Dyslexia: the Three Ds

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In a previous post I wrote about the difficulties that many learners with dyslexia experience.

All learners have their own constellations of strengths and weaknesses and to focus exclusively upon characteristics that hinder learning under current school systems is not always helpful. For some 4 or 500 years, our schools have concentrated on the skills of the medieval clerk – reading, writing, counting and memorising texts. Now it seems we might be on the verge of a new era, when we will wish to, and be required to, emphasise a very different set of skills – those of a Renaissance person such as da Vinci.

A different kind of brain may cause some problems in early schooling, but it may also, sometimes, raise some individuals rapidly to the top of a new field of knowledge, pushing forward way beyond the many who are conventionally successful students but who find it hard to conceive of anything really new or really important. Perhaps they cannot see through to the novel, unexpected solution because they have learned too well exactly what the teacher wanted them to learn, what was expected on the conventional test. They cannot easily unlearn what they have been taught.

It is incumbent upon all of us with an interest in developing literacy (and that means ALL of us), but especially those of us who work in the primary sector, to ensure that learners are able to access and produce printed text as far as is humanly possible. But we need also to be mindful of the skills and aptitudes of these learners when the barrier of print is removed.

Thus an understanding not just of the ‘Difficulties’ dyslexics encounter but also of the ‘Differences’ they bring to learning situations is crucial. These are often in the areas of:

 The 3rd ‘D’ centres on the ‘Discrepancies’ that alert us to the very jagged profiles of some students:

Highly successful dyslexics nearly always say that their accomplishments and special ways of seeing come directly from their dyslexia – not in spite of their dyslexia, as is sometimes argued. We should take them at their word and give credence to what they say. Most professionals in the field agree that talents are important, but eventually they have almost always come to focus exclusively on the serious business of reading and fixing problems alone. We need to change this. I think change is rapidly approaching as the Curriculum for Excellence develops.

We are coming to see that conventional academic remediation is only part of the job – and not the most interesting or important part. We are seeking ways to help dyslexics find and develop their own talents, large or small, so that they cannot be beaten down – hiding their talents along with their disabilities

He told me that his teachers reported that . . . he was mentally slow,
      unsociable, and adrift forever in his foolish dreams.
      — Hans Albert Einstein, on his father, Albert Einstein.

Parenting for Beginners

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Memory plays tricks, sometimes mercifully allowing one to forget stressful times. I had genuinely obliterated how many things need to get done in a single day just to tread water for families with young children until I offered to take L to nursery in the latter stages of her mum’s 2nd pregnancy. You forget that at any moment the whole enterprise could – and often does – tumble like a house of cards. Arguments break out like wildfire; there are spillages, inexplicable illnesses, breakages, losses, eventualities that you can never prepare for. And woe betide you if you try to give short shrift to the hard questions that need an answer despite the need to cross town, hand her over and get to work. Things can set parents back months, like chicken pox.

Sometimes when my older two were primary age I was tempted to wait for fulsome applause for, once again, having made it before the 9 o’clock watershed as we rushed into the playground with the pushchair loaded up like a packhorse. I really felt I deserved a fanfare.  I was so pleased with myself not just for making it to school, often on only a few hours sleep, but also for bringing 2 fully fed boys in the correct uniform, and the toddler, still eating toast but nevertheless dressed and partially fed, 2 nut-free packed lunches, and one pair of named gym shoes.

 But the true heroes are those with dyslexia in the family.

I have come across a couple of blogs  that focus on the trials and tribulations, as well as the joys, of being in a family with dyslexia. The Ghotit Blog is written from the perspective of a dad who has dyslexia and reminds me of how hard parenting is especially in a family where organisational skills are a challenge. This post describes the problems inherent in helping a child with homework.

 Mydyslexicboy documents a mother’s growing understanding of the pressures on her 7 year old to cope with school.

It’s hard enough for everybody to adjust to the everyday dramas of life as a pupil. How much more so in a dyslexic household.

Most of the people, including myself, involved in the study of, and support for learners with, dyslexia don’t have these differences themselves and were, in many cases, successful students in our own school days. I am grateful to these bloggers – and my students and their parents – who remind me of the stresses many encounter before, during and after school.