Dyslexia: What You Need To Know And How To Overcome It

Ahoy! If you are reading this, you must have found your way from Google after searching for “what is dyslexia” or “how to overcome dyslexia”.

First, let’s address the elephant in the room: whether you are dyslexic or you have a child with dyslexia, FRET NOT! Having worked closely with dyslexic kids and their parents for close to 10 years, I can assure you that it can be overcome with the right methods.

HOWEVER!

You must first understand what dyslexia is all about. Know thy “enemy”, you know what I mean?

[Need an educational therapist for your child? We’ve compiled a list of the best, most reliable ones in Singapore.]

Understanding dyslexia as a learning difference

Dyslexic girl getting frustrated
Dyslexia is a neurobiological learning disability that affects one’s language acquisition ability. Having dyslexia does not mean that one is necessarily less intelligent than his or her peers.

What is dyslexia?

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a neurobiological disorder characterised by difficulties in accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Additionally, according to Sir Jim Rose’s report, other characteristics of dyslexia may include poor phonological awareness, verbal memory, and verbal processing speed.

For this reason, dyslexics may experience more difficulty learning to read, write, spell, and, in some cases, even do math. However, it is rarely because of low intelligence or lack of effort. The “dyslexic brain” is wired differently, not that it is more stupid or that there is necessarily something wrong. This is also why there is no “cure” to dyslexia, at least not in the traditional sense of the word.

Dyslexia affects about 10 percent of the population in Singapore. That’s roughly 3 to 4 students per class in a mainstream school! For some children, it also does not get picked up until they are much older due to their adoption of strategies to mask their reading and spelling difficulties.

Finally, dyslexia is more of an umbrella term rather than a fixed set of learning difficulties. Again, no two dyslexics are the same, not even twins—I speak from personal experience, having taught three pairs of twins over the years. As such, students with dyslexia will have different experiences and learning profiles.

The negative aspects of dyslexia

Dyslexic students may struggle to keep up with their peers in school, especially in Singapore where the academic pace is fast. In my experience as an educational therapist, I have observed students to struggle more during their kindergarten or primary school years. Common subsets of problems may include:

  • Phonological deficits, where one has trouble encoding/decoding the sounds of a word;
  • Visual processing difficulties, where one has letter reversal or transposition difficulties;
  • Poorer fine motor skills, where one finds it harder to write legibly.

[Read this next: Dyslexia’s Most Common Signs & Symptoms]

Research has also shown that dyslexics tend to rely more on the right hemisphere of their brains to process information, which involves activities such as reading and solving math questions. This is different from neurotypical individuals who tend to use more of the left hemisphere for such activities. It is why younger students with dyslexia get overwhelmed when it comes to spelling, or quickly forget how to spell certain words after memorising them the night before.

Additionally, dyslexia may be accompanied by co-morbidities (i.e., other learning challenges). These may further hinder one’s learning in a mainstream school. Examples include:

  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Students with ADHD may find it harder to stay focused on tasks that are overly challenging. In a mainstream setting where they are expected to stay seated and read their material quietly, they will have a higher tendency to “switch off”.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders: As autism is a spectrum of learning difficulties too, it’s difficult to say exactly how it will affect a dyslexic’s profile. However, reading comprehension tends to be one of the areas that is more noticeably affected.
  • Auditory Processing Disorder: This will likely affect students’ ability to tell phonograms and cluster sounds apart, which in turn affects spelling.
  • Dyspraxia: It mainly affects a student’s motor skills, and thus affects their ability to write legibly and coherently. As language acquisition often requires input (listening and seeing) and output (writing) simultaneously, this will make certain tasks like copying notes from the whiteboard or writing longer texts more challenging for the student, especially when they go on to secondary school.

At this point, it all probably sounds quite overwhelming. However, I have some good news for you.

Looking at dyslexia positively

Ultimately, in the long run, it’s not the dyslexia that makes or breaks a person’s success. It is what they make of the strengths they already have and how they draw new ones from learning experiences.

Here’s the thing: dyslexics can function as well as neurotypical people, maybe even better in some areas. There is a cliche that says many dyslexics can see things that non-dyslexics do not.

That’s… not entirely false, but it’s not entirely true either.

Like every other person in the room, a dyslexic’s area of expertise is built on his/her attitude, aptitude, and personal experiences. I’ve had dyslexic students do well in Art, Math, English, and any other subject you can think of. Some were born with artistic gifts; others worked on their strengths by turning their negative experiences around.

Whatever the specifics, most are “built” like non-dyslexic people.

Just, you know, a little weaker in language acquisition at the beginning.

Ultimately, in the long run, it’s not the dyslexia that makes or breaks a person’s success. It is what they make of the strengths they already have and how they draw new ones from learning experiences.

And that’s all one would need to know for now at least. Not that overwhelming, eh?

So, with a better understanding of dyslexia, the follow-up question is: how do we overcome dyslexia?

SEE ALSO:
Winning Strategies To Help Your Child Cope With Dyslexia

Overcoming dyslexia

Step One: Get a formal psychological assessment

Mom and daughter seeing a psychologist to get assessed for dyslexia, which is the first step to overcome dyslexia

As clichéd as it sounds, the first key element in overcoming dyslexia is to get your child tested for dyslexia.

This. Is. Important. If you think your child might have dyslexia or any other kind of learning difficulty, you should get an assessment done ASAP.

Besides having the “label” (as unpopular as it is among many parents, I know), a formal report can give a better idea of the type of help that your child needs. It also identifies their strengths and weaknesses, and gives teachers and therapists a better idea of how to help them progress. In fact, many dyslexia organisations like the Dyslexia Association of Singapore and Swords & Stationery require students to have a formal diagnosis before they can be accepted into their educational therapy programmes.

I cannot stress enough how important this is. Though it can be costly and there is a misconception that having a diagnosis equates to putting a label on the child, it will pay off. For one, it helps your child recognise the fact that they are not stupid, but rather wired differently. I have seen students who were full of anger and confusion because they did not know what was wrong with them. Ignorance is not bliss here.

Furthermore, you will need a diagnosis if you intend to apply for access arrangements (e.g., extra time for exams). A report is only good for 3 years in Singapore before you will need to do a reassessment, so time it correctly so that the report’s validity can last up till your child’s national exam.

You can go private or otherwise, but do note that non-private places tend to have longer waiting lists.

Recommended private centres:

Recommended non-private venues:

Remember, having the “label” is not necessarily a bad thing. If you want peace of mind for yourself and your child, get them tested for dyslexia.

Step Two: Get help or seek intervention (i.e., “treatment” solutions for dyslexia)

An educational therapist helping children to overcome dyslexia

As mentioned, there is no cure for dyslexia simply because it’s not a disease. However, one can overcome dyslexia’s biggest hurdles by getting help through intervention services (not tuition, but more on this later).

Initially, as you source for good, reliable help, you might be overwhelmed by the number of choices. Many times, I get call-ups from new parents who express their frustration at having to sift through the sheer number of educational therapy centres out there.

This is what I often advise parents to do:

  1. Shortlist 5-6 dyslexia intervention service providers that give you the best vibes.
  2. Prepare a list of questions to ask the service provider.
  3. Drop them a message or call them up.
  4. Ask them the questions that you’ve prepared, and let them know more about the type of help that your child needs.

Also, note the following:

  • Is the educational therapist or service provider transparent with their programme and curriculum? This is more my opinion, but a professional should tell you what to expect. For instance, I make it clear to parents that there will be entire sessions where the kids will be watching a film or playing a game.
  • Set your expectations clear. Do you want your child to enjoy the learning process, or do you want him to get at least a B3/AL3 for English? The therapist should be on-board with your expectations as much as you are with theirs.
  • Work closely with the educational therapist, especially during the initial period. I’m not saying you should text the therapist every day or even every week, but a good therapist will update you when major milestones are hit. Subsequently, you should also ask for follow-up solutions. Dyslexic students progress best when their family also supports them outside of the intervention programme.
  • A good educational therapist will also have good rapport with the child. I am quite close to most of my students, even those who have graduated from the programme. We still play online games together from time to time.

When searching for intervention services, look out for “educational therapists” or “educational therapy”. “Specialist tutors” work too, I suppose. I would steer clear of traditional tuition agencies or centres, at least in the beginning. Nothing against them, but it is preferable to enlist the help of someone who is trained to help dyslexics and has worked with many over the years.

That said, once students get better at overcoming their dyslexic challenges, I don’t see a problem with sending them to mainstream tutors or tuition centres.

SEE ALSO:
A Comprehensive Guide to Finding Help for Dyslexia in Singapore (2022)

Step Three: Continue to love your child

Family Love Helping Dyslexics to thrive
Like everybody else, children with dyslexia thrive when their families love them for who they are.

As you continue to work closely with your child’s therapist, it is also important to be supportive of them. Help them grow in their hobbies. Arrange for play dates or sleepovers. With the right help, dyslexic children can overcome the challenges of dyslexia, but they cannot do it without the support of a nurturing family.

Things you should do:

  • Encourage your child to grow their strengths and interests.
  • Encourage your child to work on their weaknesses, if possible. Yes, even if they drop Mother Tongue as a subject, it still pays off learning it conversationally or as a side interest. I absolutely hate it when my students are told to completely give up on something that they are weak at. You never know if they will ever become better at it, and what interesting pathways it will lead them to.
  • Help your child develop their hobbies and build up their social skills.

Things you shouldn’t do:

  • Tell your child to not work on their weaknesses.
  • Make your child feel worse because of the dyslexic label.
  • Insist on having your child go to Express or even Normal (Academic) stream when they’re clearly not ready for it)
  • Ignore their difficulties and struggles. Acknowledge them and work on finding solutions. Don’t just chalk it up to “being part of a phase”.

Dyslexia as a condition isn’t as daunting as it seems

With the right strategies and a solid roadmap, the major challenges of dyslexia can be overcome. Heck, most of my students read and spell better than their neurotypical peers. The important thing is to keep a cool head, get them assessed, then find someone whom they can trust to help them. When you and your child have established rapport and trust with the therapist (and vice versa), the pieces of the puzzle will start to fall into place. Eventually, the path ahead will be made clearer too, especially when progress picks up. That’s the “a-ha!” moment when you know your child has more or less conquered dyslexia’s biggest hurdles.

Have more questions on dyslexia? Leave a comment below or drop us a message. Follow Swords & Stationery on Facebook and Instagram for more updates!

SEE ALSO:
Winning Strategies To Help Your Child Cope With Dyslexia

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Teacher Shaun

Teacher Shaun

...is a self-professed geek and lover of all things old-school. When he's not playing Fallout or Deus Ex for the nth time, he can be found sitting in front of his laptop hacking away at his keyboard, typing blog posts like this one. He also runs a little company called Swords & Stationery.

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