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King delves deeply into the dyslexic mind

Laughton King has suffered fear, isolation, frustration and disappointment due to his struggles with dyslexia and it has given him unique insight into the dyslexic mind. This, plus 45 years of work as a child and family psychologist, has led him to view dyslexia as a distinct learning style that is practical and effective, rather than a learning difficulty. In his new book, Inside the Dyslexic Mind, he argues that society has undervalued this learning style and its potential for positive contribution. Here’s a taste of what he thinks …

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On a five-year seminar tour of New Zealand, I was informed by several school principals that “No, we don’t have any dyslexic students in this school” — with one going as far as to assert that there were no dyslexic students in his town!

Perhaps if the pupil is not doing well, they don’t classify them as being a “student”, or perhaps (and more likely) if the child is “performing poorly”, or “playing up”, they are dismissed simply as having a “poor attitude” or a “poor background” rather than being dyslexic. Whatever the reason, it would seem that denial is still a real issue in some sections of education — with the extent of denial tending to increase with the age of the student group involved.

Although my five-year tour involved the presentation of over 500 seminars and workshops, it became apparent that the professional reception by schools would have been more positive if the presentation had been framed as “Teacher Effectiveness Training”, rather than the chosen descriptor, “Dyslexia Dismantled”.

Two unsettling dynamics began to emerge:

  • It became clear that there is still a significant stigma attached to the concept of dyslexia – a stigma that impacts on the person identified as dyslexic, and (of more concern) on the educational institution they attend.
  • School-based Research and Training budgets are more likely to be targeted to improving teacher technique than to understanding the focus group of our teaching – in this case dyslexic children.

It is beyond debate that any successful marketing organisation in any realm would acknowledge and comply with the simple baseline of “First understand your target group”. Despite the obvious application to the educational setting, it would seem that there is little serious attempt to really explore and understand the processing style of the brain of the dyslexic child – both in and out of the classroom.

That dyslexia is now getting more press, and more publicity, is a very positive development, with the hope that this will lead to more positive recognition of the needs of dyslexic children in our schools.

Hand in hand with this is the development of teaching programs and “apps” that are being made available to parents and schools, including remedial teachers in prisons, as the significance of dyslexia as a social dynamic is recognised.

As significant as this is, there is still an enormous gap in the literature and information that is available to parents and teachers. That gap involves the examination, focus and research of what dyslexia really is. What is it, where does it come from, who does it impact, how and why? Is it hereditary, perhaps a brain malfunction, a lack of some essential brain chemical, can it be remediated through medication?

Are we even clear as to what it involves, and how do we differentiate between dyslexia and other “learning difficulties”? In some areas of the world, dyslexia and “attention deficit disorder” are being lumped together and being generally referred to as “ADD”. How are we to fairly and effectively respond if we are not even sure of what dyslexia really is? Is an observed difficulty with reading and writing a true and adequate definition of dyslexia, or is this rather obtuse malady rather a common representation, the tip of some larger, more insidious iceberg?

My new book is not ‘sexy’ in that it does not offer fancy programs or tricks to use to take the pressure off overloaded teachers in the classroom. Frequently I am asked to address teams of teachers, to give them techniques of how to deal with – or at least to be seen to be dealing with – dyslexia in the classroom.

I refuse. Rather I offer to present a four-hour workshop helping teachers to recognise dyslexia, where to look for it, indicators, characteristics so as to differentiate and recognise dyslexia as a specific impediment to successful teaching in the classroom. This, to me, is essential if we are to seriously assist the enormous section of our community who are currently offsided by our language-based education system.

I come to this task as a dyslexic person myself — as a reasonably bright student who suffered significant difficulty in my primary, secondary and tertiary educational history. Even now, some 50 years after finishing my formal education, my dyslexic tendencies still impact heavily on my daily life, as they do in the lives of many others who still struggle to make any sense of their own personal “style”.

My book is designed to draw the perception away from confusing distractors (and mislabelling) and to assist both parents and professional operators to see, to recognise and to focus on the dynamics that are central to catering sensitively to the needs of the dyslexic person — be they adult or child.

In my experience it is important for both the family and the child’s class teacher to understand what dyslexia really is, the forms it can take, and the real mixture of ways it can present. However, over and above this, it is imperative that the growing child should be able to get a cumulative understanding of their own style — so that they can learn to live with it, accommodate it, and utilise it to their advantage.

In 40 years of my private practice and government employment, certain consistencies became apparent in the way some of my clients presented.

My book contains numerous brief case outlines to demonstrate to the reader the myriad presentations that dyslexia can take — so as to better enhance the general recognition and identification of dyslexia in the general population and in particular in children.

Without identification, many dyslexics of the world drop out of education, become lifelong victims of bullying, and some even drop out of life. Some practise the role of “social misfit”, others become antisocial in a life of drugs or crime, and yet others absent themselves through suicide. Many do manage to successfully stay afloat in life, but at the cost of being heavily impacted by the winds and currents of social despair.

If we are to be at all supportive of any of these people, we need to be sure that we have a clear understanding of who they are.

In my book you will read about my own personal journey with dyslexia. The book also covers observable characteristics of dyslexia, dispels common myths about dyslexia, explores pictorial thinking, how to empower a child with dyslexia, what teacher styles are effective in working with a student with dyslexia and more.

At the back of the book, I give students a chance to tell teachers, parents and others what they want from us. How they’d like to be treated and how they will grow, learn and contribute most effectively as a result.

Feedback from the children themselves indicates that the most significant useful impact comes from the personal style of the teacher, and the teacher and parent refraining from inadvertently making the child’s school life miserable — the implicit message being that the “help” that is so often given to the dyslexic child is sheer torture in itself.

Their messages include:

  1. Please refrain from deliberate or inadvertent put-downs.
  2. Recognise that we need more time to read, to listen and to think, and slower language of instruction.
  3. Please don’t be intolerant of us, and please accept that our difficulties are real.
  4. We know you are frustrated by us, but please use a personal style (verbal and physical responses) that conveys a positive attitude and acceptance:
    • Address us by name.
    • Smile when you interact with us.
    • Ask us to give you more information when you are confused by what we say.
    • Make sure you use of the word “yes” more often than you use the word “no”.
    • Totally avoid the use of the words “Wrong”, “Don’t”, “Just” and “Try”.
    • When we are having difficulty with something, please don’t tell us that “It is easy, you just . . .”. This really hurts.
    • We like to be liked, too — let us know that you actually like us. It’s okay to use affectionate terms such as “honey”, “love”, “buddy”, “mate”.
    • We know you have to be careful, but most of us also like to be touched.
  1. At the end of the day check in with us about how it was for us.
  2. Give us a bigger range of ways to express ourselves, and to indicate our opinion and our knowledge:
    • acting out scenarios
    • small group discussions
    • the use of drawings, magazine pictures, illustrations, YouTube clips, actual demonstration
    • mind maps as a working tool
    • bullet points instead of full writing
    • journalism techniques (writing down, then writing up)
    • lessons and techniques in essay writing.
  1. We are creative and imaginative, and enjoy the use of freeform acting (involving clown’s noses, masks, hats, dress-ups, etc.). When we are shy, this may allow us to find safe ways to practise social interaction and act in different ways.
  2. We are often waiting for you to encourage us to participate in school drama productions, local theatre, acting groups, drama groups. We don’t have the confidence to do it alone.
  3. Support us to join dance, music, martial arts, Scouts, Air Cadets, nature groups, conservation groups, etc. Most of us want to be involved, but don’t know how.

Thank you for listening.

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This is an edited extract from Inside the Dyslexic Mind by Laughton King and published in May 2023 by Exisle Publishing, RRP $34.99

 

 

 

 

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