Overcoming dyslexia

By Henrylito D. Tacio


Consider the following four dead-end kids.   


One was thrown out of school when he was 12.  He was noted to be terrible at mathematics, unable to focus, and had difficulty with words and speech.  Another did not do very well in school getting mainly C’s and D’s.   The third grew up being called dumb and stupid because she had a lot of problems reading.  The last finally learned to read in third grade, devouring Marvel comics, whose pictures provided clues to help him untangle the words.


The four losers are, respectively, Thomas Edison, Jay Leno, Whoopi Goldberg, and David Boies. 


Over the course of his career, Edison patented 1,093 inventions.  Edison believed in hard work, sometimes working twenty hours a day. He has been quoted as saying, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”


Despite his poor grades, Leno was determined to attend Emerson College in Boston. While told by the admissions officer that he was not a good candidate, he had his heart set on attending the University and sat outside the admission officers’ office 12 hours a day 5 days a week until he was accepted into the University.


Goldberg had a lot of difficulty in school, but it was clear to her teachers and family that she was neither slow nor dumb, but had some problem that had not yet been well defined.  The Oscar-winning actress of ‘Ghost’ was already an adult when she learned what she was suffering from.


Boies is a celebrated trial attorney in the United States.  He is best known as the guy who beat Microsoft.


These four people have one thing in common, though; they are all dyslexic.  So is Nobel Prize winner Baruj Benaceraft, brain surgeon Fred Epstein, singer Cher, comedian Robin Williams, Olympic gold medalist Steve Redgrave, philanthropist Nelson Rockefeller, film producer Brian Gazer, television chef Jamie Oliver, and playwright Wendy Wasserstein. 


What exactly is dyslexia?  Hav ingdys lexiac anmake it hardtoread!  Translation: Having dyslexia can make it hard to read! Writing that looks just fine to you might look like this to someone who has dyslexia.


Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that manifests primarily as a difficulty with written language, particularly with reading and spelling. It is separate and distinct from reading difficulties resulting from other causes, such as a non-neurological deficiency with vision or hearing, or from poor or inadequate reading instruction.


To most dyslexics, going to school is not a pleasant experience. “I never read in school. I got really bad grades – D’s and F’s and C’s in some classes, and A’s and B’s in other classes,” recalls the Oscar-winning singer-actress Cher.   “In the second week of the 11th grade, I just quit. When I was in school, it was really difficult. Almost everything I learned, I had to learn by listening. My report cards always said that I was not living up to my potential.”


Evidence suggests that dyslexia results from differences in how the brain processes written and/or verbal language.  Dyslexia occurs at all levels of intelligence, average, above average, and highly gifted. There is also a change in judging speed and distance.


Stupid, dumb, and retard – these are the words most dyslexic kids hear from their classmates or teachers.  A poll conducted in the United States showed that almost two-thirds of the people still associate learning disabilities with mental retardation.  That’s probably because dyslexics find it so difficult to learn through conventional methods.  “It is a disability in learning,” points out Boies.  “It is not an intelligence disability.  It doesn’t mean you can’t think.”


He’s right.  Dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ.  In fact, many smart, accomplished people have it, or are thought to have had it, including Sir Winston Churchill, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Michelangelo, General George S. Patton, American president Woodrow Wilson, and W.B. Yeats.


Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a leading dyslexia neuroscientist at Yale University, believes the disorder can carry surprising talents along with its well-known disadvantages.  “Dyslexics are overrepresented in the top ranks of people who are unusually insightful, who bring a new perspective, who think out of the box,” she says.


“Being dyslexic does not make life easy, although there are one or two advantages,” says well-known British swimmer Duncan Goodhew, who was called ‘illiterate moron’ when she was a kid attending school.  “Dyslexics tend to think laterally because the creative side of the brain is more dominant than the logistical side, which is good for problem-solving.”


Dyslexia comes from the Greek word which means “difficulty with words.”  It was first suspected in 1896, when Dr. Pringle Morgan published an article in the British Medical Journal on “A Case of Congenital Word Blindness.”  But the word “dyslexia” didn’t become commonly used in the United States for more than five decades.


In the Philippines, it has taken even longer.  This was the reason why it took several years before Jonathan knew he was suffering from dyslexia.  He was like many other kids. He enjoyed playing, talking, and singing.  But there’s one problem about him: He didn’t like writing and reading.


“When my son first started school at the age of five his writing was appalling,” the mother recalled.  “You could hardly read a thing he wrote.  He went from being a happy child to being very unhappy, miserable, tearful, because he just couldn’t understand why all those children around him could pick up this business of reading and writing.”


Jonathan’s teachers simply thought he was taking a little longer than the other children and that he could catch up with them later on.  Unfortunately, he didn’t.  It wasn’t until three years later that they realized Jonathan is dyslexic. Now, the 18-year-old Michael has the reading age of a 12-year-old and the spelling ability of a 10-year-old.


Experts say that a child who has dyslexia might start out doing fine in school. But gradually, it can become a struggle, especially when reading becomes an important part of schoolwork. A teacher might say that the kid is smart, but doesn’t seem to be able to get the hang of reading.  If a teacher or parent notices this, the best thing to do is to go to a specialist who can help figure out what’s wrong.


Dyslexia can only be formally diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation by a reading specialist or psychologist. Pediatricians often know the signs of dyslexia and can guide families to proper help. It is important to make sure that the person who evaluates your child has training and experience with dyslexia.


“A specialist in learning disabilities knows a lot about learning problems that children have – and what to do about them,” says Dr. Laura Bailet.  During a visit with a specialist, a child might take some tests. But the idea isn’t to get a good grade; it’s to spot problems.  Discovering a learning disability is the first step toward getting help that will make it easier for the child to learn.


Last year, Indian director Aamir Khan made the “Taare Zameen Par” (Stars on Earth), about a dyslexic child. The film portrays the child’s world, his difficulty in comprehending letters and the people around him including his parents labeling him as lazy and idiotic. One of his teachers eventually discovers that his problem is dyslexia and successfully helps him to overcome it.


“Parents, who recognize their child as a dyslexic, should find a skill the child does well and build on it, encourage it – whether it’s art or athletics.  That will help the child to believe in himself, the most important element in helping a dyslexic to become successful in society,” says Dr. Allan R. Magie, an American doctor who specializes on children’s behavior. — ###


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