Imagine not being able to write a cheque or to read your child a bedtime story. Imagine having to say that your glasses are broken so that you can ask someone to fill in a form for you. As the world acknowledged Dyslexia Awareness Day yesterday, we reached out to the Dyslexia Association to help further raise awareness. Here’s what they shared with us:
Truth be told, there should be no one whose everyday life is seriously challenged like this by disabling dyslexia. Since the 1930s we have known how to teach dyslexics using specific learning programmes, so that they can learn to read, write and spell like everyone else. The Dyslexia Association here in Trinidad has been training teachers since 1990. The Association has trained over 1000 teachers. During the Easter holidays and in July, teachers attend the training sessions from all corners of Trinidad and Tobago to learn how to teach failing students in their classrooms.
The Dyslexia Association puts parents and adult dyslexics in touch with these teachers for screening and the tutoring they so badly need.
We have also known for a very long time that a core deficit in failing readers is poor phonological awareness (the ability to judge the separate sounds in words; and this includes rhyming ability). The children affected are not only dyslexic children, but also children who come to school with limited language experiences because there may not be enough language in the home or in day care centres; or whose hearing has been challenged in pre-school years by chronic middle ear infection (sometimes called ‘sticky ear’). We know that if we train phonological awareness early we can change the reading outcomes of these children.
We could virtually guarantee that all children will be reading by Standard One, if they had just half an hour a day in targeted phonological awareness training while they are in the first two years at school. The skills to provide this training are right here. We do not have to import experts to do this. To date the Dyslexia Association has trained 400 teachers in a specific programme to train phonological awareness, the NOW! (Neuro-development of Words) programme for Speech, Reading and Spelling. If these teachers were assigned to Infant 1 and 2 classes, at little or no cost, a start could soon be made.
A further 600 teachers have been trained in a structured multi-sensory phonics programme. Most of these teachers are in the Teaching Service but not able to fully implement the programmes in their schools. In time, these teachers could be used as dedicated remedial teachers in all ‘at risk’ schools, and as training continues, eventually to all primary schools.
Do we see the day when dyslexia will just be an ‘educational hiccup’ detected in the early stages of a child learning to read; just a low hurdle that the child is helped by a trained teacher and then runs off on their own to gain the prize of reading fluency? The time to act is now! No child should be left struggling to learn to read while the adults around him/her put the blame firmly on his/her shoulders. It is not the child’s responsibility to ‘learn to read’, it is our responsibility to TEACH reading, and to refer children who are struggling for assessment and targeted intervention with a tutor who has been trained in specific techniques to teach failing readers.
Literacy failure is a serious problem. If a child or young person cannot read, of what use is going to school? Every subject requires the ability to read, even Maths. Think of the classroom situation and a struggling reader embarrassed at his/her inability. The snickers, the finger pointing, the blame, the shame: would it not be easier to skip school, to feign sickness, or even to go reluctantly to school and be disruptive to mask the disabling condition? As young people struggle with this spiral of failure and blame, many of them become depressed, have suicidal thoughts or worse, skip school to join gangs where they can be ‘successful’. The link between school failure, frustration, anger and violence is well recognised and is no doubt contributing to the crisis of violent crime now plaguing the country. We are reaping the results of failing to teach our children to read. In short, we are spending our tax dollars badly.
The Dyslexia Association can provide screening and tutoring in your community. The Student Support Services of the Ministry of Education, and UWI Psycho-educational and Diagnostic Centre (PEDIC) can provide assessment.
Contact the Dyslexia Association