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Notes on Dyslexia
by Karen Pennebaker

My youngest son was taught the Orton-Gillingham method in public school by a teacher who went back to school specifically to learn how to teach him to read. It was fairly successful. He did begin to read, once she knew how to work with him. His younger daughter, Robin, is also dyslexic. I bought the Davis book, The Gift of Dyslexia, and it has a lot of good information. There is a test in the book about testing for dyslexia that is fascinating. Robin had absolutely no problem figuring out what to do with the test and was not surprised when I told her that most people don't think like she does or see what she sees! Another interesting book is Reading, Writing and Rage by Dorothy Fink (available at re the victims of school failure, especially about dyslexic boys. Anyone with a boy who is dyslexic and larger than normal for his age needs to read this book! Believe it or not, there is a correlation.

The key for a dyslexic child learning to read is learning to connect sounds and sight. Most of them are not ready to read at 6 or 8 years old. By age 10 or 11, they will begin to comprehend the structure of language and teach themselves. Dyslexic children are always above average in intelligence. What happens in public schools is that the other children (and many of the teachers) are often cruel to a child who cannot read. The most important key to teaching a dyslexic child is to explain to them that they are not “stupid” or “dumb” but merely have some sort of “short circuit” that makes reading difficult. They need to know that they have the ability to figure it out, in time, but it may be a struggle while they are learning.

My dyslexic son is 29 and reads all the time. However, at age 16, he read on a 4th grade level. His reading improved immensely once he stopped growing! This is one of the things we learned from reading “Reading, Writing and Rage” - especially with boys who “grow too fast”, this seems quite common. I will be interested in seeing if the same thing happens with girls when Robin stops growing. There is much more research on dyslexia in boys than in girls, as it is much more common in boys.

I read volumes of materials on dyslexia, remedial reading and other subjects connected to reading. Most of it was, to put it bluntly, garbage! You cannot teach a dyslexic child to read until the child is ready to learn! Dyslexic children cannot be taught by rote like other children! It doesn't work. They learn differently; they see differently; and they hear differently. And they aren't slow learners! Most dyslexic children that I have known have been extremely intelligent and able to use this intelligence to by-pass their inability to read. In many cases, they have gone through many years of school with their teachers and parents unaware that they couldn't read!

Left alone, dyslexic children learn things their way. Home schooling is great for them, because they can learn things the way it works for them, not the way a teacher presents things to a classroom! What seemed to work best for Brian was learning syllables and word families. Robin can learn word families, as well. She actually learns to spell words easier than she learns to read them. So, we work on spelling to get to reading. (She is 10 1/2.) Her math skills are interesting, as she can work things out in her head but has difficulty working on paper. She understands concepts - fractions, decimals, the connection between addition and multiplication, etc., - very well.

Another interesting thing Robin has discovered is that the pictographs of Egyptian hieroglyphics are fun to play with. She will actually write a sentence, just so she can translate it into pictures - she spent weeks putting scrolls with notes on them all over the house. I bought her the stamp set from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - she and her sister have had a lot of fun playing with it. (Whatever works is the key here!)

If you are looking for material about dyslexia and things to help you teach a child to read, you can find a lot of Orton-Gillingham online, for free. There are web sites for many other methods, such as the Davis method (author of The Gift of Dyslexia). What works for one child may not work as well for another. My suggestion is to read to the child and to show the child how the different methods work. They may come across something (like the hieroglyphics!) that you never would have thought of!!

Also, check to see if the child is “cross dominant” - meaning a right handed child with a dominant left eye or vice versa. The way to check is to stand across the room with your clasped hands in front of you, looking through the “hole” in between them at the child. Tell the child to look at you and you will see their dominant eye. Many dyslexics are cross dominant. If the child is left handed, with a dominant right eye, he is less apt to be dyslexic than if it is the other way around. Why? I am not sure but I would bet it has something to do with the fact that dyslexics are “right brained” people.

Another interesting thing to do is to get a list of “Dolce words” - these are the words the “average 1st grader learns first” (you can find them on the internet) a dyslexic child, some of these words are incomprehensible for years! In fact, if I were giving a test for dyslexia, I think the first thing I would do would be to hand that list to a child, read the words, and then give them the list to read to me. If they can read it, I would then give them the same words, all mixed up. The dyslexic child won't have a clue what any of the words are if they aren't exactly in the order you read them to them!! But that child may well be able to repeat back to you ANYTHING you read aloud to them. This is how they cope in school! The teacher reads a page to the class. The kids read along. The dyslexic child memorizes the page. The next time the teacher says “read page XX”, the dyslexic child opens the book, remembers what the teacher said, and often can parrot it, word for word! The teacher, of course, thinks this child reads very well!

I would imagine, in the early days of mankind, that the leaders and those who were able to invent ways to make life easier, were dyslexic! Of course, there was no written language then. There was no need for it. But there was need for creative thinking - and that is what dyslexics do best!

Karen Pennebaker home schools her youngest son's two daughters. A graduate of Penn State University, she is an artist who enjoys block printing, painting, and making jewelry and dreamcatchers. She and her husband, Ken, live on their share of "Almost Heaven, WV" with Brian, Jane, Linda and Robin, as well as 3 dogs, a duck and 3 goats. When her 3 sons were in public school, she was an elementary school volunteer for 20 years. Her boys attended a small, neighborhood school that welcomed parental involvement in the school. She set up publishing centers for 14 elementary schools and wrote a booklet for elementary teachers on how to publish their students' work.

Karen also does emergency typesetting for Resumes To Go (over the internet, as it is 1,000 miles away) as well as layout, typing, research and illustrating for historian Roger Swartz. She enjoys manuscript design and just put together the newspaper for the 53rd WV State Folk Festival.

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