By Debra Crowther
Baking a Betty Crocker cake-in-a-box may seem like a simple task.
Yvette Mitchell clearly remembers four years ago, when she spent an afternoon with her grandson, Zack, who was13 at the time. The two decided to bake a cake, something that grandma knew would not be easy.
The directions on the back of the box said to combine 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups of water, 1/3 cup of oil and the cake mix in a large bowl. After Zack read the directions himself and combined all of the ingredients, the ending result looked like a bowl of chocolate soup.
"That won't work, Grandma!" the confused boy exclaimed.
Combining 11 1/2 cups of water instead of 1 1/2 is a typical mistake for a person who struggles with making sense of letters and numbers. Although Mitchell realized the mistake her grandson was making, she allowed him to combine the ingredients the way he understood to be correct.
As a person who struggles with the written word herself, Mitchell acknowledged the need for her grandson, who also suffers from dyslexia, to visually see the inconsistencies with the cake batter in order for him realize his mistake.
Dyslexia is not a disability, but an alternative way of seeing, according to http://dyslexiacanada.com. People with dyslexia are visual thinkers rather than word thinkers.
Mitchell, 56, is one of the 25 million Americans who are functionally illiterate because of dyslexia. Since the disorder is hereditary, she not only spent her life battling the reading disorder, but has also watched her children and grandchild struggle with similar problems.
Living in a literate world for someone who has dyslexia is like driving a car with your eyes crossed. Everything is mixed up.
"Reading letters and numbers is what causes Zack to get mixed up. Competence is not a concern at all," said Kim McDowall, one of Zack's instructional assistants at Ontario High School, Ontario, Ore. Zack has the ability to learn any concept an average student his age can, he simply needs it explained to him differently. He needs a concept shown to him by rephrasing the idea until he can picture it in his head. "Written words just don't make sense to him at all," said McDowall.
Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by problems in expressive or receptive, oral or written language. According to The Los Angeles Times, evidence shows that reading disorders such as dyslexia, which affect as many as 8 million children ages 4 to13, are caused by subtle problems in brain cells, not from any lack of intellectual ability.
According to http://dyslexia.com, dyslexia is not a behavioral, psychological, motivational or social problem. It is not a problem of being bad-sighted or having a low intelligence. Having dyslexia is a neurological problem; there is a problem with the lower centers of the brain. The signals that are supposed to get from the inner ear or the eyes to the brain where they can be interpreted are somehow scrambled.
People commonly associate dyslexia with a reading disability where people reverse letters such as "b" and "d." What many fail to realize is that no two people have the same form of dyslexia.
Some see letters and numbers backward, while others simply need to associate a word with a picture. This is very difficult to overcome since there are many words, such as "the" and "if," that are not picture oriented. The Los Angeles Times reported that some troubled readers mentally cannot resolve the pattern of the characters of the alphabet fast enough. Others stumble because they cannot properly sound out the phonemes, the sounds that make up words. Many have trouble associating written words and letters with the sounds they represent.
Mitchell explained that she, and the other members of her family who
have dyslexia, struggle grasping concepts when they have to read them.
This is because their type of dyslexia causes them to reverse letters
"My eyes can listen," said Mitchell. "If asked to look at a slide show, I couldn't tell you anything I learned. But if I listened to a speaker, I could understand everything."
Since there are such varied forms of dyslexia, it is impossible to determine one general procedure that can be used by everyone to overcome the disorder. Since we live in a world where print is everywhere, dyslexia is becoming a more significant problem. Various educational avenues are needed in order for different people to successfully tackle dyslexia.
Just as there are various forms of dyslexia, there are multiple treatment options. According to http://www.smh.com.au, a treatment program organized through the Davis Dyslexia Association (DDA), which started in the United States in 1982 and is now available worldwide, offers various types of therapy for children with dyslexia. The treatments include molding words or letters out of clay to aid in symbol mastery, motor skills exercises and throwing cush-balls from side to side in an effort to teach balance training and orientation-point exercises. These, and other forms of therapy are valid techniques used by other professionals who specialize in overcoming dyslexia. However, these treatments are not useful to children who have not been recognized as dyslexic.
It wasn't until after her children attended elementary school and were identified as having dyslexia that Mitchell realized she too was suffering from the disorder. She could distinctly remember having the same difficulties as a student that two of her children struggled with.
"Ideas would come straight toward me, and then zip right over my head," said Mitchell. "People just don't know how to teach us."
Teachers are often responsible for recognizing their students' individual learning ability, or disability. If dyslexia is recognized early enough, experts who specialize in communicative disorders may be able to help the child. However, if early recognition does not occur, a child may be forced to go through school constantly struggling to keep up.
Along with the struggle to learn concepts in school, those who have reading disorders often have to face the embarrassment of not being able to read at the same level of their peers. "Zack doesn't want the cute girls to know he has dyslexia. He is one of the popular, athletic kids and wouldn't dare let his friends find out he has a reading disorder," said McDowall.
McDowall explained how she could take students outside in the hallway during exams and read the questions aloud to them, if they wanted.
"Zack won't ever go because he doesn't want to be singled out. It would kill him if his classmates knew he needed help reading," said McDowall.
There is more than one way to single out students with dyslexia, however.
"Many teachers do the worst thing they could do to a child with dyslexia; they make them stand in front of the blackboard and work out a problem or read aloud in front of the class," said Mitchell.
"How stupid could you be?" an elementary teacher asked one of Mitchell's dyslexic sons, after he failed to answer a math problem correctly in front of the class.
Average readers and writers often will improve their skills by practicing in front of their peers, but the same learning methods do not apply for children with dyslexia. There are no children who want to let their peer group know they "don't get it." Rather than express their difficulties, many dyslexic children may opt to save themselves from embarrassment and not participate or make excuses. These excuses often cause the teacher to assume that the child is slacking off rather than realizing a reading deficit exists, said Mitchell.
According to The Vancouver Sun, the key to overcoming dyslexia is early education. Disregarding the type of dyslexia, early development of reading and writing skills is crucial. The Sun reported the critical period for learning to read and write ends by the time a child is 8. Children in kindergarten get better four times faster than children in the fourth grade. If kids are not taught to read by the third grade, 75 percent will never catch up. Unfortunately, most children with dyslexia are not even identified until after the third or fourth grade, when reading difficulties have escalated into behavioral or self-esteem issues.
Currently, experts rely heavily on behavioral tests to determine if a child is dyslexic, reported the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. This diagnosis method is largely insufficient; people who are dyslexic are detected because of their behavioral problems, which are usually a direct result of their reading deficit. Trying to learn the written word by the time your brain's peak development time has passed is like trying to come back from a 28-point deficit in the fourth quarter of a football game; the odds are against you.
One of the newest research studies of children with reading disorders is brain imaging, which is being conducted by Yale University. According to The Los Angeles Times, the process of brain imaging enables researchers to watch the living brain at work without risking the child's health. By monitoring the brain of children who have dyslexia and comparing it with those who read more easily, researchers hope to advance understanding of dyslexia and conclude what types of treatments are most effective. As research continues to progress we may see the dyslexia challenge completely conquered in the near future.
Although the future seems bright for the battle against dyslexia, the past remains a dim recollection of torment for people like Mitchell, who have been forced to live in a world of confusion. At age 56, Mitchell still refuses to read aloud from the Bible in Sunday school. "I have learned that dyslexia is an inherited, genetic thing you just have to figure out and deal with. At my age, what else can you do?" said Mitchell.