I recently attended a free “Community Education” presentation hosted by the local branch of Canada Mental Health Association. This 90 minute presentation was about FAS/FASD. The reason I went is because Karey and I are often asked about Dyslexia and how it relates to or appears similar to other “Learning Disabilities”.
By now you probably know that Karey and I don’t consider Dyslexia a Learning Disability. Generally Dyslexia is still viewed as a disability in most of Canada and America so we do realize many people are going to consider it so. We are asked about Autism, Aspergers, ADD/ADHD and others because many other “LD’s” can have behaviours that present themselves as indicators of Dyslexia.
I was particularly interested as I had recently read a 35 page report written in 2009 from a medical association specializing in FAS/FASD. I read it about 3 times to see if there were similarities to Dyslexia and I wanted to see if there was some sort of crossover with our teaching methods that might be beneficial to FAS individuals.
The report I read painted a pretty gloomy picture of FAS/FASD and indicated most of the affected individuals were considered “brain damaged” and would need guidance for the rest of their lives. I’m paraphrasing here but I got the impression these individuals would have an almost impossible time achieving some sort of quality of life. Please understand this is only the first substantial piece of literature on this subject I have read and I’m sure there are thousands of people out there who have a better knowledge of this topic than I. So with that little bit of information I decided to learn more about this topic and I was fortunate to find out about this local lecture series and especially the workshop about FAS/FASD.
The presenter introduced herself , I’ll call her Rita, and she immediately had the participants do a perception test which seemed very familiar to me. Rita showed us a handout printed with a series of letters and numerals that are often confusing to her clients, young adults and children with FAS.
She told us that these individuals often reverse these symbols. It came to me right then that she was talking about Dyslexia, at least some of the behaviours we often see with our clients. The perception test I mentioned earlier was almost exactly the same as an exercise our colleague and mentor Alan McDowell, a Dyslexia assessor and life skills coach from the UK, showed us when he does Dyslexia Awareness workshops for adult Dyslexics.
This exercise was about understanding how the left and right half of the brain perceive information differently. I mentioned this to Rita and we realized that we were generally talking about how the brain takes in information and her descriptions were very similar to what Karey and I see when working with Dyslexic learning issues. During the workshop I learned a lot about FAD/FASD and much of what I had read previously was very limited in scope. What I learned in this lecture was with patience and repeated attempts these individuals can achieve quite a bit more that people give them credit for.
Rita told me that a good way to understand individuals with FAS is to think of them as “10 second people in a 1 second world”. Make sure the instructions are clear and concise and without multiple instructions at the same time and give them time to process. I’m not going to list all of what I learned that night but I will say I learned there is a lot that can be done for individuals affected by FAS. I realized many of the techniques we use when teaching Dyslexics new information can be used with these individuals also. I even pointed out to Rita that we use different colours for those often reversed letters and numerals and she agreed that might work well with her clients.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that lots of “LD’s” have many indicators/behaviours that seem similar to each other. Let’s not get hung up about how difficult it is to label one LD or another. I have spoken to service providers who tell me they don’t think Dyslexia exists because the symptoms are the same as whatever specialty they are trained in. Karey and I are more interested in applying whatever methods work for an individual. We are just looking for success with clients, not debating what label best fits each person. We do believe Dyslexia can look like other learning disabilities but like other LD’s there are criteria that separates them from others.
Oh, by the way. Check out your local neighbourhood and see if a society or association that relates to a topic you are interested in, or something that affects you, is having Free Community Education lectures. It’s a great way to learn more about a topic from an expert in your community.
Thanks for listening
Editor and Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online