Wednesday, February 8, 2012


“I grew up in a school system . . . where nobody understood the meaning of learning disorder. In the West Indies, I was constantly being physically abused because the whipping of students was permitted.”
-- Harry Belafonte

The learning disorder that Harry Belafonte suffered from was dyslexia, which made it difficult for him to read, write and spell. This condition isn’t linked to lack of intelligence and is in fact more noticeable in highly intelligent children, because they are expected to learn to read easily. Famous people including Agatha Christie, Alexander Graham Bell, Danny Glover, Hans Christian Anderson, Tom Cruise, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and Richard Branson are (or were) dyslexic.

Children are not usually recognized as being dyslexic until they are observed at school having difficulties with reading and spelling, but research has shown that indications of the condition can be seen in pre-school aged children. These include:

• delays in speech (Albert Einstein, who was dyslexic, didn’t speak until he was 3 years old);

• slow learning of new words;

• difficulty in rhyming words, as in nursery rhymes;

• low letter knowledge;

• letter reversal or mirror writing (for example, "Я" instead of "R");

• easily distracted by background noise;

• persistent difficulty in putting shoes on the correct feet;

• unduly late in learning to fasten buttons or tie shoe-laces;

• enjoys being read to, but shows no interest in letters or words;

• often accused of “not listening” or “not paying attention”;

• excessive tripping, bumping into things, and falling over;

• difficulty with catching, kicking or throwing a ball, hopping and/or skipping;

• difficulty with clapping a simple rhythm and with sequence e.g. coloured bead sequence – later with days of the week or numbers; quick “thinker” and “doer” – but not in response to instruction;

• enhanced creativity – often good at drawing – good sense of colour;

• aptitude for constructional or technical toys e.g. bricks, puzzles, Lego, blocks, remote control for TV, computer keyboard.

“Not all dyslexic children experience all of the difficulties listed above. Moreover, it is important to note that many very many young children make similar mistakes to dyslexic children, but it is the severity of the trait, the clarity with which it may be observed, and the length of time during which it persists which give the vital clues to the identification of the dyslexic learner.” (Jean Augur)

Once at school, the trait is more easily recognized. The child has difficulty

• learning the alphabet or letter order;

• associating sounds with the letters that represent them;

• identifying or generating rhyming words, or counting syllables in word;

• segmenting words into individual sounds, or blending sounds to make words;

• learning to decode written words;

• distinguishing between similar sounds in words; mixing up sounds in polysyllabic words (for example, "aminal" for animal, "bisghetti" for spaghetti)

How is dyslexia diagnosed?

A reading specialist will ask the parent what signs of dyslexia she and her child’s teachers have seen. The child may be asked to take reading and skill tests. Tests may include those that look at the child's personality and how he or she learns, solves problems, and uses words. These tests can help find out if the child has dyslexia or another learning problem. An assessment can help a child to understand that there is a genuine reason for their difficulties, which can really improve their confidence.
In Jamaica, The Mico Univeersity College has a Child Assessment and Research in Education (CARE) Centre in Kingston (Tel #929-7720), with other offices in St. Ann’s Bay and Mandeville, where children with learning difficulties can be assessed.

What causes dyslexia?

Experts don't know for sure what causes dyslexia. But it often runs in families. Also, some studies have found problems with how the brain links letters and words with the sounds they make. Some children are unable to distinguish between vowel sounds: short ‘a’ ‘e’ ‘i’ ‘o’ and ‘u’ all sound the same to them. Dyslexia isn't caused by poor vision, and people with dyslexia don't see letters and words backward.


The best time to start helping a dyslexic child is when he or she is between 3 and 7 years old. Many of the strategies for teaching dyslexic children are also useful for teaching other children. The emphasis is on a multisensoral approach—using senses of sight, hearing and touch. For example, the child could:

• arrange objects in order to match as similar set of objects. A child can also do this on the computer - see

• repeat words in the order they are given (three at a time to start with).
Child should thread buttons in correct sequence.

• say rhymes and poems.

• repeat rhyming words

• beat a rhythm he has listened to.

• talk about pictures. Help children notice details by asking questions e.g. is the man in front of or behind the car?

• shake containers of various objects (sand, coins, buttons etc.) one at a time and describe the sound (hard or soft) and guess what is inside.

• Listen to and repeat instructions. (Start with two.)

• Trace shapes of letters and words with the fingers

• Make letters with plasticene or modelling clay.

This puzzle isn't too easy for some children.
 • Do jigsaw puzzles.

• Thread coloured beads on a string in a given order

When teaching reading

• Teach how letters are linked to sounds to make words.

• Encourage children to listen to, say, look at, and write—these 4 activities for every letter and word.

• Have the child read aloud with a teacher’s help.

Medicines and counseling usually are not a part of treatment for dyslexia.

Ideally, dyslexic children should be taught by professionals trained to do so, with a structured, individually designed programme. Ideally, all primary school teachers should be trained to recognize dyslexia and be able to teach dyslexics. However, in Jamaica, this is unlikely to happen. What we can do in the meantime is to raise awareness, especially among parents and the children themselves of this specific learning disability. Dyslexics tackle tasks in different ways from non-dyslexics. They are not stupid—which raises another point—no child should ever be made to feel that they are stupid or inferior, either by adults or by other children.

“If a child cannot learn the way we teach, we must teach him the way he can learn.”

Useful websites: and


JAMbooks said...

My granddaughter was dyslexic. I used to wonder how come she had such difficulty with rhyming when I was playing word games with the others. She also was slower than the others with reading. I didn't realize the problem until one day she wrote her name very quickly and it turned out to be perfect mirror image. Spelling daunted her throughout school, but she did quite well in CXC exams making ones in science and Literature. She also could draw very well until a teacher turned her off. You are right, teachers need to be aware of the different reasons why some children do not perform as they expect, and realize they can be helped by using different teaching methods.

Helen said...

Thank you, Hazel. Did she get any special help with learning to read?

JAMbooks said...

Yes, for a while from a reading specialist. Also she was sent for evaluation. The interesting thing is that her mom is also dyslexic and figured that since she had gone through school without any special help, the child would be all right,so she resisted for a while until the school stepped in, but this was a prep school. Perhaps in the primary system it would have been more difficult

MissToi said...

Hello. Do you know of private reading specialists in Kingston?