Monday, August 29, 2011

A Story of Leo, A Person with Dyslexia

I was asked by an educator to email him a few documents I had written on dyslexia.  I sent three docs: the story of Leo, a form I created to help teachers quickly identify children who may be dyslexic, and a copy of a letter to the editor I have used in Ellis County, TX, where I live.

The following is the story of Leo, "Who is the Student in My Classroom?  Could He/She Be dyslexic?"

By Lee Gabor, M.Ed.

Leo is an interesting child. Unfortunately, he has severe dyslexia. But we don’t know that when Leo comes to our school. Since we are not trained to recognize dyslexia in our students, we don’t look for characteristics that could lead us to test Leo.

The school district would like to offer staff development in dyslexia, but with reading, math, science, and social studies so important, there simply are not the resources to give teachers even a one-hour class.

Leo’s school has almost 1000 students. There is no doubt that teachers there lack time to learn about dyslexia at their own expenses during the evenings or weekends. They care, but their most precious commodity is each minute of each day. The career demands on them are enormous, even over-whelming. And most have families who deserve quality time and attention.

Teachers are only human. They do the very best they can. Education is a profession full of caring people. However, when we are stewards of many children, it is difficult to deal individually with Leo’s apparent problems. He isn’t on track with the class and can actually be disruptive.

In the primary grades, it is not Leo’s behavior that frustrates teacher as much as the fact that he won’t pay attention and he draws during class. Other students find his illustrations attracting and want to pay more attention to Leo’s contribution than to Teacher’s. Teacher gets upset with Leo.

He does not want to complete his lessons. Since he avoids reading and certainly doesn’t write much, Teacher may not have the evidence that he sometimes flips his letters.

Obviously, Leo is becoming more shut down and more of a behavior problem. Although he is not learning well, the system moves him up from primary to upper elementary grades. Since he cannot read well, Teacher takes him out of art classes and places him in the remedial reading classes. Is it possible he has been labeled LD (learning disabled)?

Leo is very energetic in the sense of looking around the class. He pays too much attention to what is happening outside. He seems to be day-dreaming. Parents have also seen this and, after discussing this with other educators in the school, a decision is made to put Leo on drugs. His records now show he has attention deficit disorder. The drugs help him to phase down somewhat during the day. The chemicals change his behavior but do not help him to learn. At least he does not adversely affect the classroom environment as much as before.

Even with the drugs, Teacher sometimes gets irritated with Leo. He is doodling on his notebook or on the paper inside. He is drawing sketches of machines and cars or, perhaps, people. We tell him to pay attention and quit messing with his notebook. We are frustrated that the other students want to see what he has drawn. Leo is an interesting and unique character and magnetizes the energy of his peers. This makes Teacher’s job doubly difficult.

Leo is day-dreaming AGAIN. As the days go by, we begin to mention to him more times to pay attention. As our frustrations build, so does our vocal volume. Soon we are yelling at Leo more than once a day. We may even send him out of the room to sit in the hall.

We have decided Leo has very little future potential. Teacher examines his record from previous years and recognizes in 3rd grade, he failed the TAKS (Texas) Reading test. Teacher doesn't know it, but Leo's failure was noticed in Austin. The State’s Penal Authorities marked a tally for him. They predicted he will go to prison and that tally meant a cell was scheduled to be built for him. State Corrections people think by the time Leo is about 16, he will quit school.

Unfortunately, Leo's reading problems cause him to receive low grades in elementary school, in high school, and on any academic university pre-inventory test.

What will happen to Leo? One of two things: he will either move down the road to quitting school, doing manual labor, and possibly going to prison OR on his own volition, he will struggle to use his abilities in some to create a successful life that reflects his talents of unique perspectives on his surroundings and the ability to put those into some visual form.

Leo is not a student in a local school these days, but the behavior patterns in school are the same for the Leo in our writing as they are for dyslexic students in our schools. What can we do? The goal is to identify students with dyslexia and intervene. Other documents from Lee Gabor include methods of identification. Parents must insist that the school board, the school principal, and the teachers identify and provide intervention. Nothing less is acceptable.

Fortunately for him, the Leo in our writing lived hundreds of years ago. Since he was, at that time, free of the constraints, labels, and drugs we use in modern education, he was able to develop the talents he possessed. Also, at that time, careers in art were considered as important as those in banking, education, medicine, etc.

We know him as Leonardo da Vinci, one of the world's greatest artists and inventors. He had such severe dyslexia that his writing was mirror-image backwards.

With dyslexia affecting 10% to 15% (according to experts in the US; some experts in Europe estimate 5%) of the general population, EACH class MAY have a child with this challenge. We must observe closely, use interventions, and refer students for testing.

Students who are identified as dyslexic can receive specialized training to alleviate the effects. This is NOT a disease, so there isn’t a CURE. We must modify the degree of difficulty the child has with learning.

With dyslexia no longer a major limitation, we all are able to see the many potentials and opportunities of our children for successful careers and futures. This, along with the newer ease of and confidence in learning, helps the student to build/gain self-esteem. We must encourage.

Districts and individual schools who offer training in dyslexia identification can help teachers recognize this potentially devastating challenge early in the student’s educational path. We must train educators AND parents.

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