At 82 years old and one of T&T’s most avid and prolific historians, Fr Michael Anthony de Verteuil CSSp, former principal (1978-1992) of his alma mater of St Mary’s College in Port-of-Spain, st
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Imagine you’re struggling to read the words on this page, and the letters get flipped backwards, spun upside down and turned into an incomprehensible mess. That’s a bit what it’s like to have dyslexia.
Dyslexia, also called developmental reading disorder, is a condition in which the brain doesn’t correctly process certain images, such as numbers and letters. It’s caused by a problem with the region of the brain that processes language and it hampers one’s ability to read.
Directional confusion may take a number of forms, from being uncertain of which is left and right, to being unable to read a map accurately, says Dr Beve Hornsby in her book Overcoming Dyslexia. A child should know his left and right by the age of five, and be able to distinguish someone else’s by the age of seven. Directional confusion affects other concepts such as up and down, top and bottom, compass directions, keeping one’s place when playing games, being able to copy the gym teacher’s movements when he is facing you, and so on.
Many dyslexics have trouble with sequencing, ie perceiving something in sequence and also remembering the sequence. Naturally this will affect their ability to read and spell correctly. After all, every word consists of letters in a specific sequence. In order to read one has to perceive the letters in sequence, and also remember what word is represented by the sequence of letters in question. By simply changing the sequence of the letters in name, it can become mean or amen. Dyslexics may also have trouble remembering the order of the alphabet, strings of numbers, for example telephone numbers, the months of a year, the seasons, and events in the day. Younger children may also find it hard to remember the days of the week. Some are unable to repeat longer words orally without getting the syllables in the wrong order, for example words like preliminary and statistical.
Difficulties with the little words
A frequent comment made by parents of children struggling with their reading is, “He is so careless, he gets the big difficult words, but keeps making silly mistakes on all the little ones.” Certainly, the poor reader gets stuck on difficult words, but many do seem to make things worse by making mistakes on simple words they should be able to manage—like “if,” “to,” “and.” It is important to note that this is extremely common, and not a sign that a child is particularly careless or lazy.
Research has revealed a dramatic link between the abnormal development of spoken language and learning disabilities such as dyslexia. In most cases, a baby should be able to understand simple words and commands from the age of nine months. From around a year he should be saying his first words. By two he should have a vocabulary of up to 200 words, and be using simple two-word phrases such as “drink milk.” By three he should have a vocabulary of up to 900 words and be using full sentences with no words omitted. He may still mix up his consonants but his speech should be comprehensible to strangers. By four, he should be fully able to talk, although he may still make grammatical errors. If a child talks immaturely, or still makes unexpected grammatical errors in his speech when he is five years old, this should alert the parents to probable later reading problems. The parents should immediately take steps to improve the child’s language.
Difficulties with handwriting
Some dyslexics suffer from poor handwriting skills. The word dysgraphia is often used to describe a difficulty in this area. The language of mathematics is often poorly understood by the dyslexic up until the age of 12 and even beyond. Bizarre reading or spelling is a severe form of dyslexia and is characterised by the following symptoms:
• Guesses wildly at words regardless of whether they make sense or not.
• Spells bizarrely.
• Loses orientation on a line or page while reading, missing lines or reading previously-read lines again.
• Reads aloud hesitantly.
• Cannot write the appropriate letter when given the sound.