By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP
Educators have not been able to agree on what dyslexia really is. Some authorities believe that is strictly a language processing problem that involves the distinguishing of sounds of letters—this is why the struggling reader cannot remember phonics sounds to decode a word. Others believe that it is a visual/perceptual problem since these children reverse words laterally (b/d) and vertically (m/w) as well as scrambling letters (“the” = “het”) when they read and write.
I believe that they are both correct. Dyslexia is an auditory/language problem, visual/perceptual problem, and often also a visual/motor (eye/hand) problem. My 30 years of experience working with these bright, yet struggling learners has taught me that it is essentially a midline problem. Our brain is divided into two main hemispheres: the right, our “automatic” hemisphere, and the left, our “thinking” hemisphere. When children are suffering from dyslexia the processes that should have been taken over by the right hemisphere (such as eye tracking, writing, and letter identification) are still in the left brain. This means that the child has to think about the processes. The learning processes can be likened to the driving process. If you had to think about how to turn the signals and when to brake and accelerate while you were driving, it would be a very difficult procedure. While reading, recognition of letters, sight words, and letter combinations need to be retrieved from the right hemisphere where our long-term memory is stored. This is not happening with dyslexics.You can suspect dyslexia in your child if all three of these processing areas are impacted and your child is past the first grade. If your child has only a minor problem in the areas it can be considered a learning glitch. If the problem presents itself more frequently and your child is older, it would be considered a dysfunction. If the symptoms are much more frequent, your child is above first grade, and two years behind in reading or writing, it would be considered dyslexia. The degree of the problem and age of the child are major considerations in the determination of dyslexia. Many times these children are not reading or reading at least two years behind grade level. They write almost no sentences from memory since their right, visual hemisphere is not storing words efficiently (copying a sentence is not considered writing). Transposing numbers (19/91) is not considered dyslexia. When a child reverses letters or numbers, even if only once in a while, you know that there is stress in the writing system—the child has to think about the direction of the letters rather than the content of the writing. I always take reversals (reading and writing) seriously past the first grade. One way to eliminate them is with Brain Integration Therapy exercises.
- Difficulty learning the names of alphabet letters when in kindergarten.
- Spelling has no phonetic pattern to it (“Tuesday” = “Tunday”).
- Sounds out all words, including sight words (“many,” “could,” “these”).
- Little memory of words just read in a previous sentence.
- Sounds out the letters in a word but can’t put it into a whole (b-a-t).
- Memorizes stories but can’t remember the same words in another story.
- Phonics rules are not applied in the reading context.
- In reading, reverses whole words sometimes (“on” = “no,” “was” = “saw”)
- Regularly reads “big” as “dig.”
- Very slow, labored reading. Often takes a deep breath.
- Reads at least a year below grade level.
- Scrambles letters in a word, reading “left” as “felt.”
- Says that words wiggle when he or she reads.
- Reads a word from the line above and adds to the present line.
- Reverses letters or numbers in writing.
- Letters not written below the line (“g” and “y” for example).
- When writing the alphabet, will ask “What does that letter look like?”
- Cannot write words from memory.
- Copying words is labor intensive, like replicating art work.
- Hates to write.
The approach I have taken to get children past the learning block of dyslexia is two-fold:
- Brain Integration Therapy, a home therapy program designed to eliminate the midline as a problem and help eye tracking, remembering letter sounds, writing reversals, and enable the child to store words in his or her right brain, which is responsible for long term memory.
- A right brain reading program, including right brain phonics and spelling.
If your child is dyslexic, you have found that just having them read to you more doesn’t help. You’ve also found that regular phonics programs don’t work because either they can’t remember the sounds of letters or they can remember the sound and they can sound out the pieces of a word but cannot put it into a whole. Sight words are their enemy so most reading books are painfully slow for them, as they try to sound out each word. Usually, their comprehension is great, once they’ve struggled through a passage. Most parents I see have given up on spelling and the only writing the child does is copying sentences. Math, social studies, science, and Bible are the subjects that they concentrate on, with everything being read to the child.
To get a child that is facing this massive struggle to read, Brain Integration Therapy exercises and once a week brain training sessions that use physical movements to re-connect the two brain hemispheres is the first step. Then, use a right brain reading approach. I use readers with as few sight words as possible since these require so much memorization, such as the well known Merrill Readers. Use a reader that will build reading independence by offering words that can be decoded easily. I also use a systematic, color-and-picture-enhanced phonics program. To learn individual sounds such as consonants, vowels, and letter combinations (au/aw), superimpose the letter directly on a picture that gives that sound. Then, have the child read whole words, putting the vowel or letter combination in color with the picture nearby that gives the sound. By using this method of picture and color in whole words you will find that your child will soon be reading very long words. I have generally been able to achieve a two year growth in reading in a year by using this method. It is an intensive, right brain reading approach that involves about an hour a day of working together but pays off handsomely in its results. This method works with second graders to eighth graders.
To get the child writing independently, have him or her do a writing exercise that crosses the midline to eliminate reversals and then teach him or her simple spelling words by using color, picture, and looking up with the eyes to engage the right, visual hemisphere. I call this right brain spelling. This method is explained in detail in the article “Teaching the Right Brain Child.”
If you suspect that your child is struggling with dyslexia or even a processing dysfunction, don’t continue to just have them read aloud more to you as your reading instruction. Start a systematic approach to reducing the midline as a problem and teach them using color and picture to help them store words and sounds in their right brain hemisphere for easier retrieval. This method has proven itself over and over, even with the toughest learning problems. Invest in some colored markers, pictures, and have fun teaching your child how to use his or her powerful right brain to make the learning process easier.
The information in this article should not be construed as a diagnosis or medical advice. Please consult your physician for any medical condition and before adding supplements or changing a child’s diet.
Dianne Craft has a Master’s Degree in special education and is a Certified Natural Health Professional. She has a private consultation practice, Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, Colorado.