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   Inside Out - South West: Monday February 21, 2005


words on a page
Problems with reading? Could it be Dyslexia?

Some people find reading very difficult, if not nigh on impossible.

For many of these it isn't a matter of intelligence or having not received adequate schooling - it is because they are dyslexic.

However getting diagnosed as dyslexic can be difficult, and at the moment it is a far from an exact science.

The tests for dyslexia involve judging whether a person's reading ability compares with their other abilities for their age and intelligence.

Once intellectual, emotional and cultural causes have been ruled out, those facing reading difficulties are often thought of as having dyslexia.

Some experts now believe it might be possible to develop a physical test to diagnose dyslexia more positively.

Eye tracking

Steve Walkden
Steve Walkden believes eye tracking could help diagnose dyslexia

Steve Walkden, a student at Plymouth University, is aiming to see if tracking eye movements will show discrepancies between the way dyslexics and non-dyslexics view a page.

It is known that dyslexics have problems controlling their eye movements.

This is thought to indicate that they process visual information in a very different way from non-dyslexics.

Steve is hoping that his research will uncover unique patterns of eye movement in dyslexics.

These patterns can then be compared to the eye movements of others who have difficulty reading to see if their problems are a result of dyslexia.

Being able to use such a tool to give a firm diagnosis at an early age could help thousands of children.

Reading with dyslexia

  • Dyslexics seem to process written and spoken language differently.
  • They are usually not aware of separate sounds in words (lack of phonological awareness) and may not perceive the symbols (letters) that make up words on a page as real or meaningful (visual processing difficulty).
  • Even dyslexics who are good at reading may have difficulty with small confusable words.
  • Dyslexics are often visual thinkers and need to link words to images to make them memorable.
  • Dyslexics may have problems tracking print and reading black print off a white page.

Source: BBC Skillswise

Dyslexics can largely learn to read, write and study effectively when they use methods geared to their unique learning style.

It is therefore important to diagnose dyslexia early in a child's school life so they can receive appropriate help with their learning.

The earlier teachers can address a dyslexic's needs the better the outcome, in terms of reading skills.

If children who are dyslexic get effective phonological training by the age of six, they will have significantly fewer problems in learning to read than children who are not identified or helped until they are eight.

Almost three-quarters of those eight year-olds will still be having problems reading when they are 14 or 15.

The multi-sensory approach

Joanna Jeffery
"Some people get lost in the system and don't realise their potential".
Joanna Jeffery, teacher

Dyslexics benefit from a different approach to learning. They tend to be visual thinkers and respond well to multi-sensory teaching methods.

This means that children are taught the links between what they see and what they hear and feel.

So when they are taught to recognise new letters, they need this to be reinforced by being taught the phonetic sounds associated with it, and learning and tracing its shape accurately, at the same time.

Failure to recognise dyslexia early enough, and tailor learning to the condition can lead to children not realising their full intellectual potential.

A reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Tom's story

Tom Harris with his teacher
Tom Harris is now working hard to master reading

Nine-year-old Tom Harris used to find school a struggle. He found reading extremely difficult and because of this he felt he couldn't play an active part in school. His mother says;

"He used to get really upset ... I got cross with him because he couldn't do it [read] ..."

Tom's parents thought his problems might be caused by dyslexia.

This wasn't confirmed until last June when specialist teacher Joanna Jeffery diagnosed him as dyslexic.

Now, with his needs recognised, he is finding school a more inviting place. He is now one of a handful of children helping with Steve Walkden's research.

Steve is comparing Tom's eye-movements to those of his non-dyslexic peers.

The new test

eye tracking test
Eye tracking could hold the key to diagnosing dyslexia accurately

Steve's eye-tracking test works by looking at how well a person can track a point of light across a screen.

Shown a light on the screen, a child's normal reaction would be to follow the light.

The children are told however to ignore the light and focus on another part of the screen.

Dyslexic children find it more difficult not to look at the light, and so Steve is trying to isolate this characteristic through his research, and use it as a diagnostic tool.

Steve's research is still at a very early stage, but he has high hopes for it;

"The potential is tremendous - if it works out it's a whole new ball game. But it's early days yet ... just a toe in the water".

If the results are significant, Steve is looking at conducting a far larger study.

His aspirations are to see the test incorporated into the standard assessments every school age child goes through.

This way, dyslexia can be recognised at an early stage, and children can recede help with reading early on in their school lives.

See also ...

Dyslexia (Health)
Dyslexia (CBBC)
Dyslexia (Skillswise)

On the rest of the web
The Dyslexia Institute
The British Dyslexia Association

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Kerry Green
i so agree with gillian, i too am dyslexic and was not diagnosed until i was 31!!!! had no intention of studying as i just assumed that i was stupid. after finding out i was dyslexic and not think after all ..PHEW, i continued doing my acsess course in wales and loved it. i am now in my final yr of uni , doing a theatr and education degree and want to shout out to the world that i am not thick and please to anyone that thinks they are, continue with your education, we are all different and we can all find ways to cope and we DO get there in the end!!

Gillian Lamb
I am approaching 30 years old now and am dyslexic. I was diagnosed in primary 2 and given remedial support, this undoubtably helped dramatically turn things round for me in terms of my reading and writing. Sadly, 25 years ago dyslexia was still the "excuse of the lazy and stupid" so i had not only to deal with the educational issues but the very difficult to understand bullying and other emotional issues as well. I am now a fulltime mother of two, a trustee for a charity as well as returning to studying to retrain in a career i want to pursue in nursing and midwifery. all the things i do to manage my dyslexia mean that i cope very well, to a point that most people would never consider i have or ever did have difficulties at school never mind a "learning difficulty". This has downsides too, it means that now while studying at college i am harder to assess now as dyslexic as a mature person develops skills to cope, but it means that it is harder to provide evidence to gain access to the additional support available, e.g. exams- time extensions for written exams etc. i am lucky, i have a fantastic college support team, and i have had access to support during my schooling. I know far too many adults didn't get this and don't carry on studying as it is made too difficult form the lack of facilities to accommodate mature people and to take into account that while they have developed strategies to cope which may mask their difficulties, they do still have difficulties and deserve support and to have their acheivement recognised. Any dyslexic will tell you it is hard work to learn and takes a lot of persistance and determination. The other issue that some else mentioned in another reply was the issue of financing the equipment, "tools of the trade" for dyslexics, testing costs an enormous amount of money as do the tinted glasses etc. It strikes me that as most adult dyslexics(that i am aware of) are employed in low wage job or simply can't afford additional costs of all the tests etc, it seems daft to indirectly discriminate against the adult population and deny (unintentionally?)so many people from getting the help and support they deserve. I don't see being dyslexic as a problem or a insrmountable barrier to anything, it just takes something extra to make it happen.

Lisa Gannon
my son is 5 and has been diagnosed with being dyslexic by his teachers.I find it very hard and frustrating helping my son as its hard to understand about dyslexic .There dosen,t seem to be much information about how to teach a child with this problem. The programme that was shown on tv has helped me undertstand more about what a child is going through.

Herbert A Sandford,PhD (Educ)
I brought my bright and active Filipino wife to Plymouth nearly a decade ago. She was an orphan and had attended the local Philippine village school until the age of fourteen, but her dyslexia was such that she gained little from her English lessons. There had been a specialist dyslexia learning centre in Plymouth (I disremember the name) but it had closed down the year we arrived. The authorities found a place for her in Martin's Gate for one day a week where she was brought nearly to tears as no tutor (though informed of her dyslexia) had any understanding or sympathy for the condition. She still has no specialized teaching though her present tutors are more patient. I am still unable to find any more appropriate teaching for my wife, and she still is unable to address an envelope, tell the time, fill in a form or read a bus timetable; she is dysfunctional without me. She being much younger than I, I fear for her when I die. I have no specialist ability to teach my wife (my educational doctorate did no embrace that) and, in any case, it is well known that it is not conducive to matrimonial harmony for a husband to teach his wife to drive a car or arrange flowers ... or to be her tutor!

Mrs Pat Sparks
I work as a specialist Dyslexia teacher in Berkshire. When my Mother saw your programme this evening she phoned me to tell me about it. I am very interested to read about any new ideas that will make life easier for children who are struggling, obviously the earlier they are picked up as having difficulties the better.

Mrs Diane Grey
My son has never been diagnosed as dyslexic because the current tests do not class him as high risk. He did an excercise programme with DDAT; although they said he was a low risk for dyslexia (using the standard test) he was treated for attention deficit and mild dyspraxia. He is still struggling with spelling and reads in a laboured manner. Sadly it is too late for him now but I feel that he is the sort of child your new research would have helped. I look forward to seeing the results of your research with great interest.

dereth adams-heighway
even though dyslexia is more out in the open, it all depends on how your childs school is, with it, im dyslexic. and my 13year old son is dyslexic, i told the school he needed extra help when he was 4, but the special needs teacher side tracked it, he still struggles with school work but has some ways of getting around it, we still have to work hard at children who are dyslexic, and those children who are " special needs" which usually means that they bare disruptive in the classroom, he wears coloured glasses, which we have to pay for them, this i think is wrong.

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