Your child has learning difficulties? It could be dyslexia

A dyslexia test assesses how a child takes in and processes information, and what she does with that information.

A dyslexia test assesses how a child takes in and processes information, and what she does with that information.

What you need to know:

  • Dyslexia is a disorder that makes learning difficult.
  • Dyslexia is considered the most common learning disability in children and it persists throughout life. 
  • While heredity is a factor in some cases of dyslexia, the impairment is caused by the brain’s inability to translate images received from the eyes or ears into an understandable language.

Cleopatra Wambui is not different from her agemates. However, when you talk to her you realise she takes longer than usual to respond. Her speech is not fully developed and she finds it difficult to read books or any other written materials. According to her mother Margaret Gandi, Cleopatra's birth was normal but as she grew older, she drooled a lot and by the time she was eighteen months old, she was yet to utter a word. When she was first taken to the hospital, her mother was told to wait and observe because children develop and reach their childhood development milestones differently. But when there was no improvement, and she was taken to a specialist, Cleo was diagnosed with dyslexia. This diagnosis meant that she needed to be taught speech, attention, and motor skills.

What is it?

Dyslexia is a disorder that makes learning difficult. Despite classroom experience, a child may fail to attain any language skills, and be unable to read, write, and spell appropriately.  Sometimes, it may include the inability to speak well.

Dyslexia is considered the most common learning disability in children and it persists throughout life. 

Different forms of dyslexia

  • Trauma Dyslexia: Occurs following some form of brain damage or trauma, mainly in the area that controls reading and writing.
  • Visual Dyslexia: Characterised by letter and numeral reversals, and the inability to write symbols in the correct sequence.
  • Auditory Dyslexia: Involves hardships with sounds – particularly of letters or groups of letters. The sounds may be jumbled or inaudible.
  • Primary Dyslexia: This is a dysfunction of the left side of the brain known as the cerebral cortex. It is not brain damage and may remain even in adulthood. It is hereditary and is more common in boys than girls.
  • Secondary Dyslexia: It is also known as developmental dyslexia and is mostly caused by hormonal deficiencies in the early stages of fetal development. It diminishes as the child grows and is more common in boys than girls.

Johnstone Alembi is another child who suffers from dyslexia. Despite the ten-year-old going through the normal child training in reading and writing, Alembi cannot put words together on paper, or read as well as his age mates. Alembi’s father also has dyslexia.

While heredity is a factor in some cases of dyslexia, the impairment is caused by the brain’s inability to translate images received from the eyes or ears into an understandable language. As a result, the child will portray average intelligence and low learning capacity. This condition, however, does not result from vision or hearing problems and is not due to mental retardation, brain damage, or a lack of knowledge. This is what Cleo’s mother believed. “I knew that my daughter could make progress and was not to be permanently hindered by dyslexia.”  She enrolled her daughter at the Kenya Centre for Community Learning (KCCL).

Signs and Symptoms

A child may have difficulty remembering or understanding what he hears. “Recalling sequences of things or more than one command at a time can be difficult. Parts of words or parts of whole sentences may be missed, and words may fail to come out eloquently. The wrong word or a similar word may be used instead,” says pediatrician Lucia Nyawira. Your child may for instance wish to tell you something, but lack the words with which to tell you. As a result, she may become withdrawn or begin to act out strangely to get your attention. Letter and number reversals in the classroom are some of the most common warning signs. These tend to be common up to the age of eight. Similarly, hardships in copying from the blackboard or a textbook may indicate that something is amiss. She may be disorganised in her work, and may fail to have a solid memory of things learned, even if they involve her favourite topic. This may extend to sports and games. Difficulties with left and right are also common as the child struggles to establish dominance for either left or right hand or leg. A child may also show signs of low self-esteem, appear disinterested or lazy in school.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of dyslexia is normally done through testing. The exercise determines her ability in functional reading and compares it to her potential in reading. It further assesses how a child takes in and processes information and what she does with that information. According to Lucia, the main aim is to determine whether a child learns better by hearing information, looking at information, or doing something with the information. It also shows whether a child performs better when allowed to give information, by saying something or doing something with their hands.

Treatment for Dyslexia

Treatment for dyslexia usually focuses on strengthening the child's weaknesses while utilising their strengths, and will require one on one assistance. “Specific reading approaches that require a child to hear, see, say, or do something, such as the Slinger-land Method, the Orton-Gillingham Method, or Project Read should be used,” says Lucia. The child should also be taught comprehension and coping skills. “Attention should be given to optimum learning conditions and alternative avenues, computers for instance,” says Lucia.  However, the most important aspect of any treatment is attitude. The child will be influenced by the attitudes of those around him. In addition, dyslexia should not become an excuse for a child to avoid schoolwork. Nonetheless, schoolwork should be broken down into appropriate chunks, with breaks for the child to refresh.


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