What is dyslexia?
Most experts agree that, in general, dyslexia is the result of an inability to distinguish and/or process the sounds that make up speech, for whatever reason. When trying to define dyslexia, it’s difficult to find any one group that totally agrees with another–in either its definition, diagnosis or treatment.
What can we do about it?
Some experts feel that dyslexia is inborn and can never be cured, while others believe there is no such thing as dyslexia, and it is just a result of improper teaching methods. It is at this point where opinions begin to diverge. Merck’s Manual defined dyslexia as:
“Failure to see or hear similarities or differences in letters or words…Inability to work out pronunciation of unfamiliar words…Tendency to substitute words for those he cannot see. . .”
Since whole language programs do not teach students individual letter/sounds at first, how can they hear the sounds comprising the word? And if children are encouraged in first grade to substitute words for those they cannot read, do not these programs actually train children to do the very thing that medical journals define as dyslexic?
My own experience is that while true dyslexia is much rarer than is commonly thought, it indeed can be an inborn organic phenomenon. Our own son has it.
Although he was taught how to read with explicit phonics, he still struggled with learning. Although he is now over 50 years old, has graduated with honors in Microbiology from the University of California, and frequently reads a book in one sitting, he still needs to think twice before writing “b” and “d” in order not to reverse them!
Children exhibiting dyslexic symptoms who were taught with whole-language methods have what I term “whole-word dyslexia” and no longer exhibit any signs of reversals or confusion once they learn how to read properly. It can be impossible to differentiate from true organic dyslexia.
How can we tell the difference?
What difference does it make? Whether dyslexia is organic or educationally-induced, treatment still consists of good phonics remediation. Whether irregular eye movement patterns are a cause or consequence of poor decoding skills, the remediation is still the same!
When phonemes are individually learned, slowly blended into syllables and words, and then built into sentences, eyes are being patterned to move together smoothly from left to right across the page. It is eye training at its simplest, most basic level.
It is my experience that if bad training can be a cause of dyslexia, then good training can help overcome it! We are not born with the ability to automatically move our eyes from left to right-it is an acquired skill that is absolutely necessary in the earliest stages of reading. Without it, irregular eye movements, reversals, etc., can become established that result in slow and/or inaccurate reading. Eye-tracking skills must be well-established before real learning can take place.
Some students get over this hurdle quickly once they learn how to read correctly, others need more time and training to correct irregular eye movements. Sporadic and irregular eye movements have become so firmly entrenched that specific convergent eye exercises are needed to help them get over this difficulty.
Do exercises really help?
This process actually can be painful for some students! Don Potter, a resource specialist, once wrote to me:
“This 4th-grade girl put her head down when she started the long vowel sections of Phonics Pathways because she said it made her hurt all over. Previously there had been heavy use of context, requiring a lot of self correction to get through a passage. Decoding had been mostly by context and configurational clues.
“Comprehension was seriously impaired because of lack of attentional capacity, and she had often exhausted herself with the decoding, and frequently inserted words that weren’t there.
“She experienced a great deal of mental anguish when she had to read the long-vowel endings in Phonics Pathways Rewiring the brain is no fun, but what a tremendous difference it has made in her reading!”
If a child must concentrate so hard just to decide the phonemes correctly, he cannot focus on meaning at the same time. It’s not that eye convergence and tracking exercises will teach reading per se, but rather it will set the stage for allowing learning to happen.
“Eye training” is not new or unique to America–it has been part of Chinese and Tibetan medicine for many thousands of years. No doubt there are false and overblown claims made by many practitioners.
But it is my experience that “dyslexic” students who were taught how to read incorrectly have benefited greatly from vision/motor training, which in its simplest form should be embodied in any good phonics reading programs. It’s certainly an important component of Dorbooks products!
One mother recently wrote,
“My son is 9 and this is our second year of homeschooling. In October our local library included your book. I was the first to take it out and I now have our own copy. I read in the back about the activities to help hand and eye coordination. These were the same exercises we did for Perceptual Vision Dysfunction Therapy.
“What a difference it made! My son loves it so much that it is one subject I get “Great Mom, I love doing Phonics Pathways!” Reading Pathways has been a tremendous boost in our family to reinforce blending. My 5 year old read the very first pyramid story last week and it really made her day!”
Whole-language programs frequently claim they do teach phonics. But the question is, what do they mean by “phonics”?
So B E W A R E !! As Mark Twain said:
“There is nothing in the world like a persuasive speech to fuddle the mental apparatus and upset the convictions and debauch the emotions of an audience not practiced in the tricks and delusions of oratory!” ~My very best, Dolores