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Reversing words, writing letters back to front, not being able to remember the sequence of letters in a word or sometimes reading from right to left — dyslexia is a frustrating and often embarrassing problem in our world of high-tech communications. But in the midst of differing theories of what it is, what causes it and how to overcome it, one man has a different opinion.
One nigth ther saw a firer in a builing one man saw very injure he was rushed to hositipal and theree day he diad for interle njres.*
(One night there was a fire in a building. One man was very (badly) injured. He was rushed to hospital and (after) three days, he died from internal injuries.
* Example taken from Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Beve Hornsby.
The above transcript is not a misprint. You are reading a sentence as written by a severely dyslexic person — complete with the more common characteristics like lack of punctuation, misspelling, reversal of words and letters, mixed up sentence structure and poor grammatical construction. The sentence is practically unintelligible to the average reader, and the partially corrected and punctuated translation below is necessary for interpretation.
In our age of verbal and written communication, linguistic difficulties are not easy to cope with. It's a problem, predominantly among children, that can leave one in a terribly lonely world, feeling unconfident, insecure and like a dunce.
The term dyslexia was introduced in 1884 by the German ophthalmologist, R. Berlin. He coined it from the Greek words dys meaning ill or difficult and lexis meaning word, and used it to describe a specific disturbance of reading in the absence of pathological conditions in the visual organs. In a later publication, in 1887, Berlin stated that dyslexia, "presuming right handedness," is caused by a left-sided cerebral lesion. He spoke of "word-blindness" and detailed his observations with six patients with brain lesions who had full command over verbal communications but had lost the ability to read.
In the century to follow the narrow definition Berlin attached to the term dyslexia would broaden. By the mid-1970s it was describing a condition of epidemic proportions, and although it had no universally accepted symptoms, it was commanding the attention of an armada of professionals, including paediatricians, neurologists and educational psychologists.
There is a labyrinth of differing, opposing and often contradictory theories about dyslexia, what it is, its causes and its possible correction. Some theorists say that dyslexia is the result when the link between the language, hearing and comprehension centres of the brain is somehow misconfigured during fetal development. Another theory states that dyslexia is caused by "faulty wiring in the brain," whereas another holds that a subtle impairment of vision may be responsible, while yet another believes that a cerebellar-vestibular dysfunction may be responsible.
There are other hypotheses that claim that dyslexia doesn't really exist, but is actually a conglomeration of reasons causing poor reading, including psychological problems with language. If there is such a problem, they say, it should be specifically identified and the individual trained accordingly.
What most seem to agree on though is that other possible causes for poor reading should be ruled out before dyslexia is diagnosed as the possible problem. Factors like poor eyesight or hearing, genuinely limited intelligence or psychological immaturity, inappropriate teaching methods or an unstable home environment could all be related problems.
However, while scientists argue on what it is and how to deal with it, the number of so-called dyslexics is rising. Described as "learning disabled", latest American figures show a shocking increase in cases of dyslexia since 1976.
An Alternative Theory
There is one educationalist, however, who has his own approach. It is a theory that has shown unprecedented success.
"Dyslexia is not a so-called learning disability," says Dr. Jan Strydom. "These children are not disabled. They are just lacking in certain basic skills that have inhibited their ability to learn to read and write."
This was the conclusion reached by Dr. Strydom when he was working on his program called Audiblox, a system that, despite some sideline criticism, has shown real recordable results since its inception in 1979.
"Audiblox started life as a school readiness program for my own children. I spent a lot of time preparing them for formal school learning, as I'd always had the idea that those formative years were very important. It was developed primarily for them and not for any other purpose. But later, when I was busy with my Master's Degree in Education, I began to develop the program further. I started consulting as an educationalist, as I'd always been interested in children with learning problems.
"One couple came to see me very late in the year. Their child was in a Grade 3 aid class at that time, and doing very badly indeed. The child had already been referred to a special school for the next year.
"It occurred to me to try the program on him. I gave the parents a copy, they went home and did it with their son, and the results were quite astonishing. Before the end of that year, it had become clear to them, to me and to the teacher of the child that it would be ridiculous to send him to a special school.
"The little boy was re-tested and promoted to Grade 4 in a normal class. He became a top achiever with marks in excess of 80 and 90%. I remember distinctly the year when he was in Grade 7, his father phoned me late one evening early in December. They had just returned from the school where their son had been given the prize for the best achiever. This was a child who had been so-called 'learning disabled.'"
The Audiblox program is based on learning principles. "No human being can do anything he has not learnt to do," says Dr. Strydom. "Learning is a stratified process, in which one skill needs to be properly mastered before other subsequent skills can be learned." Consequently, the learning aid teaches the fundamentals of knowing and understanding.
Basic skills like concentration, visual discrimination, accurate observation and memorising, skills of association, auditory memory (hence the name Audiblox) and lateral interpretation are all dealt with in the form of simple exercises. These are functions, says Dr. Strydom, that should be taught at pre-school level to form the foundation of good reading, spelling and communication. Unfortunately, so many children have not mastered these basics and suffer reading and writing problems as a result.
"If you confront a child who has never learnt to count with a mathematical problem," he says, "he won't know what to do with it, because he cannot interpret it. This is not because there is anything wrong with him, but because he doesn't possess the necessary numerical background knowledge to make it possible for him to understand it. If you try to teach this child to solve the problem without understanding it, there is no way he will succeed."
As a result of the effectiveness of the Audiblox program, Dr. Strydom decided to publish it. "It was quite by accident that it became more than a school readiness program. I started using it more and more for children of school going age and always with incredible success. From there, I moved into full-blown research to develop and expand it even further."
Today, Dr. Strydom's Audiblox has a list of success stories. Many individual children have successfully been through the program, using it as a kit in their homes, while schools have initiated it in their classrooms. The teaching materials for both environments are adapted accordingly.
Over recent years, Dr. Strydom has been involved in intensive theoretical research to back up the success of Audiblox. He continually re-works, develops and improves the original concept.
"The two aspects of the program complement each other — the theory and the practical — and the more we learn about theoretical considerations, the more it becomes possible to further improve the program."
His approach is not altogether new, but his methods are quite revolutionary. "There are so many syndromes doing the rounds these days," he says. "Symptoms are clustered together and called an abnormality and suddenly people are being diagnosed with a so-called syndrome." Dr. Strydom reacts strongly to the popular notion that dyslexia is a disability. "It is incomprehensible to me that the idea of a learning disability still exists. It is so obviously a myth," he says.
"If a person is blind, we don't try and teach him to see because that's a real disability. We teach him skills to compensate for his disability. If these children had really been disabled, they would have been taught compensatory skills instead of being forced through remedial schooling. But there is nothing wrong with them. I believe there is no physical, genetic or biological reason why they have this problem. What we have to do is teach them to compensate for experiences and skills which have been lost due to drastic changes in our modern lifestyle.
"The surroundings in which children grow up today are drastically different from what they were 60, 50 or even 40 years ago, and certain everyday experiences that are vital to the correct interpretation of the written word have been removed from their lives. Audiblox works intensively to compensate for the gaps that have been left in the knowledge of certain children.
"Today, we also have to cope with gross inadequacies in the entire schooling system and the whole approach to learning. Many valuable things that were once part and parcel of the education system have been chucked out through the window — like drilling. Children don't learn their tables this way any more. And they love drilling. Repetition creates confidence and builds a basis, a kind of springboard for them to conquer higher cognitive skills. You have to build that first and then branch out into creative thinking and other approaches. You need a base for the higher functions."
To achieve success with Audiblox requires time, patience and perseverance. In the case of one-to-one working at home, it's important that a parent takes the time to work through the kit with her child. "Parents have to be just as committed to maintaining the intensity and time with the program," says Dr. Strydom.
The program is also run in groups. I sat in on a class doing the Audiblox program. I was surprised at the children's constant and unfailing concentration, at their sharpened attention and their ability to remember long and complicated sequences, initially of coloured blocks, and then of letters. Slowly the system branched out and competent reading and correct comprehension followed. But what struck me most about the half-hour class, was the delight and enjoyment in the faces of those children. They did not have the expression of frustrated, "learning-disabled" pupils, but of confident and cheerful children, eager to read, encouraged to learn and determined to conquer their problem.
"I never thought I would be writing this statement, but my dyslexic son doesn't seem to be dyslexic anymore! The symptoms have all disappeared," wrote a mother from from Quebec in Canada. "After all I've read on the subject of learning difficulties, this was not supposed to happen!"
"When Jeremie was near the end of Grade 2, he was diagnosed as being dyslexic. He had been struggling in school since kindergarten. His tests showed an average intelligence but he couldn't learn to read and write like all his friends. This took a big toll on his self-esteem and I watched my little boy go from a happy, secure child to a depressed, insecure one.
"I began my search for something to help him there and then. I swore to him and myself that I wouldn't give up until I had found a way to help him learn easier. I just couldn't believe that there was no hope, that he would always struggle with anything related to words on paper. That is what my research told me over and over for 2 years.
"We tried the special ed. teachers in school using various methods, Orton-Gillingham among others. Nothing. The school kept telling me they wanted to hold him back, have him repeat his year in Grade 2 and 3. I figured if he didn't get it the first time around, what did they think was going to happen the second time? They needed to change the way they taught him, not the other way around. I was very dissatisfied with the results. They agreed to let him pass with a promise from me to work with him through the summers. We tried The Davis method as laid out in Ron Davis's book The Gift of Dyslexia for 7 months, we tried visual therapy for 8 months. With each method we lost precious time as Jeremie still struggled in school, getting 40 or 45 in reading and writing. He was spiralling downward and thought he was very stupid indeed.
"Then, when I was getting pretty much fed up with methods promising results but not delivering them, I was told about Audiblox. I call it... destiny. I was sent a video that showed children benefiting from this method. I was told how it was discovered. I was still sceptical until I was shown The Right to Read in its manuscript form. I was amazed at how well researched this book was and that it discussed everything I've been reading for the past 2 years while researching. It answered many questions and just made so much sense! I decided to give Audiblox a try.
"The staff supported me every step of the way. Something I was not used to, getting personal attention made us feel that we were important, not just another 'customer'.
"We began near the end of Grade 4. After only 3 weeks, Jeremie began to show progress. His concentration improved and he became organised. As we went along, doing Audiblox every day for half an hour, he went through various changes. Changes in his thought pattern. The base for learning had never been prepared and that was what was missing, why he wasn't learning anything new, since he never grasped the basics in the first place. After a few months he began internalising his thoughts, no longer needing to repeat everything out loud in order to remember. His sense of direction improved dramatically. He used to get lost just walking to a friend's house a few blocks away. Now he became aware of East, West, North and South. His drawings improved. He was adding detail, no longer just drawing stick men with no faces! And of course, his reading and reading comprehension improved over the next few months.
"It has been 10 months since we first began Audiblox. Jeremie is 11 years old now and nearing the end of Grade 5. I just received his report card where he got a 75 in reading and a 72 in writing. This is phenomenal for a so-called dyslexic who used to average in the 40's! He recently told me that he no longer gets a stomach ache when he reads. He can now read for an unlimited time period whereas before he could only go for 5 minutes or so. He is improving all the time and his self-confidence is back up where it should be, he feels great!
"I have spoken to a few parents who have gone through what I have, decided to try Audiblox also and they are beginning to see results too. There are 2 in Canada who have been doing Audiblox for a few months now seeing the same improvements in concentration as we did. There are a few in the US, one in particular has been doing the program for about 4 months and has had astounding results, their daughter has improved dramatically in all areas.
"I promised myself that if I ever found something that worked I would tell every person I could about it, so that they won't have to waste years and years searching for a way. The people involved with Jeremie's education are beginning to sit up and take notice, they are as astounded as I am with the results.
"Jeremie and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all your hard work in putting this method together; without it we would still be shedding tears and Jeremie's future would be less promising."
Stock photo used.
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