Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dyslexia - A Different Perspective


In 2004 one of my neighbours asked me to tutor his son. I said that I have not given tuition to any child and asked him to look for a proper tuition teacher. He replied that since my children have done exceptionally well in school I should be able to help his son. After much persuasion, I agreed to try. After three lessons which were nerve racking he told me that his son was dyslexic. His son John (not his real name) had just completed a year in a public primary school and was going to be transferred to a private school in Kota Kinabalu and would be placed in primary one as he could hardly read. I had not heard the word dyslexic and checked the internet to learn about dyslexia. Having checked a few sites I took it up as a challenge to teach John. By this time I had taken a liking to John as he was a jovial child.

I have to-date tutored children with dyslexia for 6 years and learned a lot from them as much as I have tutored them. I am writing this blog with the hope that it will be useful to parents and tutors of children with dyslexia.

I am not going to write about what causes dyslexia as I am not a psychologist or scientist and furthermore, there is enough written about this subject. I will however write about some of my students and my way of having taught them successfully. If you were to hear some of these children reading today you would absolutely not know they are dyslexic.

Where do I start? Perhaps I should start with the definition given by some of the authorities. There are many definitions. One of them is: "Dyslexia is a learning disability". This is far from the truth. It is in fact wrong. How can one say Dyslexia is a learning disability when there are many things children with dyslexia learn at a much faster rate/speed than children without dyslexia. They can solve jigsaw puzzles at great speed. Most of the children could do them faster than I can. Lee Kwan Yew, Tom Cruise and Jay Leno are dyslexics and I would not dare say that they have a learning disability. Most of our “learning abilities” are nowhere near theirs. Do Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have a learning disability? 

Another definition is: "Difficulty in learning language". This I believe is because most of the people who write on dyslexia are from countries where they speak only English. All the children with dyslexia I had taught speak and learn at least two languages. They have to learn both Bahasa Malaysia (Malay language) and English. Most of them also had to learn Mandarin in school. I found that all of them had no problem reading Malay and Hanyu Pinyin (Romanized Mandarin). This prompted me to ask myself why they could read fluently (yes fluently) in Malay and Hanyu Pinyin and yet struggle with reading in English.

Is it correct to say that they have a language disability? I don’t think so. In fact, I completely disagree. It would be interesting to find out how many dyslexics have problems studying Japanese. I don’t think there will be any as Japanese spelling is similar to the Malay Language.

Recently I met a friend who is working in Mozambique and he says Portuguese is also phonetic. He pointed out that the people in Mozambique also have a hard time studying the English Language. I have had no time to check this out but I believe he must be right.

It is obvious to me that my
students with dyslexia are very logical in their thinking and they have a problem not in learning phonetically correct languages like Malay and Mandarin in Hanyu Pinyin, but in learning the English Language which is not logical to them.

Another definition is that dyslexia is a lack of coordination between sight and sound. I will let you decide if this definition is correct. If you say that the definition is correct my question to you is, “Why is it then that my students with Dyslexia can coordinate between sight and sound and can read Malay and Mandarin in Hanyu Pinyin with ease?” “Are Malay and Mandarin not languages?

Another question that comes to my mind is, “Who are the people who coined these definitions?” My guess is that the definitions were coined by those who do not know how to write or speak in any language other than the English language.

I’ll let you think about the issues raised above and I’ll get back to you tomorrow. Meanwhile, if there are any dyslexics who read in any language other than the English language please give me your views. Your views on learning difficulties in learning other languages as compared to the English language would be very useful in continuing my research on dyslexia.
Please take a few minutes and leave your comments. It will be greatly appreciated.


Unknown said...

If you have been helping students on a one to one basis, how are you going to cope when your expertise is required to attend to a bigger group of say 10 students.

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you Nai Seng.Dyslexic children are best taught one to one as than the teacher can see his strong point and weak points and guide accordingly. With my blogging I will be able to attend to a bigger group by getting parents to teach one to one.Parents are the best teachers.

razif said...

Well done and keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

Some students do have difficulties in learning languages other than English. It depends if they have visual difficulties, Auditory difficulties or like my daughter - both.

My daughter has severe dyslexia,but also an IQ of 141 so she learns some things incredibly quickly. She finds English very difficult and a 2nd language impossible. She attended French lessons at school but was only required to learn the oral responses and so can name items in French or reply to very basic questions such as her age or name.

My friends son in Hong Kong has great difficulties in his first (& visual language) Chinese and some difficulties in learning English.

In desperation to find help outside of the education system both mothers signed up for the Hornsby Dyslexia Diploma for Teachers (no longer available) that was by correspondance and designed for overseas teachers. We met each other and support each other as well as supporting our children.

So dyslexia is a difficulty with written language that persists after normal teaching has taken place. Now is it recognises that students with dyslexia learn quicker if taught in the right way to start with! However this varies from child to child as you will have found in teaching the students you have seen and why mainstream teachers with 30 students struggle to implement what each child needs. Many things can be done all together and many things could be changed in the future so this is the norm, but for now there are children stuck in the system who still need 1:1 or small group work with someone who has taken the time to assess and get to know them and who understands exactly how they learn. Dyslexia tutors such as myself should be able to do this part quickly and the only advantage we have over those without this qualificaton. I have seen others with real passion for these students who have taken time to learn how to help them learn, without formal qualifications.
Sharon Tringham SpLD Dip. (Hornsby)

Fadhil Luqman said...

I think you've raised an important point in regards to the fact that these kids don't seem to have the same problem with phonetic languages as they do with English, which is such a muddled up mixture of various influences from myriad cultures that there isn't any one single set of rules that you can apply to it. Also, as noted by the author, "learning disabled" children seem to excel in other fields that are more visual in nature (and perhaps other areas that we have yet to recognize). I wonder if phonetic and non-phonetic languages are governed by different areas of the brain? I think that might be a point to ponder. Unless of course someone already figured that out, then it would be a point to google. This here seems to back that theory up.

Or maybe english just has too many rules.

i before e. Except after c. And occasionally after r. Every once in a while b too. English is crazy.

Luqman Michel said...

Dear Anonymous, Good on you mothers to be supporting each other.Please do pass the information of this site to other parents as well.There is a way to teach dyslexics and I hope to pass that on to parents.Continue visiting this site and get other parents to visit too. With more parents we can get our government to implement proper methods to teach dyslexic children.

Hi CremeBrulee. I have no idea about which part of the brain... I leave that to the experts in that field to answer.

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you Razif.Wish you well.

Chetana said...

I am from India. I also work with Dyslexic Children. sEtting up a school this year for Dyslexics in Bangalore. The aim is to create an environment where they are accepted, their gifts celebrated and they are allowed t learn at their own place with teaching that fits their learning styles and requirements.

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you.If you teaching can fit their learning style they will learn very fast. Wish you well with the setting up of your school.I am glad you have found this site. Please spread the word around.Get parents of dyslexic children involved.

kevinlow said...

Greetings Luqman, I'm a parent to a 13-yo dyslexia boy n he has dyscalculia too. So he struggles with numbers (maths) and languages (BM n English) and is in regular school. I found out from the Persatuan Disleksia Kuala Lumpur that the Ministry of Education had allocated 2 schools per state to handle dyslexics n other "learning diability" students, howwever, they only trained 200 teachers for these schools and the ones in KL (TTDI 2 & Ampang) are overflowing due to the number of learning challenged students. The figures quoted to me was something in the order of 2 teachers to 40+kids whose ages ranges from Std 1 - Std 6. There are no teachers available to handle dyslexics/learning challenged kids in 2ndary school. I am now preparing to take him out of school if the child psychologist at HUKM/PPUKM's CDC recommends it. Glad to read that someone who is not a dyslexic nor have dyslexic kids willingly taking up teaching these children in Malaysia. A rarity I'd say. Will be a privilage to keep in touch with you.


Luqman Michel said...

Kevin I do hope you will see this message. I have not been looking at the comments of this article as it is already archived.
Please do write to me at my e-mail address.
I will be going to KL on 17.4.2010 and will be there for 5 days. If we can meet it would be nice.
Thank you for your comments.
Kevin, whether he is in school or not the best teachers will still be the parents. My lessons will be easy for you to teach him .

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Anonymous said...

dear mr luqman
i find your comments very interesting. you did say your lessons will be very easy to teach. can u share them.i have an 11 year old daughter with dyslexia. thank you.

Luqman Michel said...

The lessons are in my blog.