Summary of Week 3 of the Coursera Course Helping Students with Dyslexia
Supporting children with difficulties in reading and writing
University of London, UCL Institute of Education & Dyslexia International
Dr. Jenny Thomson discussed auditory and visual issues, stressing the difference between pitch (frequency) and loudness (amplitude), and how that can affect dyslexic students. She mentioned that the visual stress of reading is an issue discussed in the UK and Europe, perhaps more than elsewhere.
The balance between attention issues and dyslexia can sometimes give contradictory recommendations. For example, a dyslexic child can often perform better in comprehension when read to, because he doesn't have to alott all of his attention to decoding. On the other hand, if the child has attention issues, she might need the reading to be in front of her, so she has someplace to anchor her comprehension. A child who is both dyslexic and has attention issues might do best with simultaneously the oral and the visual input, but individual differences should be considered.
Areas of strength in dyslexic individuals often include spatial representation, often stronger relative to their peers. However, oral numeracy can sometimes be affected. For example, the word “thirteen” has to be converted into the concepts of “three” and “ten”, but “eleven” and “twelve” are even more distant from a transparent connection to “11” and “12”.
Dr. Goetry explained the concept of the “dys-constellation”. This is the comorbidity idea that dyspraxia (a difficulty with fine motor control) can often appear in the same individual as dysgraphia (difficulty in writing), dyscalculia (difficulty with number manipulation), and dyslexia (a reading specific difficulty).
He recommends the use of the computer for dysgraphic and dyspraxic children to help preserve their self esteem, allowing others to be able to read their writing. He mentioned free software such as GeoGebra, found on Google, to teach algebra, geometry, statistics and calculus interactively.
Dr. Goetry discussed early diagnosis, citing French neurologist Michel Habib in saying that half of dyslexic learners showed spoken language delays. Heiki Lyttinen and his team used a test 6 months after birth that pretty accurately predicted future dyslexia.
The emotional fallout of academic stress was emphasized. French psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik points to 40% or more of learners 10 to 24 years old think about death at school, because of anxiety or depression. The Belgian Fondation Dyslexie asserts that dyslexics are three times more likely to commit suicide, and six times more likely to drop out of school.
Professor Linda Siegel of the University of British Columbia, in Canada, provided the course with a slide lecture that cited the relationship between illiteracy and incarceration. In addition, she gave the horrifying statistic she herself gathered in her studies: “All the adolescent suicides in a three year period in Ontario had undetected and unremediated learning disabilities.”
Dr Goetry referred to a concept labeled “cognitive death”, where a learner who has lost all self-esteem can no longer learn anything academic, due to a complete loss of motivation. H points out that dyslexic learners' strengths need to be overtly, publicly valorized.
Dr Jenny Thomson points out that some companies, such as architectural companies, go out of their way to recruit people with dyslexia and other learning differences, because of their interest in 3D representational skills.
Professor Stein, reminding us that reading is an extremely recent acquisition for human development, talks about the differences between forms the brain is programmed to recognize, versus shapes that wouldn't normally matter. For example, the brain wouldn't need to remember if a branch or leaf poked out on the left or right, but it's critical for reading to know on which side you should see an “a” or “o”, or on which side the stalk of a “p” or “q” lies. The left hemisphere is normally where we train the brain to do all this required linear sequencing. In the normal brain, this forces the left hemisphere to lose holistic processing, whereas dyslexics retain the holistic processing – an advantage for visual-spatial processing for dyslexics, and a disadvantage for reading.