Parents Education Network (PEN) hosted members of the Northern California Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (NCBIDA) as they presented the latest version of Experience Dyslexia® a popular learning disabilities simulation. This hands-on experience was initially developed in the 1980’s by the California State Board of Education. Subsequently the process was taken over by NCBIDA. Over the years the content has been updated several times.
The simulation gives the participants an opportunity to discover some of the challenges and frustrations faced by people with dyslexia. As a reminder, dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. The International Dyslexia Association further defines it by stating the condition refers to a cluster of symptoms which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Spelling, writing and pronouncing words can also be challenging.
Experience Dyslexia® provides an opportunity for non dyslexic-parents, teachers and others – to immerse themselves in the inner turmoil world of a dyslexic. Six learning stations each with a different focus give insight into the lives of individuals with dyslexia. The participants were warned in advance that this simulation was created to be stressful and in some cases fatiguing and emotional. The intention is to offer a true experience of the challenges a dyslexic experiences with the goal of enabling the participants to become more empathetic with the dyslexic student or adult.
What follows is a brief summary of the focus on each station.
Station 1: Learn to Read simulated a beginning reading problem. The participants were asked to associate visual symbols with sounds to identify words and comprehend the story. I was the leader of this Station. There was only one individual in the more than sixty who was able to master the process. At the conclusion participants in each group offered a short assessment of the experience. They were amazed at how difficult reading was. Some of the words they used to describe the experience were frustration, fear, embarrassment and more.
Station 2: Listen to Me simulated an auditory figure-ground problem. Participants put on a head set and listened to a CD to discriminate between important auditory information (figure) and non-essential background “noise” (the ground) while filling out a worksheet. For some dyslexics this noise becomes intensified and hearing almost impossible.
Station 3: Write with Mirrors simulated a visual-motor and writing problem. Participants are asked to trace and draw while viewing their work through a mirror. This simulates the difficulty some students have with fine motor skills for handwriting and the frustration that can occur when students realize their written work is not up to par.
Station 4: Name That Letter simulated a letter-word identification problem. Several letters, r, b, d, g, p, q can be read in the reverse by dyslexics. Participants were asked to read a mirror image of a poor quality copy of a story discovering what it feels like when they have trouble learning to correctly name the letters and associate them with their correct sound.
Station 5: Write or Left simulated the experience of a copying and writing problem which is caused by the lack of automaticity in letter formation. Clues that this issue is manifesting are slow and laborious writing and frequent self correction when writing. Participants were asked to complete tasks using their non-dominant hand.
Station 6: Hear and Spell simulates an auditory discrimination problem. Participants are asked to spell a list of words which are dictated three times. Each time there is a different voice distortion which makes it difficult to clearly hear the words. This task simulates what it might be like to have a weakness in auditory processing. For some people with dyslexia it is difficult to remember the number and sequences of sounds within a word.
By the end of the evening this group of parents, teachers and others were exhausted but grateful. Thankful they had some insight into a dyslexic’s challenges. Nancy Redding, the host for the evening, reminded us that no two people with dyslexia are alike. And, she commented that dyslexics are often creative, intelligent with vision and hearing. It’s the areas of language where the dyslexic seems to struggle.
At the conclusion a few of the comments by the participants about the experience were:
- I understand students better
- I feel frustrated
- I am exhausted.
- I wanted the “teacher” to shut up
- I wanted to cheat and look at my neighbors paper
The Experience Dyslexia® — A Learning Disabilities Simulation kit can be purchased.
The kit includes: Inventory of materials, facilitator’s introductory and final summary scripts, dyslexia fact sheets, individual station instructions, scripts, worksheets and two CDs.
Additional material that the purchaser would need to buy separately are mirrors, pencils, CD players, listening centers/headsets. The cost of Experience Dyslexia® is $275 plus shipping.
The kit can be used repeatedly for teacher in-service trainings and parent education programs. It might be a good investment for your school or organization. Contact NCBIDA at http://www.dyslexia-ncbida.org/simworkshop.html.
Simulation Workshops: Experience Dyslexia® — A Learning Disabilities Simulation can be presented by the NCBIDA to interested schools or organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. This cost is $400 for groups of 30 – 60 participants. Requests should be submitted 6 weeks in advance of your desired date. Contact: www.dyslexia-ncbida.org/simulations.html.
Finally, a 2008 study from researchers at Southeastern Louisiana University (SLU) using materials from the NCBIDA simulation clearly showed that participation increased awareness of dyslexia among teachers-in-training. The simulation has been shown to be an effective teaching tool.
Recently I came across a website, www.csld.org, that discussed hyperlexia. Included are response to frequently asked questions. Phyllis Kupperman, the author, has given permission to reproduce these.
Is a child who is not yet reading, but is very interested in letters, considered hyperlexic’?
Strictly speaking, these children are not hyperlexic because they are not reading. Some children who do not read at 2 or 3 years old may still develop reading decoding or sight-reading at 4 and 5 years old and may then be diagnosed with hyperlexia. Some children who are strong visual learners, though not readers may still benefit from the intervention techniques developed for children with hyperlexia.
Do children with hyperlexia understand
what they are reading?
They understand what they read about as well as they understand language in general. Many children with hyperlexia have difficulty processing what people say to them. They may have a difficult time using language for thinking and reasoning. They also usually understand concrete language better than abstractions or inferences. Reading supports language learning because it makes the language visual. Therefore, language learning improves, and reading comprehension also improves.
What causes hyperlexia in children?
The presence of hyperlexia within the context of another developmental disorder reflects a difference in the neurological organization of the brain. While a cause is not yet known, research in genetics and functional MRI studies may provide some information in the future.
Isn’t hyperlexia just a savant skill or a “splinter skill”?
A savant (like having photographic memory, playing music perfectly after hearing it just once, or doing complex mathematical calculations in one’s head) or splinter skill is an isolated ability that appears within individuals with developmental disabilities. Generally, these skills have no relationship to other aspects of the individual’s functioning. Hyperlexia is not an isolated skill, but a tool which can be used to develop language, to modify behavior and to help the individual make sense of the world.
Does the presence of hyperlexia mean that the children are” higher functioning”?
In working with a large number of children with hyperlexia, we have seen a spectrum of outcomes. Some children, though they may be excellent readers, may exhibit severe and persistent symptoms of autism. Other children have great difficulties
developing verbal expressive language, though their written expressive language
may exceed their verbal abilities. Some children may do well academically, but
may have difficulties socially. It is hard to predict what a child with hyperlexia will be like as a young adult; however, we do know that using writing to supplement their learning leads to better progress.
Do children with hyperlexia get better?
Children with hyperlexia do improve in language and social skills. Some individuals improve to the point that they are able to go to college or live independently, although some will need special education and supervised living arrangements throughout their lives.
Kathy Johnson, who has a blog, www.pyramidofpotential.com/blog , recently posted a blog on this book: Disconnected Kids: by Robert Melillo. It sounds interesting and I thought my readers might like to explore . Here is what she says:
Ms. Johnson states she hasn’t read the entire book cover to cover, but is impressed with what she has seen so far. Dr. Melillo uses three basic pathways to helping children with various neurological disorders, using his Brain Balance program. He focuses on nutrition, sensory-motor improvements, and hemispheric balance. Part 1 is about his theories, brain development, and general information about identifying the cause of “Functional Disconnection Syndrome” or FDS as he calls it.
Part 2 is where I was impressed. There are descriptions of extensive testing routines followed by exact directions as to how to work at home with your child to correct what was identified. There are exercises taken from vision therapy, listening therapy, as well as vestibular, tactile, and aerobic exercises. There are academic exercises for reading, comprehension, and math. Finally, there is a long chapter on nutrition, something I consider at the heart of brain health. Many suggestions are given, as well as foods that essential to a healthy brain diet. Not surprisingly, he suggests testing for sensitivities, altering the diet as necessary, and supplementing with vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and digestive enzymes.
I was able to get this book from my local library, so you could “check it out” too if you want, without spending the $15.95. But it’s worth the investment if you want to see other programs that seem to be working well for those with learning disabilities.