Understanding the impact
Dyslexia affects each child differently, and the impact it has on their learning, social development and home life depends greatly on the severity of the disorder, and how much intervention is required.
With structured tuition, many children overcome their difficulties during their primary school years, but face great challenges again later, “when more complex language skills are required, such as grammar, understanding textbook material, and writing essays,” according to the Orton-Guillame Centre. Patricia agrees, and says that from the age of eight, as the demands of the curriculum increase, children with dyslexia are no longer able to “hide” the difficulties they experience. Dyslexia may also impact a child’s oral language, and their ability to express themselves or understand what other’s are saying. This can lead to major communication issues, which can affect them in and out of the classroom.
Frustration, anxiety, low self-esteem and lack of motivation are unfortunately all side effects of dyslexia if it is not treated with sensitivity and support. Patricia has found that dyslexia can have a huge impact on family life. She says that parents often blame themselves if the cause is found to be genetic, and that a child’s anger and frustration over their difficulties in school is usually directed at their mothers. The school years can be an incredibly challenging time for many families.
Dyslexia can not be cured and, says Patricia, “Dyslexics always need to work very hard to overcome their difficulties.” There are a number of methods that have been developed to help dyslexics manage their learning difficulties, including the Davis Theory, the Irlen Method, and the Orton-Gillingham Approach. Fortunately, John says, “There are many things that parents and teachers can do to support dyslexia. It is a well-researched area and we know that , with targeted support as early as possible, we can physically alter children’s brains and neural connections to facilitate their literacy development. Usually it is a good idea to have a psycho-educational evaluation completed to learn about the child’s learning styles and whether or not they actually have dyslexia and what type of dyslexia the child has. Once this has been identified, the right support and strategies for the child can be put into place.”
Patricia recommends that parents record any behaviour that causes concern in order to give specialists a clearer picture of the child’s learning difficulties. As previously mentioned, early assessment and intervention is crucial, not only for learning benefits, but in order to prevent some of the feelings of frustration and failure before they take hold. Patricia also suggests some of the following strategies that parents can use to help:
- Parents need to recognise that there will be good and bad days, and they should always acknowledge and give praise for effort, however small.
- By spending quality time talking with their children, parents can help resolve the feelings of anxiety, frustration and even depression associated with dyslexia, particularly during the teenage yeas.
- Dyslexia does to affect IQ, and children with dyslexia are often very intelligent and creative. Parents need to build on their children’s strengths, and use their interests to teach them the skills they need.
- It’s essential to be aware of the demands of school and extracurricular activities for a child with dyslexia. It can be exhausting, and parents should avoid overworking their children, but instead encourage them to engage activities that work to their strengths.
- Families should work with professionals, educational psychologists and teachers to set attainable goals in small increments and develop a structured, cumulative, multi-sensory learning programme.
Dyslexia will inevitably involve a certain degree of struggle, but it is important to remember that the condition is not a life sentence, and there are many who have overcome their difficulties and gone to accomplish great things. According to Sally Shaywitz, a leading neuroscientist at Yale University, “Dyslexics are over-represented in the top ranks of people who are unusually insightful, who bring a new perspective, who think out of the box,” Famous dyslexics include world-renowned artists, poets, writers, entrepreneurs, politicians, military heroes and musicians, like John F. Kennedy, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Whoopi Goldberg, Salma Hayek, Orlando Bloom and Tom Cruise. With the right support, academically, socially and emotionally, dyslexics can she as brightly as any of their peers.
Looking for information or support for dyslexia in Hong Kong?
- The Orton-Gillingham Approach was developed in the early 1930s by neuropsychiatrist Samuel Orton and gifted teacher Anna Gillingham, and is based on the premise that dyslexics need explicit, systematic and structured phonics instruction delivered in a multisensory way, and it is offered right here in Hong Kong (msl-orton.com.hk).
- The Dyslexia Association of Hong Kong (www.dyslexia.org.hk) is a non-profit association run by volunteers who are all professionally involved in education. They organise monthly talks on a variety of topics related to dyslexia and child development, with local and visiting speakers, run workshops for parents and teachers related to learning difficulties or education, and offer advice to parents and teachers.
- F.O.C.U.S. Hong Kong (www.focus.org.hk) is another non-profit organisation. Their mission is to promote public awareness of specific learning disabilities – including dyslexia – and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and to improve the education of children who are challenged by these learning differences.
(Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the September 2013 print issue of Playtimes Magazine HK)