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September 25, 2016 / 22 Elul, 5776
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ZYX To ABC: Battling Dyslexia

Schonfeld-111513

was that a t or an f i just wrote down?
does this ‘c’ make a hard or sotf sound?
when d’s turn b’s and q’s to p’s
it makes spellinq tesfs harb to qlease
m’s, n’s and h’s look the same
so reabihg ouf loub is sucn a paih
this alqhabet junble gets quite hectic
But that’s what it’s like to be dyslexic

– Kacey (last name unknown)

What is Dyslexia?

The National Institute of Health defines dyslexia as characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition, and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurological in origin and often runs in the family. Children with dyslexia experience trouble reading when taught through traditional instruction.

Though the symptoms of dyslexia manifest in different ways depending on the age of the child, some common symptoms for a kindergartener through fourth grader are:

* Difficulty reading single words that are not surrounded by other words.

* Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds.

* Confusion around small words such as “at” and “to,” or “does” and “goes.”

* Consistent reading and spelling errors, including: Letter reversals such as “d” for “b”; word reversals such as “tip” for “pit”; inversions such as “m” and “w” and “u” and “n”; transpositions such as “felt” and “left”; substitutions such as “house” and “home.”

Children with dyslexia are often well-adjusted and happy preschoolers. However, research shows that they begin to experience emotional problems during early reading instruction. As they get older their frustration mounts as classmates surpass them in reading skills. Often, these children feel that they fail to meet other people’s expectations. Teachers and parents see a bright child who is failing to learn to read and write and assume that he is simply “not trying hard enough.” This can cause them to feel inadequate and inept.

In addition, children with dyslexia frequently have problems in social relationships. Often, this is because they have difficulty reading social cues or because dyslexia affects oral language functioning. As both non-verbal and verbal language are essential for forming and maintaining relationships, children who struggle with reading are at a disadvantage socially as well and, without proper intervention, will fall farther and farther behind their peers.

Therefore, helping dyslexic children gain confidence and skill in their reading not only improves their test scores, but perhaps more importantly, builds their self-esteem. This increase in self-esteem can work wonders on the playground and in the home, promoting positive social interactions and explorations.

What If My Child Has Dyslexia?

It is important to stress that if you suspect your child is dyslexic, it’s never too early to do something about it. Talk to your child’s teacher and educate yourself about the laws in your area in regards to special education. The earlier you intervene, the better your child’s chances of becoming a fluent reader (and a more confident member of his peer group!).

Get Tested – Your child’s school may have specially trained staff members who can evaluate your child. But if the school lacks the resources or you disagree with its assessment, find an outside evaluator. Sometimes, an outsider will be more objective in diagnosing the problem – and it will also mean your child’s school will have only the documentation you choose to share with them.

Create A Plan Of Action – If your child is found eligible for special education and the school can provide it, the next step is an individualized educational plan (IEP). Created with a learning specialist, IEPs should set specific goals for progress over the school year and offer guidelines on how parents and teachers can work together to help the child attain those goals.

Monitor Progress – If the IEP goals aren’t being met within the framework of the school day, you may need to seek private instruction or tutoring for your child. Keep close tabs on your child’s progress.

Boost Strengths – Don’t let your child become defined by his or her dyslexia. These children need to be encouraged to find other outlets, activities and hobbies in which they can excel and win praise for their accomplishments.

Educate Yourself – You need information to be your child’s chief advocate and to understand what he or she is up against. Good books to get you started are Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz and Parenting a Struggling Reader by Susan Hall and Louisa Moats.

Phonics and Dyslexia

In my thirty years in the educational field, I have always been an advocate for phonics instruction for children with dyslexia. Phonics is the system of relationships between letters and sounds in a language. When a kindergartener learns that the letter B has the sound of /b/ and a second-grader learns that “tion” sounds like /shun/, they are learning phonics.

Learning phonics will help your students learn to read and spell. Written language can be compared to a code, so knowing the sounds of letters and letter combinations will help students decode words as they read. Knowing phonics will also help them know which letters to use as they write words.

If children do not master the different phonemes, they will be unable to attain fluency, comprehension, higher vocabulary or appropriate spelling (four essential skills developed in later levels of reading).

In addition, the National Reading Panel, composed of experts in fields of literacy was asked by the United States Congress to examine the research on the teaching of reading. What they found had important implications for phonics: they determined that phonics is an essential ingredient in beginning reading instruction and without systematic and explicit phonics instruction, students will significantly lag behind their peers. Interestingly, the panel also found that phonics most benefits children who are experiencing difficulty learning to read, such as those with dyslexia.

Rifka Schonfeld

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.


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