Spelling mistakes are unavoidable when children are first learning to read and write. When a child has dyslexia, however, reading and writing difficulties do not quickly go away.
What is dyslexia Learning disabilities affect how a person learns, understands, communicates, and remembers information, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulties with reading, writing, and spelling.
In young children with dyslexia, “their reading and spelling levels are about two to three years below same-age peers,” explained Cristina Rowena S. Padilla, a reading specialist and part-time faculty at the Child Development and Special Education Department of the College of Education in Miriam College, Quezon City. “About 5 percent of any age group would have dyslexia or some other form of learning disability.”
“Sadly, here in the Philippines, a lot of us know so little about dyslexia. That is why we often misunderstand children with this condition as ‘slow,’ ‘always behind,’ or worse ‘stupid,’" said Deidre Jude Taino, founder of The Reading House, a literary center in San Juan aimed at helping children with learning disabilities.
Padilla echoed this concern, adding that intelligence is not the issue. “Children with dyslexia often do well in preschool where expectations are still manageable because of the little demand in reading and writing.
“Difficulties manifest when they enter kindergarten or grade 1 especially when they attend a traditional school. What happens is they became too busy and overwhelmed with the mechanical task of word reading that little processing space is left for comprehension.”
The earlier a child learns ways on how to manage his condition, the better. “We want to start helping them while they are still in the early years of learning how to read,” said Taino. Does your child have it? It's not uncommon for preschoolers learning to read and write to make mistakes like misinterpreting the letter “b” for the letter “d.” But it usually goes away as the child grows.
For kids with dyslexia, however, language-based problems persist, but it is manageable with early assessment and intervention like enrolling a child in a reading program that can help kids with the condition.
As signs of dyslexia often appear as a child learns basic reading and spelling, specialists often wait until the child is 7 or 8 years old before giving a diagnosis.
Signs and symptoms Preschool children who show early signs of literacy difficulties may be considered at risk for having dyslexia, said Padilla. Here are common signs of the condition:
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speech delay or difficulties
difficulty identifying names or labels of things
has difficulty saying long words (spaghetti as “pis-get-ti”)
difficulty learning to write letters
difficulty following verbal and written instructions
reverses b-d, p-q; inverses u-n, w-m; transposes (interchanges) letters in words (e.g. day - dya)
difficulty in spelling and writing sentences
“A child with dyslexia mainly has difficulty recognizing words. Pairing rhyming words together may be difficult for them already,” said Taino. “They also commit some reading errors, such as omitting or even inserting words or letters when reading. Some children also tend to substitute words that are graphically similar. For instance, a child with dyslexia might read ‘staring’ as ‘starting’ or ‘poster’ as ‘painter.’”
Here are sample assessments from a child with dyslexia provided by The Reading House. The one below is a writing sample completed by an 8-year-old:
Here is a reading sample from the same child. The child was asked to read the words on the left column, and the child read them as the ones on the right:
Treatment and management Dyslexia is a life condition -- it does not “go away” -- but it can be managed. “Children with this condition, greatly benefit from having support at an early age. In this way, they have plenty more time to learn strategies that they could use to make reading easier for them,” said Taino.
“Children identified at an early age and who benefit from early intervention usually perform on par with peers academically,” said Faye Casis, director of Wordlab School in Quezon City, which provides education and intervention for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
“For those identified in their middle school years, most would need parental support and encouragement especially if the child has experienced academic failure already,” added Casis. “By this time, these kids are already afraid to take risks and thus may already exhibit poor self- concept. Parents’ acceptance and encouragement help kids stay confident despite their academic struggles.”
Advice for parents from experts Find your child’s strengths Your child will struggle with subjects like language or reading, and parents have to accept that to provide proper support, said Padilla. She advised parents to focus and highlight their child’s strengths, interests, and gifts. Notice if your child's inclination is science, for example, or the arts. “Parents also need to know that their child shouldn't use dyslexia as an excuse to fail and not accomplish their academic requirements.”
Read aloud “Children with dyslexia may avoid reading tasks because these are challenging and frustrating for them, but they love to listen to stories. Read to them whenever and wherever possible. But avoid pressuring them to read aloud or in public unless they show interest and willingness to take a risk,” said Casis.
Have patience It may prove to be difficult at times, but be patient. Casis added, “It may take time for your child's challenges to be resolved, so patience is key. Like learning any new sport or language, time and lots of practice help a lot. Always remember that reading is just one way to learn. There are many other ways to learn.”
Support and where to find it In specialized schools and learning centers, children with dyslexia are typically guided using a multisensory approach. It means that a lot of the senses -- specifically seeing, hearing and touch or movement -- are utilized to help kids learn letters, sounds and words.
To learn a letter, for example, a teacher would show a child what the letter looks like, help a child associate it with a sound, and ask the child to write in the air with a finger then trace it on paper.
Wordlab School 1168 MC Rillo Bldg., E. Rodriguez Ave, Quezon City 416-9285 Wordlab School was established in 1995 to answer the need for a specialized setting where children with dyslexia can still avail of a regular academic program. Students learn the same content and topics as other students in traditional schools, but lessons are presented using different approaches. The school offers specialized instruction, focusing on a child’s specific strengths and needs. Wordlab also offers after-school programs and clinics, assessment and training for parents, teachers, school administrators, and other interested individuals.
The Reading House Richbelt Tower, Annapolis St., San Juan 631-8397 The Reading House is a literacy center that aims to help children with learning disabilities. A formal reading assessment is first conducted, then an individualized reading program is designed to address the child's specific literary needs. “Aside from employing the multi-sensory approach in our reading programs, we also cater to children who are at-level with their current academic demands but want to hone their reading skills,” said Taino.