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Myth busting - You want to know the facts, not the fictions



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  1. Dyslexia is not a real condition

  2. More boys than girls have SLD

  3. If you are slow to learn new things then you have low intelligence

  4. If you have a slow processing speed you have low intelligence

  5. If you have dyslexia you will detest reading and writing

  6. People with dyslexia are more likely to be of high intelligence than others

  7. People with specific learning disabilities often have other areas of high ability

  8. Everyone has some degree of learning disability

  9. Schools pick up on children with learning disabilities and put the right help in place

  10. My child has a right to free education

  11. If a child is good at spoken language, she/he doesn't have a language based SLD

  12. If a child is doing averagely well at school, she/he doesn't have a learning disability

  13. The mind is not a vessel to be filled...

1.  Dyslexia is not a real condition​


The NZ Government, Ministry of Education, and the education system in general first accepted the term 'dyslexia' in April 2007.  Many other countries, including the UK and the USA, had recognized dyslexia for decades, and many universities around the world had been, and still are, studying it.  Some teachers still privately deny that dyslexia is a real condition.  Here's a link to a site that shows an MRI scan of the brain of a dyslexic person and the brain of a non-dyslexic person. They are performing the same task, but use different parts of their brain because the dyslexic person's brain doesn't function in the usual way.  




2.  More boys than girls have specific learning disabilities


This is not true.  Boys are more likely to be noticed and tested because of cultural and genetic differences in the way boys and girls often respond to stress.   




3.  If you are slow to learn new things, you have low intelligence


This is not true.  Some people take much longer than expected to learn new material, yet once they have it, they can do amazing things with it.




4.  If you have a slow processing speed, you have low intelligence


This is not true.  Some people take ages to process written or spoken language, yet when they are given the time they need, they are able to respond with great intelligence.  




5.  If you have dyslexia you will detest reading and writing


This is not necessarily true.  Even though it is a struggle for them, some dyslexic people really love literature, story-telling and other language based activities, and even have a talent for them in spite of their difficulties.


If they have trouble articulating their ideas in speech they are sometimes driven to conquer writing, because writing gives them the chance to say what they want to say clearly and to be heard.




6.  People with dyslexia are more likely to be of high intelligence than other people


Actually, this is not true either.  Dyslexic people are just as likely to be of low, normal or high IQ as everyone else in the population.




7.  People with learning disabilities often have other areas of high ability


Yes, this is often the case.  We don't know if their brains develop more strongly in other areas to compensate, or whether their brains are like that from the start, or both.




8.  Everyone has some degree of learning disability - it's a spectrum


Well, yeah, and nah.  Yeah, nah.


The brain is so very complicated.  You have about 100 billion brain cells.  You have about 100 trillion connections between brain cells (synapses).  If we could examine every brain in detail, we would probably find something amiss, somewhere, in all of them.  But here's what counts:  

If you have a disability in, say, musical awareness, it is not going to adversely affect all your other learning and your daily life (unless you want to be a musician).  If you have a disability that affects language, you are going to be profoundly disadvantaged in all your learning and in nearly every aspect of your life.  


Regarding dyslexia, either you can hear all of the separate sounds in words, or you can't hear all of them.  Most people do not have dyslexia.  About 10% of people do.  When people say, "Everyone has a little bit of dyslexia", it means they don't know what dyslexia is.




9.  Schools pick up on children who have learning disabilities and put the right help in place


Sometimes.  Not always.  Actually, very often not.


There are probably about two or three children in every classroom who have dyslexia, and a couple more who need special help because they have other learning disabilities or barriers to learning. 20% of New Zealand kids are leaving school without their basic literacy and numeracy - and that almost certainly means some of the kids who need specialist help are not getting it, or not getting the right help, or not getting enough of it.  


In fact, the universities seem to be better at identifying these students.  A number of uni students have come to Enable Learning because the university has advised them they are dyslexic.  There seems to be a disconnect between secondary and tertiary education.  These students had passed their university entrance exams, only to find their standard of written language was nowhere near high enough to succeed at uni.  In my opinion this state of affairs is just plain wrong - very wrong.  


Here's a sad thing:  Many schools feel that so long as 80% of the students are at, or above, targets for age, everything is satisfactory.  That leaves 20% of kids who will fail, and yours just may happen to be one of them.  "He's not the worst in the class", "He will catch up when he's ready", "He is a late developer", "He's lazy", "Not everyone can be good at reading and writing" - these and many similar comments are indications that your child might not be getting the attention she/he needs.




10.  My child has a right to free education, and the school should provide specialist help


In theory we do have a right to free education, just as we have a right to free health care.  But wait a minute, our free health care does not include glasses or hearing aids or dentistry, and many procedures are called 'elective procedures' (as if you have elected to have an operation just for the experience of it) when in fact it is necessary for your health.  Lots of follow-up care is limited and you have to pay for the rest yourself, or go without it.  The same things happen with specialist help in education.  Schools do provide some targeted programmes - such as Reading Recovery - but the interventions are often too short, and/or not the right ones, and only the most needy children have access to them.

Let go of your anger and do something positive.  You may have to go outside the school for the right help, but meanwhile your child is learning lots of important things at school.  Keep the partnership working. 




11.  If a child is good at spoken language, he/she doesn't have a language based disability


Oddly enough, this is not necessarily true.  Learning disabilities can affect very small and specific parts of the brain.  Sometimes a child can have excellent spoken language, be early to develop speech, use correct grammar, and have a wide vocabulary, and yet still have a disability in language based tasks, such as coding and decoding words (spelling and reading).   Naturally enough, when this happens it is surprising for the child, parents and teachers alike.  More importantly, the learning disability can easily be missed.




12.  If my child is doing averagely well at school she/he doesn't have a learning disability


This is not necessarily true.  If everything else is working in the student's favour, a learning disability might go undetected.  If the student has a good memory, is of above average intelligence, has a supportive family that values education, has good concentration, etc, then the young person may very well do OK at school.  Children can often cope when just one thing is against them.  And you might ask, "Well then!  Where's the problem with that?"


Well there may not be a problem.  But think about this.  Some students work so much harder than their peers to achieve the same results, that they become disheartened and worn out with the effort.  Sometimes they lose the belief that they can achieve at tertiary level.  And sometimes they become frustrated because they feel themselves to be brighter than their peers, but they are only achieving at an average level.  There is a risk that these average achievers who have learning disabilities will not continue through secondary and tertiary education, and miss out on the bright career futures they could otherwise have.



13.  'The Mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit'  Plutarch, c.46-120 AD


When teaching, especially youngsters, this is still an amazingly powerful insight.  The NZ curriculum embraces it to quite an extent.  One teacher even said to me "We should just let kids get on with being kids and not worry about literacy".  Sometimes when I am working with a struggling youngster I confess to feeling the same way.


There's not much doubt - literacy is a fairly boring subject.  But it is the key to all the other subjects.  Even art and music have written components, essays, reading material.  We live in an age of computers, yet still most of the content available on the internet is written.  Cost, time and lack of specialist skills prevent most people from presenting their information in audio-visual format - at least for the time being.  Without the ability to read and write competently, the world of information and learning is closed.


So somehow we have to teach literacy as efficiently and effectively as possible, to get children over the hump of difficult and boring, and into their own world of discovery.  


The mind is a fire to be lighted, but what if the wood is wet?  Get it dry, and then get it going.




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