Earliest sign of dyslexia may be delay learning to speak

March 08, 1998|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Roger E. Saunders is a practicing clinical psychologist who has devoted much of his 47-year career to the diagnosis and education of people with dyslexia.

Saunders was an organizer of the private Jemicy School, which is celebrating its 25th year using alternative methods to teach bright children who have dyslexia. He also is a co-founder and volunteer psychologist for Maryland Associates for Dyslexic Adults and Youth (MADAY), which provides free diagnostic and tutorial services.

Recently, he discussed the learning disability with The Sun.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurological condition that creates difficulty in processing words which are read, heard, spoken or spelled. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of the population is dyslexic.

What learning difficulties might someone with dyslexia experience?

Dyslexics may have difficulty to varying degrees with one or more of the following: reading, processing what they hear, expressing their ideas in words, spelling and written composition. Dyslexic children are often incorrectly labeled as inattentive, unmotivated, having poor visual memory or lacking in basic ability.

What signals might indicate that a child is dyslexic?

The earliest sign may be a delay in learning to speak. There may be difficulty and inconsistency in recognizing, remembering and writing the alphabet and numbers. The child may reverse or twist numbers and letters, for example, printing the letter B as a D, G, P or Q.

A dyslexic child may have very poor penmanship. He may perform at a level that seems low for his intelligence in language-related subjects while excelling in math, science, drama, art, music, building, design and physical education. He may express anger, frustration, low self-esteem and depression through bad behavior or passive withdrawal.

What other clues help in the diagnosis?

Typically, dyslexia is inherited so we look closely at the family history. Male family members often are extremely talented in nonverbal, visual-spatial areas such as creative design, art or mechanics. They may be engineers, architects or surgeons. In school, they may have been better in math and science than English, grammar, literature or spelling. They may have had difficulty reading.

Links have also been found between dyslexia and families in which there is ambidexterity, left-handedness and migraine headaches.

How can a child who has dyslexia learn to read?

Dyslexic children have a different learning style. They need to be taught in a manner other than the popular public school approach which emphasizes visual memory of whole-word patterns.

The appropriate curriculum for dyslexic children must include a multisensory reinforcement of letters and sounds, particularly when they are first learning to read and spell. This means that the simultaneous use of the hand muscles, the eye and the ear is required. Children must drill and practice by looking at a letter, identifying its sound, tracing it with a finger and writing it in the air with their eyes closed.

The next step must be learning to blend sounds to form words. Only phonetically regular words should be presented to the children at this point. They will later learn about the structure of the English language with its spelling generalizations, syllable division, roots, prefixes and suffixes. After they have mastered these units, irregular words will be introduced.

What help is available for dyslexic learners?

Often public schools do not train personnel in this teaching approach. Therefore, dyslexic children may require a specially trained private tutor. There are also several private schools in the Baltimore area which have a controlled, nonconfusing curriculum especially for the dyslexic learner.

Free diagnostic and tutorial services for those who cannot afford to pay are available through MADAY, a nonprofit organization. Information: 410-889-5487.

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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