struggling to spell and read for the rest of her life. Okay, I thought, so let’s get her into a program that can help her! The bad news was there was nothing the school district offered that could help. Dyslexics learn differently than other children and do not respond well to available learning assistance programs.
In the 1980’s we didn’t have the internet so I researched libraries and contacted anybody that had an opinion about Dyslexia, no matter how crazy or improbable. I found one woman who had a small school in the Marin county area and apparently had been working with Dyslexics since the 1960’s. She tested my daughter, two sons, my ex-husband and me for Dyslexia. We were told that we all were Dyslexic and in different ways which I have since found out is typical.
This very knowledgeable and forward thinking lady told me the way Dyslexics understand the world is by seeing the “forest before the trees” otherwise new concepts don’t make a lot of sense. The “big picture” or overview needs to given first before they learn anything. Also information needs to be concrete and real so that a Dyslexic can connect new ideas to something they can see, feel, hear or smell.
She said a Dyslexic is lost in a classroom where the teacher: talks at the students using abstract general instructions, uses little or no physical demonstrations, discourages using physical teaching aids and uses standard sets of one by one teaching steps, such as long division, that eventually end with the point of the lesson.
She then introduced me to the concept that we have two hemispheres in our brain that see the world differently. Generally one or the other controls the processing of information. Where “righties” or Dyslexics think in the big picture and images before words, “lefties” or left-brain dominant learners see the world through verbal and written language, sequences, abstract symbols and step by step approaches to learning that ends with the “big picture”. A teacher that reflects this style of thinking primarily in their teaching approach is great for lefties but impossible for righties especially when it comes to spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic and instructions.
I learned the problems that Dyslexics are experiencing in these modern times are further exacerbated by a certainty in our western culture that spelling, reading and writing are more important than other skills. We are taught to believe we are only valuable and smart if we are proficient with words and numbers. This ignorant view has greatly limited, handicapped and emotionally crippled a significant and very talented portion of our population and it needs to change.
I wish I could remember this kind woman’s name who was a big part of the beginning of our family’s life path but as a typical Dyslexic I can never remember names. Since then I have become fascinated and passionate about understanding Dyslexia and how to work with the righties’ “different way of thinking”.
My story about my Dyslexic daughter and sons has a happy ending. They read and write well and have all been successful with their lives. Their spelling abilities are not perfect but better than many including lefties.
Thank you for letting us share the knowledge in our blogs we have learned from some really incredible experts, studies and a wide variety of resources including my friend and mentor, Alan McDowell from the UK who is a retired member of the British Dyslexia Association, lecturer, Dyslexia assessor and trainer and very Dyslexic himself. My newest hero is Neil MacKay of the New Zealand 4D program for Dyslexics. Wonderful ideas! I am grateful to the parents of Dyslexics, Dyslexic adults and children and sympathetic interested teachers we have worked with who have also contributed insightful and effective ideas and perspectives on Dyslexia.
I believe those of us who experience Dyslexia firsthand or as a family member or friend to a Dyslexic will bring the worldwide changes necessary to make a right-brain thinking style something to celebrate.
Thanks for listening!
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online