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TC Two Cents-Dyslexia

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By Cynthia McDaniel

Tammy Cardwell, veteran homeschool Mom, answers your questions.

Q: You must be an expert? I hope you can see more objectively than I can, so here it goes: Well, I am homeschooling two children for the first time this year. One is 2nd grade; one is 4th grade. We use Calvert curriculum. We homeschool for better academics and higher quality socialization; not for religious reasons or anything radical. We are conservative, middle class, somewhat ordinary people. Two days a week, we send our children to an ISP program at a public school for enrichment projects, cooking, Spanish, music, free play with peers -- no academics. So, we do academics Monday, Thursday and Friday. The 4th grader is dyslexic and reading is a struggle, so I am the bad guy. His attitude is negative toward most of the work required by Calvert. 2nd grade daughter breezes through everything, but I can't spend much attention on her as a result of 4th grader. Fourth grader is falling behind already. I can tell that we will be schooling through the summer just to catch him up. The kids don't want to quit the two day class and I can't split it in half and have them go one day. The pressure is growing and I'm ready to exempt free mornings on Saturday just for academic work with the 4th grader.

A: No, I’m far from being an expert. I know very little about dyslexia and wanted you to have the benefit of one who can speak from experience, so I forwarded your question to Cynthia McDaniel, a friend who’s been there. What follows is her reply.

Your question was sent to me because of my experience with a 14 year-old dyslexic and research which helped her advance from a 3rd grade reading level at the end of 6th grade to a 9th grade reading level one year later. This is what happened:

We began homeschooling and encouraged her to read anything she found interesting. She picked a science fiction book which she read along with an audio tape, but the tape broke before she finished and she had to read it on her own. She decided that the book should be a movie and elected to write the script herself. After typing 80 single-spaced pages through the remainder of the year, she had learned to use a word processing program, keyboarding, spelling, grammar, vocabulary (she used the thesaurus to define words she didn't know), goal setting, and discipline in doing something every day.

Here's a little encouragement/inspiration about others with dyslexia: dyslexics have compensating gifts. They are often more analytical than the non-dyslexic. They think in images most of the time instead of in words. Consequently, they make excellent architects, computer programmers, engineers, etc. Dyslexics are as diverse as actors Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cher; investment broker Charles Schwab; and former V. President Nelson Rockefeller.

Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Winston Churchill all showed symptoms of being dyslexic but were successful nonetheless. Other dyslexics have become doctors, teachers, writers...basically, anything they want to be. But they may get there by a route other than that traditionally taken by those who (1) are not dyslexic, (2) learn in the traditional manner.

Undiagnosed dyslexics are often frustrated and, because they can't do the work, they begin to think of themselves as stupid (even when they are very intelligent). They give up easily. To get over it, they need encouragement and assurances that others have felt the same way they do, yet have succeeded. The power struggles and intense academics are not working. So, for a while, I would suggest backing off.

Be sure not to compare your son with his younger, academically skilled sibling. Let him know that you have learned of other people with dyslexia (don't say "people with your problem") and their successes. You want to convey that his reading difficulties can be solved and that you have confidence in him and his ability. This is critical, I think, because he won't even try if he thinks he can't succeed

To get around the feeling of neglecting your 2nd grader (I've done that too), include them both in as many projects as possible. For example, read to both of them. Drop all spelling for a few weeks. Have them dictate their writing projects to you to write down or (if he is learning to type), let him put them on the computer (he doesn't have to remember how to shape the letters so writing on a computer will be easier).

One trick I've used to break the "I can't do it" syndrome is to remind him that babies learn to walk even though they fail regularly before getting it right. The same happens with learning to ride a bicycle and to swim. It even happens with scientific discoveries and baseball home runs. It also happens with reading and writing. It took me a long time to learn this maxim: failing is learning.

Begin his new program with games such as Concentration, UNO, and ABC games that will help him develop recognition skills. Research indicates that the most critical factor in learning to read well is the ability to recognize letters, spelling patterns, and whole words effortlessly and automatically. Games (including fast-paced video games) that let him practice developing faster identification skills will assist him in his reading efforts.

You've heard of the three different learning styles: Visual (seeing), Auditory (hearing) and Kinesthetic (touching). Many kids, but especially dyslexics, need all three. It's called multi-sensory learning because it uses as many senses as possible.

For his first multi-sensory lesson, make cookies. (Include his sibling.) For younger kids, have them make the letters. For older kids, have them form words. Use a recipe for sugar cookies, or buy the dough at the store. Let him/her roll the dough into thin ropes (about 1/8 inch round) and shape them into letters or words. Once baked and admired, the child can eat his lesson!

When the child begins learning spelling, break the words into syllables. Dyslexics have difficulty doing this themselves at first, but it is critical to retaining words. It's easier to remember 3 letters (starting, ending and middle) rather than a string of letters. Don't be surprised if he learns a word one day, but forgets it the next, or if he uses it eight times on a page and spells it five different ways.

When he learns phonics, the child learns about 55 patterns which cover most of the words in the English language. It's much better than learning 10,000 sight words. There are several methods to teach phonics. The Spalding method noted in The Writing Road to Reading works well and is based on the Orton Dyslexia model. Spaulding outlines a set method for progressing through sounds, blends, etc. to develop the awareness of how those letters form words.

Another is a method called sequential spelling which is wonderful for older dyslexics (even teenagers). This method can be found in Don McCabe's book, To Teach a Dyslexic. It works like this:

Start with a family of words which have the same rhyme such as "at". Help the student hear the words correctly. Many times they drop a letter sound or change it into something else that is more familiar or easier for them. Correct words as you go, not at the end of the lesson.

Lesson 1: Your spelling list looks like this: bat, rat, brat.

1. Say: Let's take the "at" that you know how to spell and add letters to make more words. Let's add a "B". Now we have "bat". Have the student write the word. Now what about "rat"? Can you spell "rat"? (If he changes the "B" to an "R", praise him.)

2. Now, let's try "brat". (If the student spells it wrong, go over it with him: First we hear a "B" sound followed by an "R" sound. Then we hear the family sound "at".

From this beginning, you can proceed to Lesson 2: bats, rats, brat, flat, flatter, spat.

Then Lesson 3: batted, ratted, batter, flats, flatters, spats, mat, matter, hat.

This sequencing shows the student the pattern in spelling. He learns that words which rhyme need to be changed only with the initial letter. He then learns to add suffixes and prefixes. He trains his computer brain to recognize patterns. Following the progression of this series, you can build a list like this:

Monday--all, tall, stall, install;

Tuesday--ball, fall, stalls, installs;

Wednesday--balls, falls, stalled, installed;

Thursday--falling, stalling, installing, installment.

Or this one:

Monday--end, tend, intend, attend;

Tuesday--ends, tends, intends, attends;

Wednesday--ended, tended, intended, attended;

Thursday--ending, tending, intending, attending.

McCabe recommends that the lessons occur for 10 minutes each and every day.

I'd like to finish with why English has so many "exceptions". Although Anglo-Saxon was originally a simple language with simple, one-syllable words such as land, place, hunt, deer, it had no words for legal and cultural issues. So, the Romans provided their own multi-syllabic Latin words. Christianity introduced Latin and Greek religious words. Then came the Norman French, (in 1066) They contributed cuisine and military words: victuals, lieutenant, colonel, rendezvous, boudoir and unique. These words kept their phonic patterns. This process continues today with words from all over the world. As a result, our spelling depends on where the word came from. All of these words make up the rich, expressive language used world-wide and known as English.

If you follow some of these training suggestions with your children, I think your fourth grader will show improvement and gain confidence in his language skills. Your homeschool will be successful as your children find learning can be fun.

Resource List

Compiled by: Cynthia McDaniel

International Dyslexia Association (IDS):

IDS is a professional organization for 10,000 physicians, researchers, teachers, parents and dyslexics with 25 branches around the country and in Israel. Its headquarters is in Baltimore, Maryland and can be reached at (410) 296-0232 or 1-800-ABCD-123.

Other sites:

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children: (Dyslexia Training Program, Literacy Training Program, Keyboarding)
Ask Eric: (Short articles on educational topics)
Dyslexia Archives


Set, a visual perception game good for kids of all ages. Good for logic deductions.
Wordplay, ambigrams by John Langdon.


Newsgroup -
Newsgroup - k.12.ed.special

Resources at your library include:

In the Mind's Eye. West, Thomas, 1991. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY (Cases of famous dyslexics such as Charles Schwab and Albert Einstein)
Smart Kids with School Problems: Things to Know & Ways to Help.Things to Know & Ways to Help. Priscilla L. Vail, 1987. Plume, Penguin Books, New York, NY.
The Misunderstood Child: A Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities. Larry B. Silver, M.D., 1992. TAB Books, McGraw-Hill Inc., New York, NY.
Kids Have all the Write Stuff: Inspiring Your Children to put Pencil (or crayon or felt- tip marker or computer) to Paper by Sharon A. Edwards and Robert W. Maloy.
The Writing Road to Reading: The Spalding Method of Phonics for Teaching Speech, Writing, & Reading, written by Romalda Bishop Spalding is an inexpensive and useful method to teach phonics
To Teach a Dyslexic by Don McCabe, AVKO Educational Research Foundation. AVKO's phone: (810) 686-9283. AVKO's FAX: (810) 686-1101 Address: 3084 W. Willard Road, Clio, MI 48420. Autobiography of a dyslexic who succeeded and who devised a method to teach other dyslexics.

Multi-sensory activities:

Dyslexics thrive on multi-sensory learning. Unlike others, one sense (such as hearing or vision) is not enough for the dyslexic to retain information. Dyslexics do better when all three learning styles (auditory, visual and kinesthetic (touch)) are included.

Drawing, coloring and painting, especially with the hand or fingers. Play acting and drama approaches are good as are simple letter and word games such as Car ABC (find letters in alphabetical order on anything with a letter on it while traveling [signs, licenses, trucks, et al.]). Adjust the rules as necessary for the skill level of the child.

Workbooks & curriculum:

If you want books and workbooks for your dyslexic, try the Educators Publishing Service (EPS). Their books cover vocabulary, reading, comprehension, software, spelling, grammar, handwriting, math, tests, and foreign languages. You can reach them at 1-800-225-5750 or 31 Smith Place, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138-1000.

For math, try Delta Education's Hands-On Math at 1-800-442-5444. Delta's manipulatives are for grades K-8 and cover fractions, decimals, percents, geometry, graphing, measurement, primary math, probability, problem solving and origami.

Copyright ©  1998  Eclectic Homeschool Association

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