Sat | Dec 16, 2017

They are not dunce! - Addressing dyslexia in Jamaican children

Published:Saturday | September 16, 2017 | 12:00 AMCecelia Campbell Livingston

If you're gonna judge the cover

You better read the book

Cause the closer you get

The bigger I look

- Don McGlashan's The Closer You Get, The Bigger I Look

Some parents, after investing in their children academically, expect them to learn at rapid pace. More often than not, they get impatient and do the unthinkable - refer to them as 'backward', 'dunce', and compare them with their peers who are excelling.

For these parents, the concept of a learning disorder is alien. Ask them about dyslexia and chances are, they will be hearing of it for the first time.

The reality, though, is many Jamaican children are faced with this learning challenge.

"Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects the ability to read, spell, write, and speak. Children who have it are often smart and hard-working, but they have trouble connecting the letters they see to the sounds those letters make," Dr Patrece Charles, founder and chief executive officer of Phoenix Counselling Centre, told Family & Religion.

Those children, she said, have normal vision and are just as smart as their peers - with one main difference - they struggle more in school because it takes them longer to read. Trouble processing words can also make it hard to spell, write, and speak clearly.

Charles shared that dyslexia can go undetected in the early grades of school, and this will see children becoming frustrated by their difficulty in learning to read.

"It is important to note that other problems can disguise dyslexia, and a child may show signs of depression and low self-esteem; have behaviour problems at home as well as at school that often manifest; become unmotivated and develop a dislike for school; and their success may be jeopardised if the problem remains untreated," she points out.

Since the brains of children who have dyslexia have a hard time connecting letters to the sounds they make and then blending those sounds into words, they might read the word 'cat' as 'tac'. Because of these mix-ups, reading can be a slow and difficult process.

 

COMMON DISORDER

 

"Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in children and it persists throughout life. The severity of dyslexia can vary from mild to severe. The sooner dyslexia is treated, the more favourable the outcome. However, it is never too late for people with dyslexia to learn to improve their language skills," said Charles.

Determining if a child is suffering from dyslexia can be a difficult process, and Charles said classroom teachers may not always be able to pinpoint it.

"They may detect early signs that suggest further assessment by a psychologist or other health care professional in order to actually diagnose the disorder," she said.

However, she said there are some telltale signs that can help to identify the condition. These include: delayed early-language development; problems recognising the differences between similar sounds or segmenting words; slow learning of new vocabulary words; difficulty copying from the board or a book; difficulty with learning, reading, writing, and spelling.

Other signs are not being able to remember content, even if it involves a favourite video or storybook; and problems with spatial relationships, which can extend beyond the classroom and be observed on the playground. The child may also appear to be uncoordinated and have difficulty with organised sports or games; difficulty with left and right is common; and often dominance for either hand has not been established.

 

MAKING LIFE EASIER

 

Parents and teachers can make life easier for children who are diagnosed with this condition, and it is for this reason that Charles stressed the importance of consulting a paediatrician if parents are concerned about their children's development. Additionally, meeting with your child's teachers is an important step toward getting more answers.

"Any parent or teacher who suspects a learning problem should request a meeting to discuss the child's problem. The parent may request this even if the teacher believes the child is doing well. Sometimes a decision to test the child will be made. The parent or teacher may request testing, but it cannot be done without the parents' written permission," she said.

If the child's school lacks the appropriate professionals to evaluate a suspected learning problem, she suggests the child be referred for an evaluation.

"Because testing can sometimes be stressful for children, especially if they are unhappy about their school performance, alternative strategies are usually tried before testing is done."

familyandreligion@gleanerjm.com