Making a difference for those with learning differences
or, why some people with dyslexia struggle to find the right word.
Have you ever noticed that some people mix up words when they’re talking? They may mispronounce the word, or say a word that sounds similar to the right one, or they may ummm and aaahhh as they try to remember the word they need.
This is an issue with word retrieval – having the right word on the tip of your tongue. Sometimes it’s called speed of lexical access – how quickly you can come up with the word you need.
They use this same approach when looking at words. Some words easily give a mental picture, but many don’t. It’s easier to picture ‘elephant’ than ‘was’, and many people with dyslexia find it easier to read the word ‘elephant’ than the word ‘was’!
A mother told me about her eight-year-old daughter reading a book and coming to the word ‘jacket’, which she read as ‘warm coat’. This is likely to be because she was picturing the meaning of the word in her mind, and that was more important to her than the actual letters in the word.
As people with dyslexia are often creative and imaginative, they may group information differently in their minds. When asked to find the things that go together out of this group of pictures
they may choose boat and feather, because they can both sit on water, but a word-thinker may choose boat, coat and goat, because the words sound alike.
A teenager was repeating a story she had just heard. As she came to the words ‘station wagon’ she clasped her hands to her cheeks, said “Oh no!” and then said ‘wation stagon’. She then groaned and said “Oh. It’s happened again!”
A mother was chatting to me about her son’s school work. She remarked:
"Well, he is making process, but it's slow process."
Yes, dyslexia does tend to run in families.
(Note: Rapid Naming is not a test for dyslexia – it is used as a small part of the process of finding out whether someone has a specific learning difficulty).
Another thing I’ve noticed in my work as an assessor is that many people with dyslexia have very good listening comprehension – they have no problem understanding what people are saying.
Many find it harder to put their thoughts into words, so their oral expression score may be lower. Of course, it is usually even harder to put their thoughts into writing.
This problem can lead to frustration, embarrassment and humiliation for the person. They often become very quiet, as it’s easier not to speak much at all.
So, what can be done about problems with word retrieval?
But what if people who don’t have such issues, those like me who are good spellers, who can speak and read clearly and fluently, learnt to value those who have problems with words, but are creative, imaginative, out-of-the-box thinkers and valued them just as they are? It’s no coincidence that many artists, inventors, designers, musicians, mechanics, pilots, entrepreneurs etc. are dyslexic. The world needs the gift of dyslexia.
If you think your child is frustrated by their inability to learn and the school or tutor doesn’t seem to understand their particular needs, it’s time to consider a completely different approach. The Davis programmes cover a range of learning difficulties, including dyslexia, AD(H)D, dyspraxia, Maths difficulty etc. The methods used suit visual and kinaesthetic (hands-on) learners.
Most of the people who come to me for a Davis Dyslexia Correction programme have ‘improved spelling’ as one of their goals. It is delightful to watch as they master the spelling of a long word, not only knowing which letters go together to spell the word, but also knowing the meaning of the word. This fits beautifully with what is written about spelling here.
Then the person with dyslexia comes to grips with some of those nasty little words like ‘a’, ‘from’, ‘in’ and ‘of’ that have tripped them up for years. Have you noticed this in your/your child’s reading? They may be able to read the word ‘escalator’ just fine, but stumble over ‘on’. This is because word meanings are so important, as the article above explained. You can picture an escalator in your mind, but you may not be able to clearly picture the meaning for the word ‘on’.
If you prefer to think with pictures, and those little words don’t bring a picture to your mind, it’s like being at the movies and the operator turns off the projector every few seconds – you try to piece the story together, but there are lots of missing bits. That’s just how dyslexia affects many people. No wonder their reading comprehension is usually poor!
Mastering reading and spelling in a visual and hands-on way is not only fun, it gets around the short-term memory issues that make learning difficult for many people. Even those who may not be dyslexic, but have trouble learning in a traditional way, benefit from these methods.
It is so empowering for the person to learn that they can spell any word they want to, when they go about it the right way.
It’s not all about academic progress, though. The thing that gives me the biggest buzz in my work is when I have the opportunity to show someone how to focus their perceptions using the Davis ® techniques. If someone who has always struggled with messy handwriting, or misunderstanding instructions, or remembering their phone number suddenly finds they can do those things easily when they are focused, it’s like witnessing a miracle.