We tested two boys last week with very similar learning strengths and challenges. In testing, they both had good attention, but one became squirmy in his chair whenever he had to read.
The squirmy little guy had been diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder without Hyperactivity). He was never a problem in class, but was reported to spend time staring off into space when he was supposed to be reading or doing seatwork.
Medication had been prescribed, but his parents opted not to use it, as they weren’t convinced that ADD was the real problem.
Most likely, these parents were right on target. Both of the boys we assessed last week showed strong dyslexic symptoms and had a family history of dyslexia and reading challenges. Their symptoms included:
- Good intelligence
- Good comprehension
- Strong ability to visualize pictures / real things (versus letters and words)
- Creative thinker
- Weak ability to retain an accurate image of words (sight words for reading and spelling)
- Weak phonemic awareness (ability to think about the sounds in words)
- Extremely poor decoding skills (sounding out words)
- Visual disorientation when looking at the page (One boy said the letters looked 3D. One said the letters got “bigger and smaller.”)
Like many dyslexic students, these boys are misunderstood at school. One is so verbal and charming, that only his parents know how much he is struggling and how much effort and time it takes for him to read and write. At school, he is perceived as a bright verbal child who doesn’t always put in his best effort on schoolwork.
The second boy is just young enough and his skills are just strong enough that no one (except his parents) believes that there’s a reading problem. When he looks at the page, the letters and words are hard to look at and the sounds don’t really make sense. He uses his powers of deduction from pictures, his own knowledge, and what he’s memorized from group reading to basically figure out what the page might say and answer the questions. But often, his mind drifts away from this taxing process and so he’s been pegged as ADD. And, after all, what he can create in his mind is far more entertaining than a jumble of words and letters that don’t really make sense.
Weak underlying learning/processing skills can cause smart students to struggle in school. In the case of our two boys, the underlying skills specifically relate to being able to process the sounds in words and neuro-timing (which can trigger typical dyslexic symptoms and disorientation on the page when off). The encouraging thing is that these underlying skills can be developed. The brain is amazing and really can develop new, more efficient neuro-pathways through training.
Having a family history of dyslexia, the parents of the two boys have always heard that dyslexia cannot be corrected – that you just have to cope with it. This is simply not true. ADD meds will not solve dyslexic challenges, but retraining the auditory and visual systems to process the sounds and letters on the page accurately get the brain ready to learn, retain, and comfortably use reading and spelling skills.
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