Dorothy van den Honert: Dyslexia and the bright child

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PITTSFIELD — A dyslectic child is a miserable reader. He is embarrassed in school. His friends laugh at him, his teacher accuses him of not trying hard enough. His spelling is as bad as his reading, and even when he is grown, what he writes is full of mistakes a normal reader doesn't make.

I once saw an extraordinary document on TV, hand-written by a man who apparently nobody knew had dyslexia. But it was immediately obvious to me what his problem was, since I had 33 years of experience teaching dyslectic students. The document was a mess. The myriad types of weird spelling and punctuation errors that it contained were typical of dyslexia and not of the average sloppy adult.

It was no coincidence that the father of this man had been super critical of him all the time he was growing up because of bad marks in school. Daddy apparently had no idea how exceptionally bright his son was, and neither did the teachers. If you can't read, you must be dumb. And if you can't remember the simplest spelling rule, you just aren't trying. This is the common conclusion of an ambitious Papa with an offspring who spends his school years embarrassing his father, not to mention the conclusion of the general public

The presence of dyslexia in a bright child often has another unfortunate effect besides irritating ambitious parents. It produces a chronic liar, for the obvious reason that no one wants to be thought stupid, especially if he is not. And if he doesn't know a fact and is not fussy, a dyslectic person will pick a close word out of hope. In fact, his close choice may seem as sensible to him as the correct one does to a normal reader.

On the other hand, if you should happen to hold a job that requires you to know a lot about other nations' history and economics, (lets say, a job like the president of the United States), lack of accurate information in these areas can be a serious drawback. Under those circumstances, being dyslexic can look an awful lot like a person who is either ignorant or a chronic liar.

Prone to tweets

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If a dyslectic person becomes high enough in the economic ladder to be able to afford it, he will never hand-write something, himself, but instead will get someone else to take his idea down as dictation. It is also notable that such dyslectic-dictated productions are often very brief, written without full sentences but rather in two-word phrases. But the helpful neighbor who writes these "tweets" for him doesn't make spelling mistakes. Or omit capital letters on names. Since nobody knows the real author is dyslectic, even the helpful neighbor may just feel he is helping a friend. I mean, doesn't everybody know people who are lousy spellers?

So how come an intelligent person can be smart and still produce such messes? It is because the messes are the result of a tiny misformed area in the bridge between the two halves of the brain called the corpus callosum.

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The left half of the brain is built to handle information that comes into the brain in bits and pieces like the letters in a language or numbers and mathematical symbols. The right hemisphere is best at comprehension of ideas, emotions, color and shapes. A person with an above average right hemisphere is apt to become an architect, artist, or musician. The left-brained person is apt to be a writer or a mathematician.

A few extra-bright souls like Einstein sometimes are actually above average in both areas! Most of us are just better in one way or the other.

So how does a teacher manage to teach reading to someone with a damaged corpus callosum? It is surprisingly simple.

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You have to get your lesson delivered only to the left, language hemisphere without having it go first through the faulty CC. Not only is it simple, it is cheap, requiring nothing more expensive than the cardboard off the back of a lawyer's pad.

The trick is described for free on Google and anybody can do it. If you use a certain teacher's program written to make use of the technique, you can match my results of a three or four year gain in one year, achieving grade level quickly! The reason is that you develop and train that unused left-hemisphere area! It is there, snoozing. It just needs to get up and get going.

There is one other problem a hopeful tutor will have to solve if she wants to put her school on the educational map and alter the lives of hundreds of kids. Teaching according to the directions in the special teacher's manual cannot be done in a classroom of more than six kids at a time! Why? Because one student is working with the teacher, reading special phonics and spelling exercises with the lesson delivered only to his left hemisphere, while another one is at the other end of the table doing some written exercises. When the kids have done enough exercises (20 to 30 minutes) they switch. This way both students get practice in both reading and spelling, incorporating the special techniques that will by-pass the source of the trouble — the broken CC.

The only problem with getting this effective technique established in a public school is that no principal I have ever seen will allow an academic class of only six elementary pupils to have one teacher. They just can't seem to believe that the town can afford such an arrangement

Dorothy van den Honert is a former teacher and is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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