Resources for Dyslexic Students
December 10, 2004 4:50 AM   Subscribe

I tutor a 6th grader (at an inner city homework help center, once a week, not paid) who was just diagnosed with dyslexia. I'm kind of relieved, because I knew there was some sort of larger problem than just being a little behind. He's pretty distraught, as he's going to have to switch schools for the rest of 6th grade, so he can get into a small special ed class. He feels like a 'dummy', since his teacher did a crappy job of informing him - including telling him first about the test results, instead of talking to his mom first. I know I can search out simple stuff like lists of celebs/successful folks who overcame dyslexia, but I'd love to hear any advice or book/resource recommendations from people who might have some experience with dyslexia.
posted by chr1sb0y to Education (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For your reading and understanding, I would reccomend the Time magazine article "Overcoming Dyslexia" as an introduction (for yourself, as well as his other teachers) to the causes of the disability, and how to approach the difficulties. You can get it online, order the back issue, or find it at the library. I have heard very good things about This Book Doesn't Make Sense: Living & Learning with Dyslexia, by Jean Augur. The author is a educator with three dyslexic children. Also, reading this personal account really captures what it's like to be a child with dyslexia, you have a difficulty others can't see. Finally, I know you can search these out yourself, but do visit the sites of Dyslexia Associations around the world. They have hoards of information and resources.

The best advice I can give is that it is absolutely vital that he knows he is not a dummy. His brain works differently, but that does not make him stupid, it means he can see things differently than other people can. Some go a bit off the deep end, and call it a gift, but the important thing is that the majority of dsyslexics are of normal or above average intelligence. As a personal example, while I was attending an accelerated magnet school for math and science various degreees of dyslexia or dysgraphia were more prevelant than they had appeared to be at my "normal" high school.

I myself have never been diagnosed with dyslexia, but I have close friends and family members with dyslexia. For them, the best advice is for teachers to know how they need to be taught (from the account above, know they "don't have fingers"). Oral exams often make remarkable difference because the knowledge is there, and the intelligence is there, it's the processing on the way to written ouput that is screwy. There are tools out there, and many, many people willing to help you and your student. Best of luck!
posted by nelleish at 6:20 AM on December 10, 2004

As a confidence booster, I'd suggest the May 13, 2002 Fortune magazine article also entitled 'Overcoming Dyslexia.'
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:10 AM on December 10, 2004

I was "diagnosed" with dyslexia when I was six or so, and sent to a special weekend school. Fact is, I'm not dyslexic. I tend to learn by doing things (that includes reading and writing on my own) rather than by hearing or by rote learning, etc. What was more distressing to me than my "dyslexia" (I think this might be a catch-all term describing several ways of interacting with the world that are not accommodated by traditional pedagogical methods) was the confusion and turmoil caused by being labeled and feeling faulty.

I have a graduate degree in literature, have absolutely no trouble learning now, and feel that the well-meaning interference of my parents and early educators did little to help me.

I would be critical of the diagnosis. The child might simply be cut out for something other than learning by the means a school wants him to learn. When he's ready, he'll learn. If you can figure out what his strengths are, you'll be more than a tutor.

I don't know where to send you to research this. I think there is info on learning styles. I don't know how effective it is. I don't know if that's the best direction.

All the best.
posted by Il Furioso at 9:06 AM on December 10, 2004

chr1sb0y, I have just emailed my colleague. In addition to dyslexia being part of his research, he worked for many years at a boarding school for boys with dyslexia, and he should be able to provide some excellent advice. I will email you what he has to say. as he is extremely busy, and may not get back to me directly.
posted by oflinkey at 9:21 AM on December 10, 2004

Additionally, at this point learning styles in education is mainly discussed in terms of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory.
Gardner has some problems (he is mainly critiqued in that he appears to be atheoretical and/or does not cite earlier theory from which his work is apparently derived from), but it maybe interesting to you, if you are not already aware of of his work.
The cognitive and psychological evidence for dyslexia is strong, however, with all due respect to Il Furioso's experience. I don't know how much room you've got to suggest things in the life of this child, but a second test by another examiner might be helpful.
posted by oflinkey at 9:34 AM on December 10, 2004

Some go a bit off the deep end, and call it a gift.

What's particularly bizarre about that link is that the "gift" can apparently be "corrected" using Davis Dyslexia Correction®.

If being told you're defective is a blow to your self esteem, I can only imagine how being told "You're gifted, and we know just how to fix it!" must feel.
posted by kindall at 11:20 AM on December 10, 2004

Thanks for the gifted link, kindall. Doggonit, I'm special! Who new? In all seriousness, the site brings up a good point: (Dyslexic people are visual, multi-dimensional thinkers. We are intuitive and highly creative, and excel at hands-on learning. Because we think in pictures, it is sometimes hard for us to understand letters, numbers, symbols, and written words.)

That language smacks of coddling those with low self esteem, and that's a shame, because the site is actively trying to reduce the shame associated with the label dyslexia, but it demonstrates the judgment that attends this diagnosis.

Schooling tends to be weighted toward the abstract and the nonvisual. That can be challenging to children who don't have a predilection for that style of thought. As mentioned before, I was labeled as dyslexic as a child. I am now a photographer and have absolutely no trouble seeing visual compositions where others can't. Is this “gift” in fact dyslexia, a disorder? Is it just the way I perceive the world? Obviously, those questions are reductive and refuse to acknowledge the full humanity of the person in question.

What seems important here is that this diagnosis, which obviously seems grim to chr1sboy’s student, could in fact be a windfall, could help liberate the child. If only one adult decides not to jump on the bandwagon and ram some skills down the child’s throat designed to get him to limp through the schooling system, but rather uses this diagnosis to figure out what matters to the student, wouldn't that be a breakthrough, if not for the universe or the homeland, then for the boy? Instead of being a special ed kid, he’ll be working up some agency, some freedom.
posted by Il Furioso at 12:18 PM on December 10, 2004

Response by poster: it's interesting the direction this discussion has taken. my main worry is getting this kid through high school - and not dropping out, which i see as a strong possibility in the next few years. maybe i should have included more info, like the fact that this kid has a single mom, and 2 younger brothers. his mom loves him, but seems a bit overwhelmed already (before the dyslexia diagnosis). he's in a really lousy inner-city school system, and although he's moving to a school with a better special-ed program, i don't forsee much in the way of other outside resources to help him and his family. heck - my wife and i have 2 kids, 2 jobs, and we've got financial worries and time-management worries that make US crazy. and then i think of this family, and i feel ashamed.
posted by chr1sb0y at 1:23 PM on December 10, 2004

I'm dyslexic and dysgraphic. Found this out in the middle of college. The way I look at it is that I learn a little differently than most folks and I need a little extra time on some tasks (but, who doesn't?).

It was a relief to find out why I had so much trouble with math. The diagnosis meant that a really good teaching assistant was willing to spend all kinds of time finding ways to explain concepts to me. Before, I'd just been told I was lazy. I started to believe that, even though I spent an average of 4 hours a night trying to do math homework and was a straight A student outside of math (I'd managed to develop coping skills for the dyslexia on my own).

Your young friend isn't stupid. I hope he gets the support he needs. His mother probably doesn't have the energy to fight to get him useful help. But, if you think that e-mailing back and forth a bit with a dyslexic librarian computer geek adult who does just fine would help, I can put my e-mail in my profile briefly.
posted by QIbHom at 1:42 PM on December 10, 2004

Dyslexia isn't a fuzzy diagnosis (although it is an umbrella term with a number of subtypes). There are numerous studies indicating that some dyslexics have measurable differences in brain organization (pdf) and measurable performance differences (pdf) in laboratory experiments.

What's important to realize is that these aren't deficits in cognition. Dyslexia is often diagnosed (or at least suspected) by identifying a discrepancy in IQ versus reading ability. If a student's reading ability is poor but so is her IQ, she's not dyslexic; she's just not very smart. Almost by definition, dyslexics are not dummies.

However, I'm skeptical of assertions that dyslexics have compensatory abilities. The neurological deficit is so obscure and low-level (and largely has to do with slight deficiencies in processing speed) that the disorder would be completely unknown if this particular pathway were not exercised in the act of reading. All of us are probably running around with assorted types of "brain damage" that neither help nor harm us, simply because we haven't invented any skills that require them.
posted by nev at 1:44 PM on December 10, 2004 [1 favorite]

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