You are browsing the archive for Eve Pearce.

How Our Understanding of Dyslexia Has Changed

March 27, 2014 in Eve Pearce

How Our Understanding of Dyslexia Has Changed

If you had been born a hundred, or two hundred, years earlier, the world would have been a very different place. If you were lucky imagesenough to get an education, your classroom would also have been very different. You might have found yourself in a basic village school, with an untrained teacher trying to show you how to read and write. If your family could afford it, you might have been sent to a better school, where your teachers would have higher expectations. The rules would be strict. If you didn’t keep up with the class, you might be made to wear a dunce’s cap. You might even have been caned just for finding the work difficult. School was a tough place for everyone. For children who struggled with the lessons, it was especially difficult. What would quickly be recognized as a learning difficulty today was once considered a sign of bad behavior that needed to be punished. Awareness of dyslexia has grown since then. Although there are still children who go undiagnosed, there is a good chance that anyone entering the classroom today will meet a well-trained teacher who can recognize any problems. Learning difficulties like dyslexia will quickly be diagnosed, and the right kind of support will be available. Still, it is interesting to look back and see how far we have come.

The History of Dyslexia

In the past, dyslexia would rarely have been spotted. It is only in the last few centuries that education became available to large numbers of people. As literacy rates increased, the fact that some people struggled with numbers and letters became clear. Terms like “word blindness” were used to describe these problems, but they were poorly understood. We knew very little about child development or how to help people learn. Children who did not succeed at school were often falsely believed to be medically incapable of learning, or simply dismissed as badly behaved. Progress was made during the 20th century, when the term dyslexia became more common. It was recognized as a learning difficulty that should be approached as an educational problem more than a medical one. New educational methods were developed to help children who were identified as dyslexic. Children who would once have been dismissed as unteachable were by the 1980s being given the chance to learn in a way that worked for them. Doctors, psychologists and teachers all collaborated in working out what dyslexia was, why it occurred, and what could be done to help people affected by it.

Misunderstandings

The importance of the support systems that are in place to help students with learning disabilities like dyslexia is clear when we consider the experiences of previous generations. Poorly trained teachers who relied on techniques like rote learning did not know how to handle children who needed different kinds of help. Instead of offering additional support, they often shifted the blame onto the children themselves. A child might be labeled stupid or lazy because they struggled with the work. If they acted out in response to this criticism, they might even be marked as a troublemaker. It was all too easy for children who needed extra help to be neglected and drawn into bad behavior that could continue in later life. Problems such as drug addiction were often more common among people affected by undiagnosed learning disabilities. Those who succeeded often did so in spite of their teachers, not because of them, as described in the examples given by the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. The situation today is very different. Children whose educational needs are recognized early can receive the support they need in the classroom. Even if they still end up struggling with problems like addiction, treatment centers now offer programs that are specifically designed for people who are also affected by dyslexia. Help is now available for those who need it.

Understanding Dyslexia

The University of Michigan reports that it is estimated that between 15 and 20 percent of people in the US are affected to some extent by a language-based learning disability. The most common of these is dyslexia. The number of people who have been identified as dyslexic has risen over the last 30 to 40 years. This increase did not reflect a change in the number of people affected by dyslexia. It has come about because dyslexia is much more likely to be recognized today. Doctors, teachers and parents are all more aware of conditions such as dyslexia. The signs that a child is struggling at school are more likely to be spotted early. Action can then be taken to ensure that the right diagnosis is made and that support is offered. Teachers and parents have many resources available to them, and publishers like Barrington Stoke are even producing books that are designed to be dyslexia-friendly. However, this was not always the case. Dyslexia has always existed, it just went unrecognized for far too long.

References:

1. “Children’s Lives at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Library of Congress, accessed March 24, 2014.

2. “Evolving Classroom,” PBS, accessed March 24, 2014.

3. “CT Schools Lag in Diagnosing, Helping Dyslexic Students,” Dyslexic in America, accessed March 24, 2014.

4. “The History of Dyslexia,” McGraw-Hill, accessed March 24, 2014.

5. P.R. Yates, “Bad mouthing, Bad Habits, and Bad, Bad Boys,” University of Stirling, accessed March 24, 2014.

6. “John Irving, Author,” Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, accessed March 24, 2014.

7. “Top Corona Del Mar Addiction Recovery Centers“, Recovery.org, accessed March 24, 2014.

8. “Debunking the Myths About Dyslexia,” Dyslexia Help, University of Michigan, accessed March 24, 2014.

9. “Dyslexia Friendly,” Barrington Stoke, accessed March 25, 2014.

10. “Top 10 Resources on Dyslexia,” Reading Rockets, accessed March 25, 2014.

Dyscalculia: Dyslexia in Numbers

October 17, 2012 in Eve Pearce

Most people in America have some understanding of dyslexia and how it can affect people’s reading and writing abilities. For some people with dyslexia, however, reading and writing are not the only things that are affected. Dyscalculia is a lesser understood form of dyslexia and yet it may affect just as many people in America as dyslexia does. Furthermore, it is thought nearly half of all people diagnosed with dyslexia suffer from some sort of dyscalculia, making some researchers believe the two conditions are inexplicably linked.

Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is the inability to process numbers, which makes mathematics difficult. For some people with dyslexia that struggle with their math, it may just be because they can’t process numbers in the written form or understand the correct wording of mathematical questions. However, for other sufferers of dyslexia, numbers and equations may be difficult to comprehend, which can cause just as many difficulties as dyslexia does.

While some dyscalculia sufferers have no other noticeable form of dyslexia, the inability to process mathematical equations can affect all sorts of aspects of their daily lives. Many people suffering from dyscalculia struggle with their daily finances and often get into difficulties with credit cards, loans, and overdrafts. This is because items such as bank statements can be difficult to read, and even what some people may regard as simple calculations, such as working out how much money is left in a bank account or even making sure they get correct change can prove difficult to somebody with dyscalculia. This can result in people overspending or running out of money long before they are due to get paid  and lead to sufferers getting into debt. Of course, help is available for people struggling with their daily finances, but as with the more commonly understood dyslexia, identifying and treating dyscalculia can vastly improve people’s lives. Furthermore, levels of dyscalculia ca vary dramatically so many people suffering from the condition may be unaware of it and may think they are just not very good with money.

Symptoms

As with dyslexia, symptoms of dyscalculia are first noticeable in childhood. Children with dyscalculia often have no problem counting in sequence, but struggle when it comes to basic multiplication so may not be able to count in twos, threes or other multiples. Dyscalculia may also affect the ability to read numbers in different orders, so a child may understand that 2 + 3 = 5, but may fail to realize that 3 + 2 equals the same amount.

Another common symptom of dyscalculia is identifying the relationship with written numbers with their numeral counterparts. Later in life, complex equations and mathematics can become incomprehensible to somebody with dyscalculia, while they may also struggle with weights, measurements, time and other concepts involving numbers. People with dyscalculia may rely heavily on calculators, even for simple arithmetic, and even something like working out the days of the month or planning a future event on a calendar can be difficult as can working out what change to expect in a store.

Causes

As with dyslexia, the exact cause of dyscalculia is not completely understood. It is thought that dyscalculia is caused during brain development, resulting in a different structure forming in the areas that are used to process numbers. However, scientists are very interested in the relationship between dyslexia and dyscalculia because the processing of numbers is normally done in a different part of the brain to that which is used to process words, so the reason why half of dyslexic sufferers also have some form of dyscalculia is not really understood.

It is thought it may be due to the factors that cause dyslexia, whether they are genetic or environmental, may act on several areas of the brain at once, making it more likely those with dyslexia will also have dyscalculia.

Diagnosis

Not all people with dyslexia will have dyscalculia. In fact, about ten percent of people with dyslexia show a better than average ability to process numbers. However, it is believed that at least half of dyslexia sufferers do struggle with some mathematical recognition so may be also suffering from dyscalculia.

Diagnosis is not easy, and far less research has been done on dyscalculia compared to dyslexia, which means there is no standardized test. However, there are a few simple tests available that teachers and parents can use to see if there is a likelihood dyscalculia may be present. As with dyslexia, a child with dyscalculia will need support and counseling to help overcome and learn to deal with the condition.