Children with learning disabilities like dyslexia fall behind in school at an alarming rate. And it’s no coincidence that 48% of our prison population struggles with dyslexia. The bottom line? These kids aren’t getting the help when they need it the most.
Another kicker? These students are intelligent, often verbal and astute, and because of this everyone (especially schools) expects them to perform in a way that they simply can’t.
It's no surprise that parents are left holding the ball, because the public school system lets them down time and again. These kids fall through the cracks at an alarming rate, and since one in five has dyslexia, that’s a lot of failing students…and frustrated parents.
I call our dyslexic population our, “throw away kids”. I don’t think a description is necessary.
It’s not the schools’ fault. The system isn’t set up to help kids who aren’t at least two years behind, and it’s hard to determine a learning gap this large with young children, especially kindergarten students. This is especially a crucial time to get help yet it's difficult to find a two-year gap when this student hasn't even been in school for two years!
To make matters worse, a teacher listens to the dyslexic child talk, and when the child’s vocabulary is off the chart, then it’s automatically assumed the child is bright but just not working hard enough.
“Try harder,” becomes the mantra the dyslexic child hears, when in fact, that child is working at capacity.
Visual and Auditory Memory
If the child’s visual and auditory processing skills are weak, then learning can be difficult. Most students with dyslexia suffer from both weak auditory and visual processing skills, and it usually hits them hardest in visual and auditory memory.
Did you know that we see and hear in our brains? We take in sounds with our ears and take in light with our eyes, but the actual process of seeing and hearing is done in the brain.
Visual memory is the ability to hold a visual image in the brain. The rule of thumb is that the child should be able to hold one image for each year of life. That means a seven-year old child should be able to hold seven figures in his/her memory, the equivalence of a multi-syllable word.
I rarely see this happen anymore. Technology has taken this skill away from our young, internet savvy children, who don’t have to wait long for visual images to appear on screen! Still, it’s common for me to evaluate students with dyslexia who struggle to hold even one visual image in the brain.
This means that only one image (one letter or number) can be recalled when reading. No wonder reading and spelling is hard for people with dyslexia! I’ve found that once visual memory is improved, so many reading skills come along for the student.
Auditory memory is similar. It’s the ability to hold auditory information in the brain. Once again, when I evaluate students with dyslexia, I find that this (along with almost all auditory processing skills) are weak.
Usually kids with dyslexia can hold one or two syllables in auditory memory, but when they are presented with more, they shut down. Can you imagine sitting in a lecture all day and trying to remember the teacher’s words when it’s hard to hear and understand two simple syllables?
Neuroplasticity and Dyslexia
Here’s the good news. The brain can be taught to adapt…to build new neural pathways that work more efficiently. This is a process called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity the ability of the brain to undergo biological changes.
The brain is an amazing organ, and most educators don’t even take a class on it during college. Yet, it’s the powerhouse for learning. We know more about the brain now than ever, thanks to CT and PET scans. Scientists have documented how learning changes through certain activities through these scans.
Yet schools continue to just shove academics down their students’ throats. If a little works, a lot will work better becomes the mantra. This leaves the poor learning disabled child in the dust, and it’s now wonder. This child needs to perform different exercises and activities – those that will build new neural pathways in the brain so they can be lifelong learners.
It's not hard. By working on micro-skills, the brain can soon learn to process macro-skills. One step at a time is how the brain likes to work. It likes to work then it likes to rest. But it doesn’t like being crammed. It gets overwhelmed and shuts down, reverting back to its “lizard brain”.
Everyone knows the “lizard brain” doesn’t think…it just reacts. It tries to get you out of danger, and the child with a learning difference perceives himself/herself in danger. Seven hours a day, five days a week.
There’s a better way to help these kids! One micro-skill at a time, their learning foundations can be built up. Neural pathways can be directed in the right way and learning becomes easy. Just like it’s supposed to be!