Dyslexia- Are reading difficulties innate or taught, and is Dyslexia just a reading difficulty anyway?

nce upon a time I had three little children who all went to Primary school. My oldest boy was on the old SEN 1 because he was finding it difficult to learn to read. My second son was on the old SEN 3 because he was finding it almost impossible to learn how to read and my daughter was happily in school with no apparent problems.

The school was using the “Whole Language Real Books” approach to reading. No reading schemes here, just story books with lots of reading. I really don’t remember much phonics goings on, it was whole word and word pattern recognition.

Then the school introduced THRASS, something so complicated there were whole parent nights dedicated to trying to get us to understand it. I hated those charts and they became Alex’s nemesis.

Josh who had struggled to begin with, suddenly found his feet and his reading took off. He was removed from SEN and that was that.

Alex continued to struggle and the fact that his reading was so bad effected a lot of his other work and then made him so stressed in the lead up to the first SATS tests that he started being sick in the mornings. SATS were a pointless nightmare.  (I only wish I had known about Home Education back then). One other aspect that may have effected how he learned was the fact that he was the youngest child in his class with his August birthday. For little children a few months can make a huge difference in development.

It was when we moved house that I decided to change the children to a more local primary. As it happened I was to move them from one at the top of the Government league tables for the area to one quite a bit lower down. But it was a good move. The new school understood special needs and had a dedicated and intelligent (and holy) SENCO. Josh went to Secondary school at this point and Alex and Iona moved to this new Primary school. Alex was immediately given intensive help and taught to read phonetically. Then at this point the Iona’s teacher spotted that she couldn’t read or write properly either.

I was shocked that I had not realised how bad it was for her. But I had concentrated so much on sorting Alex out, after school, that she had slipped by me.

As it turned out her problems were worse than Alex’s.

Alex has dyslexia which means he finds word patterns difficult to perceive and this effects reading. But he also finds letter shapes difficult to perceive and letter order. He finds it hard to see the correct order for things in  patterns, although he has very good visual spacial and colour awareness. His artistic talent is innate in some ways and his difficulty with ordering his thoughts, sensing order in objects, shapes and words also seems to us at least to be innate also.

Iona has similar problems with words, but she also has dyspraxia. This means she finds it difficult to judge space and shape; hence her proclivity for walking into things, missing chairs when she tries to sit down and tripping over furniture that has been moved. When she was younger this was a major problem for her. She took a long long time to learn how to tie laces and use a knife and fork.

Josh has none of these problems. Neither does Ronan. He has some distance awareness problems but that’s because he is blind in  one eye. He has no problems with reading, writing or patterns.

Avila does. She needs a lot of attention to help her remember how to work out new words from the right direction and to write letters and numbers the right way round and in the right order.

I use a phonics based approach with a reading scheme for the younger children. Ronan reads fluently now he is 7 and is no longer using the Scheme. Avila is reading Oxford Reading Tree stage 7 with some  “real” books of her own choosing. I went through a bit of a glitch with her reading and we went to the McGuffey Readers which are purely phonic based. This worked well and she returned to ORT with no problems and has recently “clicked” with reading. Her writing has improved a great deal, but she still struggles a lot with number direction, even though her mathematical skills are very good. She is 5, so I think it is too early to suggest she may have dyslexia and anyway she is reading ahead of school peers so it would be silly to say she even has difficulties in reading.

There is a battle over dyslexia. On the one side are those who insist this is a neurologically based perception disorder that is innate to the child and effects how they learn. On the other side are those who say dyslexia is a “learned” disorder in reading because children are not being taught properly and properly means phonics.

Then there’s little ol’me who thinks they are both right. I think there are plenty of children who can’t read because they haven’t been taught properly, but I would question how many of these actually have dyslexia. On the other hand there are children whose difficulties in perception are far wider than just reading; who find ordering their thoughts and words difficult; who can’t remember simple patterns like the alphabet or times tables.

But I do think that spending time with a child with this leaning and teaching them sound and phonics is important because they simply can’t grasp whole words either as patterns or just for memory. I don’t know how it will end up for Avila. But I do think taking her back to the old McGuffey Readers was a wise move because it has really helped her. So long as I point at the first letter of a word, she can break it down and work it out. Gradually I hope I can teach her to see for herself where the first letter of each word comes and to recognise the spaces between words.

Ronan just learned to read. I don’t think I had to take extra time over it with him. He always understood words were separate and had first letters.

The problem schools have with dyslexic children is they need someone’s time and when you have 29 other children who also need your time, perhaps having other developmental and learning problems – well, then some children wont get to learn to read very well.

Charlotte Mason didn’t think children should go to school until they were 7. She believed that before then a child learned from his mother and sometimes father. If a child gets to learn at home with a loving adult, by the time they are 7 they will probably be able to read pretty well.

But no one is going to suggest that as a way to do things are they? And that is precisely why so many HE families have children with learning problems in them. We know the schools can’t cope.

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4 responses to “Dyslexia- Are reading difficulties innate or taught, and is Dyslexia just a reading difficulty anyway?

  1. Have you looked into Auditory Processing Disorder as another reason for Dyslexia and some spacial awareness problems. We believe this is one of the bases for our sons problems, Dyspraxia being the other.
    Have a look at http://www.apduk.org/ for more info.

  2. I used to be a SENCO for my sins. The problem with schools in that they are system- based. They must necessarily fit children into boxes to manage the hundreds who pass through their doors every day.

    And they have long since lost that ability to shelve results and data, and concentrating on loving the individual child.

    I’m going to sound dewy eyed here, sorry. Each child is an intricate set of possibilities and limitations. Each has their own internal timetable. And it seems to me that what HE does is allow that timetable to unfold without pressure.

    As for the toolkit: different combinations of phonics and whole word recognition work for different kids: but if you all love each other and the books, the little girl who started on the SEN register, with reversals, will be reading and loving Shakespeare by ten. Mine was, and she is.

    I UTTERLY loved this post. Thanks Mum6kids.

  3. My youngest has dyslexia and dyspraxia – due to Sensory Processing Disorder… at nine – now he is reading at a Sophmore level (according to the state tests), and his writing has greatly improved — but we have been working intently together for years, so of course he’s on track now. He’s reading the Redwall books – one every three days at the moment – and loving every minute of it! I agree with you – while I know that dyslexia is real (involving more than just reading issues), I also know that some children are just not taught to read in a way that they can understand. It isn’t rocket science to teach reading – but it does require time and patience… and one on one interaction so that you can spot what is going on in the learning process of each child. I don’t want to think about what Levi’s reading would be like if we hadn’t been the ones to teach him…

  4. I have at least three children with dyslexia, one has also got dyscalculia, another dysgraphia and so on. But despite all the problems which all the dys… can give, I also think of it as a gift. When they have problems in one area, it generally means they are exceptionally good in another one, generally artisticly connected. Leonardo da Vinci was almost certainly dyslexic as only a dyslexic can literally see objects in a 3D way in his/her mind with light and shade and is able to then draw it.
    My oldest could not learn to read phoneticaly as letters by themselves are not connected to “mind” pictures. Everyone can picture words like elephant or rat, but how could you make a “mind” picture of the word “the” or “a”? Real dyslexics need to picture things.
    There is a man in the States who was severely autistic until he was about 11 and also dyslexic who has devised a program to help people with such problems. As he was the person used as guinea pig to test his method and that he has an inside view of it as well as an engineerper profession, he really knew/knows what he is talking about and has had a fantasic success record. His name is Ron Davies. The now called Davies method is what has helped my oldest daughter make sense of lots of everyday things that are just a complete puzzle for dyslexics. For her, to do the Davies program was like coming out of a very dark prison and go to heaven (her description). If you do have dyslexics, you might want to look into it. Good luck.

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