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Dyslexia in Children: Symptoms, Causes
and Treatment

Reading and learning are the two things that determine the success of a child during his school career. First he learns to read. Then he reads to learn. Reading is therefore of paramount importance in the educational process.

Unfortunately poor reading skills, and therefore poor learning skills, have become a reality for an alarming number of children. The Institute for Global Education and Service Learning states that 40% of American children have difficulty reading or learning to read, and as many as three-quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school.

The word "dyslexia" is often used to refer to the child who has an average or above average IQ and is reading 1 1/2 grades or more below grade level, and whose reading problem is accompanied by the signs below:

  • One of the most obvious — and a common — telltale signs of dyslexia is reversals. Children with this kind of problem often confuse letters like b and d, either when reading or when writing, or they sometimes read (or write) words like "rat" for "tar," or "won" for "now."

  • Another sure sign, which needs no confirmation by means of any form of testing, is elisions, that is when a child sometimes reads or writes "cat" when the word is actually "cart."

  • The child who reads very slowly and hesitantly, who reads without fluency, word by word, or who constantly loses his place, thereby leaving out whole chunks or reading the same passage twice, has a reading problem.

  • The child may try to sound out the letters of the word, but then be unable to say the correct word. For example, he may sound the letters "c-a-t" but then say "cold."

  • He may read or write the letters of a word in the wrong order, like "left" for "felt," or the syllables in the wrong order, like "emeny" for "enemy," or words in the wrong order, like "are there" for "there are."

  • He may spell words as they sound, for example "rite" for "right."

  • He may read with poor comprehension, or it may be that he remembers little of what he reads.

  • The child may have a poor and/or slow handwriting.

In our age of verbal and written communication, linguistic difficulties are not easy to cope with. It can leave the child feeling unconfident, insecure and like a dunce.

"I've always felt I was stupid," says Elizabeth, diagnosed as suffering from mild dyslexia at the age of 17. "I went through school having disguised my difficulties, adjusting around them and keeping my problem a secret. I worked so hard in that academic environment, but felt that I just kept getting nowhere. Everybody thought I was slow and treated me that way." In fact, a recent IQ test showed that Elizabeth was far above average.

Behavior problems often result from their negative experiences at school. The stress and frustration they have to endure as a result of their poor achievement cause them to be reluctant to go to school, to often have temper tantrums before school and sometimes even to play truant. Cheating, stealing and experimenting with drugs can also occur when children regard themselves as failures.

Bob Turney is a dyslexic who turned to crime because he thought he was thick. At primary school, he sat at the back of the class looking at picture books and did not have a clue what the teachers were talking about. When they said that he was stupid, he believed them; and when they treated him as disruptive, uncooperative and lazy, he behaved accordingly. He left school at fifteen, barely able to write his own name, got involved in his first burglary, and spent the next eighteen years in and out of prison.

Theories About Dyslexia

There is a labyrinth of differing, opposing and often contradictory theories about dyslexia, what it is, its causes and its possible correction. Some theorists have said that dyslexia may be a result of abnormal development of a baby's brain during the mother's pregnancy. The resulting abnormalities interfere with the brain's ability to understand written material. Other theories hold that dyslexia is caused by "faulty wiring in the brain," a subtle impairment of vision, and a cerebellar-vestibular dysfunction.

Some believe that dyslexia is genetically determined and inherited from generation to generation. They support this view by referring to many studies that have indicated that there is often a family history of learning disabilities. Hornsby, for example, state that 88 percent of dyslexics had a near relative who had similar problems with reading and spelling.

While there are many factors that may contribute to dyslexia, one should not overlook the age-old — but ageless — principle that learning is a stratified process. This is a self-evident fact, yet its significance in the situation of the dyslexic child has apparently never been fully comprehended. Throughout the world in all educational systems it is commonly accepted that a child must start at the lower levels of education and then gradually progress to the higher levels. If human learning had not been a stratified process, if it had taken place on a single level, this would have been unnecessary. It would then not have been important to start a child in first grade. It would have been possible for the child to enter school at any level and to complete the school years in any order.

Another simple and practical example is the fact that one has to learn to count before it becomes possible to learn to add and subtract. Suppose one tried to teach a child, who had not yet learned to count, to add and subtract. This would be quite impossible, and no amount of effort would ever succeed in teaching the child to add and subtract. This shows that counting is a skill that must be mastered before it becomes possible to learn to do calculations.

This principle is also of great importance on the sports field. Take soccer as an example. The game of soccer consists of many fragmented elements or skills — passing, control, shooting, dribbling, goal keeping and heading. Before any child is expected to play in a full-game situation, he should first be trained to pass, head, control, dribble and shoot the ball. In fact, until these skills have been automatized, the child will have two left feet on the soccer field.

In the same way, there are also certain skills and knowledge that a child must acquire first, before it becomes possible for him to become a good reader. Basic skills like concentration, visual discrimination, accurate perception and memorizing, skills of association, auditory memory and lateral interpretation are all functions that form the foundation of good reading and spelling. Until a child has mastered these basic skills first, reading will remain a closed — or, at most, a half-open — book to him.

Beating Dyslexia

Audiblox helped Terry-André to beat dyslexia. Audiblox is a program of exercises aimed at developing and automatizing the foundational skills of reading and spelling.

Terry-André had had remedial lessons for three years for his reading problem. "I have taught him to cope with the work but I have not been able to teach him to read. His reading has always been a serious problem and he has been diagnosed as dyslexic," said Jennie van Zyl, Terry-André's remedial teacher.

By the middle of fourth grade Terry-André's reading ability was like that of a first-grade/second-grade child. His spelling was poor, he confused b's and d's, and found creative writing a problem.

Terry-André was very untidy, always in a hurry, happy with second best and just generally not coping at all, remarked Mrs. Leslie, his class teacher. Because the children laughed at his efforts, reading in front of the class caused him great embarrassment.

Terry-André started on the Audiblox program in the third term of fourth grade, a few weeks before the examination. He and Mrs. van Zyl spent half an hour, five days per week, on the program. He nevertheless failed third term with an aggregate of 54 percent.

Rapid improvement was noted during the fourth term. By the end of the school year Terry-André was no longer reversing letters. "The other day," said Mrs. van Zyl, "he picked up a book and I was amazed to hear him actually reading without any stammering, hesitation or repetitions. It was the first time he had ever managed without being taught the words first. Now, whenever there is any spare time, he asks if we can read."

"He has settled down, completes all his tasks to the best of his ability and takes pride in his work," reported Mrs. Leslie. "He is also able to read aloud in front of the class without any of the problems which had caused him such embarrassment before."

Terry-André passed fourth grade with an aggregate of 66 percent. Audiblox was continued into fifth grade, with attending progress.

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An example of Terry-André's schoolwork just before he started on Audiblox.

The striking improvement in Terry-André's work after only six months.

Edublox programs are effective in overcoming dyslexia, dysgraphia and other learning difficulties by addressing the underlying shortcomings that interfere with academic performance.