Some Thoughts about Dyslexia
Mike FW

I am Dyslexic, for me it was only diagnosed when I approached a doctor for help as a mature student reading for my Degree. This meant that my experience of school was miserable. However having run a Home education website in the UK for more than two years I have come to the conclusion that for many children even when they are diagnosed and provided with special help it is still a difficult time.

Literally - Dyslexia means word blindness. Its not just a reluctance to learn to read and or write it has within it a number of specific difficulties characteristic of Dyslexia as well as some characteristics which may be regarded as beneficial. for example Dyslexics tend to have higher than average IQ and significantly better spatial awareness. In the mid 1980's it was noted that nine out of ten of the worlds highest paid architects were profoundly Dyslexic. The man who produced the motherboard for the first Apple Mac was dyslexic a remarkably high proportion of Nobel Laureates are dyslexic. It has even been argued that Einstein, Leonardo De Vincy and Shakespeare were dyslexic. Shakespeare rarely even used the same spelling of his name twice.

Dyslexia manifests itself in different ways. Some children find reading difficult others find spelling impossible, yet others will find both difficult. Generally my reading was good but my spelling was very poor. Under pressure however my ability to read accurately declined. This meant that under exam conditions I would frequently mis-read the questions I was being asked — thus my answers were wrong.

While there are some who believe that dyslexia is a product of poor teaching there are others who believe that it is physiological. It has been known since the mid 1970's that the brains of Dyslexics are structured differently to those of non-dyslexics. This could however be an effect rather than a cause as the brain is dynamic — it changes its structure depending upon the environment it finds itself in — so as far as I understand it the jury is out.

Either way dyslexia presents real problems for which there are specific teaching methods which can be used to help solve them. Parents of Dyslexic children need to know what they are as I understand that some are very effective — there are some good mailing lists in the internet where these are discussed (there is a good group run by the UK home education community).

The self esteem of Dyslexic children is often low and needs a boost. Parents can help by finding an activity in which s/he excels. Encourage your child to be in situations where s/he can gain peer status. I used to do First Aid up to competition level and was captain of a successful team and loved it — no writing was involved and it was a useful skill — it put me top of the year at school for anatomy. By the age of 15 I probably know more anatomy than any pupil the school had ever had and gave the science teacher who had a remarkably low opinion of me quite a surprise when I know the Latin names of nearly all 206 bones of the body :). For my English verbal test at the age of sixteen I chose the subject of the Lymph nodes.

Use computers with spell checking facilities and grammar checking. A full copy of Outlook perhaps where the email facility uses Word to write the emails, thus spell grammar checking and occurs as it does in word — while you are actually typing the email — this assists the child to analyse their mistakes as they write them and gives them confidence to actually write remember Latter and Later are both correct spellings of words but the dyslexic child will not know which is which so a grammar checker is essential. It is also common for example for dyslexics find alternative words to those they find difficult — this makes written work look idiosyncratic at best - a word I came to loath at school (Michael has an idiosyncratic way of expressing himself...) to be fair on re reading my work my sentences were so convoluted it looked like a poor attempt to copy the style of Charles Dickens.

When s/he does write anything you must approach the subject separately to the way he expresses himself. There is nothing worse for a Dyslexic child to write a great story than to find that the parent concentrates on the mis-spellings and ignores his creative effort. S/he will soon stop writing altogether if the result is ridiculed and there is no reward for doing so.

Remember using a PC is very useful but since typing uses a different part of the brain to writing with pen and paper it means that one may learn a spelling on a PC but still have difficulties on paper. In my professional life no one ever ever sees anything I write by hand — even memos.

I would not send a child with dyslexia to a state school for a couple of reasons. Firstly children in school can be very cruel — he will appear to be stupid to them and will be constantly pointed out either by insensitive teaching staff of by his separate teaching regime — he is therefore likely to be bullied and treated as stupid by the other children.

He will probably be grouped together with children with other learning difficulties — this fails to recognise his real intelligence and abilities to learn. He will become bored and frustrated. He may even become disruptive and difficult to teach. Schools rarely recognise this chain of events and will probably believe that he is ADHD or some such pseudo scientific label. Schools rarely have the staff with enough training to be able to provide a sufficiently high quality of help. And it's remarkable how many teachers are totally ignorant of Dyslexia. Even at University I was consistently marked down by a Politics lecturer who insisted that I was just careless — this after a half dozen re-writes, with fresh mistakes each time. Without the computer I bought in my second year at incredible cost in those days — I would not have been able to complete my degree.

Use visual teaching methods, pictures and experiential learning methods for example; film media is probably one of the best. I used to watch TV documentaries — I was practically addicted to them. I'd say that most of my early education was gained from the BBC.

Above all don't pressure him into reading or writing — it won't work, he will come around to it eventually. He will come to realise that he needs it for daily functionality. Encourage him when he shows an interest. And praise his efforts.

Having Dyslexia does not mean that your child is doomed to go through life unable to spell or read. It normally improves over time. As time goes by your child will develop strategies for dealing with certain problems. Technology today is a terrific boon. Personally I'd recommend marrying someone who is a walking dictionary.

Best Wishes
Mike FW
your man in the hammock
[email protected]

The article above is listed here by the following permission:

Subj: RE: [Unschooling-dotcom] RE: Kids With LDs and Unschooling
Date: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 9:37:14 AM
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]

> Is that online somewhere?
> If so, could you ask this Mike if I can link to it?
> If not, could you ask Mike if I can put it online?
> It's incredible.
> My dad could hardly read, but he could build and fix and THINK up a storm.
> Sandra

Sandra, He said you could. Here is the version:

>>This is a more thought out version of what I wrote the other day.

Since a couple of people have approached me off list regarding this.

Best Wishes
Mike FW
your man in the hammock

More on reading and unschooling and life with unschooled kids.