Dyslexia is a condition where people have difficulty reading.
It is not a visual impairment, but rather one of mentally processing anything written.
I became aware of this condition while teaching at a technical school
where one or two students had difficulty with their lessons. One thing they
had in common was they were formerly "Handwerkers", which gives a clue to
potential dyslexia. Things were becoming very difficult for one student
after atrocious examination results. I will call this student Ulla, a
very bright girl and talented welder, who was now becoming deeply
upset by her situation in the school. Ulla confided in me she
was dyslexic (Dt. Legestenie). She also said another student was dyslexic.
Being in a foreign country was a problem getting information. I asked a
highly qualified English teacher colleague if she knew anything of this
illness, without success. A Herr Doktor colleague said he too was
exasperated with Ulla, and was unaware of dyslexia. Ulla told me no one
seemed to understand her.
During a holiday in England I noticed several books on dyslexia and
realised it was not a trivial thing. Coincidentally, a local radio
station phone-in was discussing dyslexia. Callers described the
symptoms that I was noticing, which stimulated me to research this
I returned to the bookshop and chose a small book(1) which contained basic
details on dyslexia, to whose authors I am deeply grateful. My enthusiasm
intensified after studying this book, and I felt sympathy for these
unfortuate students. On returning to school, Ulla's eyes lit up as
I told her of what I had learned and that I had taken the trouble
during my holiday to help her.
In the past dyslexia was classified as a "learning difficulty", whereas now
the more positive sentiment of learning differences is preferred. Many
people have attempted to define dyslexia, some medically, referring to left
and right brain functions, others descriptively in what can be observed.
Dyslexia affects a person's ability to "see" words, and thus comprehend
the subject. The dyslexic person may grasp the topic more easily if the
information is given in a different way, therefore teachers should use
varied media for presenting information such has audio tapes,
videos and pictures.
Dyslexics may be neglected in class and the playground or be victims of
bullying. They may also be clumsy. Other symptoms are reluctantance to
write anything down, difficulty recognising the difference between the
letters b and d, or word endings like "re", "er" and "or." Dyslexics
may see only a blurr instead of a word. When reading aloud, lines of text
might be missed out. Short term memory is often lacking, for instance,
returning to where they were while copying from the blackboard. They
may also have great difficulty organising their work. If this is noticed,
they should be guided and a structure set up for them to follow,
particularly when revising for exams, when they should be given short
duration tasks instead of endless reading.
On the positive side, dyslexics have a flair for non-word learning
activities such as people management, dealing with complex situations,
craft skills and the arts. Many of the world's famous and great are
dyslexic. People are attracted to them, who in turn compensate them
for their shortcomings. I believe that we may all to some extent be
dyslexic, or its partner illnesses of dyscalculia (numeracy) and
dyspraxia (motor skills).
Dyslexia is often hereditary, bringing difficulty if a parent is unable to
help and guide their child through its early education with such simple
things as reading nursery stories with them. As the child grows up it may
feel overlooked for brighter pupils, but usually adapts, becoming smart or
manipulative, but also sometimes getting into bad ways. A dyslexic should
sit at the front of the classroom where the teacher can check they have
understood what is written on the board. It will help if the teacher
prepares specially written notes, in bigger print, perhaps on coloured
paper which may be easier to read than white paper. Work with the
student and try to find which way is best. The dyslexic student will
see you are wanting to help, and will repay you with their enthusiasm.
One might imagine how stressful an examination is for the dyslexic
person therefore allowances should be made which offer them equality
with their peers. A little extra time may be given, and also ensure
they understand the questions. The examiner should make allowances
for spelling and grammar mistakes, concentrating more on whether the
student has understood the question. If writing skills are not so
essential for a chosen career an alternative form of testing should
EU legislation(2) states every teaching institution must now have a
dyslexia specialist, with schools acting early if a child is thought
to be dyslexic. Understanding is replacing negative attitudes in the
new dyslexia-friendly schools(3). This does not mean that a dyslexic is
to be given a soft life. They must be encouraged to strive and seek
new ways to learn. Dyslexics have gone on to achieve high academic
qualifications and be amongst the best.
The British Dyslexia Association website(4) has all the resources one could
wish for. Computer games and aids are numerous, as are tests for checking
for dyslexia(5). The Textic system(6) is computer software which can alter the
size of text, and the background/foreground colours of a document.
Already, I am applying the recommended techniques with the above students.
My new approach of simplicity, with spaced out, short lesson blocks has
benefitted us all. Clear and simple explanations have brought an air of
confidence to the students, and already what seemed to be an impossible
course-end target is now a clear reality.
Lawrence specialises in teaching technical English and had the above
experiences while teaching on a very demanding four-semester staatliche
annerkannte Techniker course. He regarded this subject as very important
and went on to make a detailed study of dyslexia. He has since encountered
more students with this problem and was able to provide positive
contributions to their studies. This is a condensed version of his
recent essay on dyslexia .
1 Introduction to Dyslexia, Lindsay Peer and Gavin Reid, 2003, The British Dyslexia
Association. David Fulton Publishers, ISBN l 85346 964 5 ,
2 Disability Discrimination Acts, 1994, 2004 and 2005.
3 Link in (1) above: Dyslexia friendly schools pack
5 See reference section of the book in (1) above.
6 The Textic system: www.AchieveAbility.org.uk
© Lawrence Harris/TELS
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