What do Thomas Edison, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, inventor Steve Jobs and actor Tom Cruise have in common? If you said they’ve all
accomplished something successful in life, you’re right. But they also have one more thing in common – dyslexia.
What is Dyslexia?
According to Thenmoliee Joe nee Ratnam, registered psychologist at Kids Testing & Dyslexic Centre, dyslexia is a learning difficulty that causes a person to have problems with reading, spelling and writing, despite having normal or above average intelligence. Concurringly, Nor Ashraf B Samsudin, director of specialised educational services at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) adds that the key characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and processing speed.
What causes Dyslexia?
The exact cause of dyslexia is uncertain. However, research findings suggest that it might be associated to neurological differences, which may tend to run in the family, explains Ashraf. “These differences in the brain are likely to influence the way dyslexics think, learn and process information, often impeding on their cognitive processes, such as phonological processing, difficulty learning the relationships between letters and sounds (phonics), holding information in their short-term memory, and then manipulating that information, such as working on mental arithmetic or remembering a long list of instructions,” adds Ashraf.
“Depending on the degree of the dyslexia, the effects of the condition is different for everyone. Dyslexia primarily affects a child’s ability to read, write and spell. Beyond that, dyslexics face difficulties with organisation as well.”
Myths about Dyslexia
- Dyslexia is rare in Singapore.
Truth: According to DAS, the incidence of dyslexia in Singapore is within the international range of three to 10 per cent of the population. There are about 20,000 primary and secondary school students who are dyslexic. An average of one to two students could be dyslexic in a class of 40.
- Dyslexia is incurable.
Truth: Dyslexia is not a disease. While it may be a lifelong disability, given the appropriate specialist teaching, dyslexics can successfully learn to read (and even to spell).
- Dyslexia is ONLY when kids see reverse letters.
Truth: Dyslexia is extremely complex and people may suffer in a number of ways. For instance, while one person may notice the words floating off the page, another person might see words that are blurry. Symptoms may vary from one person to the other.
- Boys are more likely to have dyslexia than girls.
Truth: Although it used to be thought that more boys experienced dyslexia than girls, current research has indicated that dyslexia occurs in approximately equal proportions.
- Dyslexic kids are just lazy. They could do better if they tried harder.
Truth: Children with dyslexia are often very smart and tend to work harder than the average student to be as attentive and effective as the others in the classroom. Lack of awareness about this disorder among teachers and parents has often resulted in the child being branded as ‘lazy’.
How can Parents help?
There are many things that parents can do to help their children cope with dyslexia. In spelling for example, parents could help point out words within words, for example,‘h ear d’ and ‘re present ative’, to help them remember better. “Parents could also try getting their children to write the words in the air, moving their arm as they say the word. To improve reading skills of dyslexic children, parents can set aside paired reading sessions with the child regularly so that they feel supported during the reading process,” says Ashraf.
Lastly, expectations from parents should be as that for a normal child. Encouraging words, such as “Try your best!” and “Not to worry!” will assist to motivate the child if and when the child fails. Early identification and early intervention are vital. Children with dyslexia are often unable to reach their full potential due to their learning differences and may be frustrated with learning.