Each young person is different, of course. Parents might occasionally wonder why their child (or one of their children) can’t be as well-mannered and well-behaved as others, but in essence most of us realise most of the time that each young person has their own attributes, personality, and characteristics.
Which is a good place to start – until one comes across an attribute or characteristic that isn’t visible, but which is dramatically holding the child back academically or seriously affecting the child’s inner peace and well-being.
But that is what it is like for young people who are dyslexic.
For them the written language, the rules of spelling, the excitement of reading… these are as alien to the dyslexic child in the UK as the sign language of the Inuit is as unintelligible to most people living in the UK today.
Worse, although dyslexia is often defined as an inability to learn the spelling rules of the English language, in reality dyslexia is much more complex than this.
A full explanation of what dyslexia is will take into account the fact that it is a difference not just in the ability to learn to read and write, but also in the way the individual learns.
But – and this is the key point – because reading and writing skills are so utterly central to our civilisation and the way we exchange information and ideas, dyslexia does not just affect reading and writing skills.
Dyslexia turns out to affect all information processing.
Now “information processing” is not an everyday phrase outside of educational establishments, but it is an issue of fundamental importance because “information processing” relates to how each of us as an individual learns and remembers.
And it doesn’t matter whether the learning comes from seeing or hearing; for learning to take place the memory has to be working in a particular way – and with dyslexic people the memory can work in very different ways from the way it works with most of us.
Dyslexic people see and hear, but having seen and heard they don’t utilise or store or process the memories in the same way most people do. As a result their literacy skills do not develop, and they forget things which others might expect them to remember.
Out of this come a number of other problems – such as the way the dyslexic person organises (or fails to organise) everything in her or his daily life. In short, the dyslexic person is different at many levels of everyday living.
Of course being different can on occasion be a benefit – although many children find being different a very difficult state of affairs to cope with in their early years. It is true that dyslexic people are often noted to be very creative and inventive, which can be a real bonus in adult life, but is rarely admired by other children who can see difference as something to be laughed at. It can be the source of a lot of bullying, also.
Indeed it is not unknown for dyslexic children only to perceive the benefits of the differences they have been born with many years later when they find themselves in settings where seeing different and alternative answers to problems can be a real bonus.
Thus dyslexic children need more than just an alternative way of being taught literacy skills. They also often need nurturing and supporting through a difficult period of their lives where they perceive the negatives of being dyslexic but have not yet discovered the positives.
This is why interventions with dyslexic children should go beyond literacy, and should, wherever possible, involve helping parents to understand that dyslexia is not just about extra literacy lessons. It is also about helping the child to find and value her or his unique attributes which can be used for years to come.
This article is by Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond) F.Inst.A.M., head of the Dyslexia Centre.