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With Dyslexia, early screening helps

By Kaelanne Jordan
Twitter: @kaelanne1

According to research, 60 per cent of children who repeat a grade will not finish school.

For persons with dyslexia, grade retention does not change the dyslexia nor the wiring of the brain.

In fact, it is the teacher and the [education] system that has a “learning disability” if they continue to “give the child the same stuff” year after year which “does not work”.

“Then you got to do something different…and science has studied this for you…. Education needs to become evidence-based: only programmes that have been tested, only programmes that have been proven to be highly effective should be given to the child, otherwise you’re treating the child like a guinea pig…and that puts every child at a high risk.”

This was the view of neuropsychologist, researcher and educator Dr Tim Conway during his talk at the ‘Succeeding with Dyslexia’ free seminar for parents and teachers Saturday, October 26 at the Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business, Mt Hope.

Dr Conway is the owner and operator of The Morris Centre Trinidad and Tobago, an all-inclusive neurodevelopmental treatment and assessment centre which helps improve skills of children and adults who have difficulty due to poor reading, spelling, comprehension, writing, speech, math, sensory processing attention, behaviour or social skills.

T&T Olympic sailing athlete Andrew Lewis

He was among the lineup of speakers at Atlantic LNG’s third dyslexia seminar which began 8.30 a.m. and concluded 1 p.m. Speakers included T&T Olympic sailing athlete Andrew Lewis, who is also dyslexic, and Cathryn Kelshall, executive chairman of the Dyslexic Association of Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr Conway’s PowerPoint Presentation explored what dyslexia really is, the best approaches for prevention and intervention and the “superpowers” of dyslexia.

According to Dr Conway, dyslexia is “highly” correlated with negative impacts. It affects one’s self esteem, mood, motion, personal skills and one’s view of the future. Failure to achieve reading proficiency by the end of Grade One is associated with increased risk of drop out of school, psychiatric problems like anxiety disorders and depression, and other “serious” problems.

Dr Conway shared that two studies which looked at suicide notes from teenagers found that 89 per cent of the notes had the same spelling mistakes as children with dyslexia.

He told a packed room of approximately 100 attendees that dyslexia is “personal” for him, as it “gallops” in his family.

His father, eldest sister and eldest brother all “struggled” with dyslexia. His twin son and daughter are both dyslexic. However, both had early intervention.

Why early intervention matters

The crux of Dr Conway’s talk was to share that early intervention will not cure the dyslexia but allow the individual to make such “strong gains” and the capacity “to do more”.

Dyslexia is not an education problem; it’s a brain-processing problem that starts in the womb even before the child is born. There is no anatomy of the brain that “clicks”, he said.

“We can start screening as early as four and five [years]. And the earlier we screen, the earlier we pick up on this weaker system, the more successful the intervention is going to be, because the gap is smaller….”

He showed US-based statistics covering five years of remedial programmes in Grades 4, 8 and 12 from 1992 to 2017. The data he presented highlighted 36 per cent of children in the US education system are proficient readers. “That means fluent, accurate, comprehension are at grade level. Grade level starts at the 25th percentile.”

He continued, “Here we are in 2017, 36 per cent…. we’ve made absolutely zero progress…in 25 years….it hasn’t worked for over 30 years,” he said.

Dr Conway played a video of a dyslexic boy, frustrated and struggling to read. In a subsequent video, the child was seen reading fluently. He asked the attendees to estimate how much time was spent in intervention.

Persons responded one year, six months and three months.

“Try eight weeks of intervention,” he said, to surprise from attendees.

Dr Conway said that in 2015 he did a TED Talk in which he sought to get people to consider that we need to do far more than what we’ve done before.

“Maybe in the US we need an FDA of Education which means schools can’t use programmes unless they’ve been approved by government medical science.”

To which he replied, “I hope not,” adding that the brain and how it works is more complicated than rocket science.

“This is not simple stuff,” he said.

Dr Conway sought to clarify some myths of a dyslexic. He shared that the brain has eight sensory motor inputs: visual system (seeing), auditory system (hearing), olfactory system (smell), gustatory system (taste), tactile system (touch), proprioceptive system (sensations from muscles and joints of body), interoceptive system (internal sensory system) and vestibular system (balance and orientation in space).

The difference with the dyslexic is not that they have a ninth system, or that they are missing one of the eight. If they were missing one of the eight, that’s brain damage, he said.

But it can be, Dr Conway said, that the efficiency with which these eight working together are not working well. “There’s some communication that’s not happening efficiently, effectively to help build those skills,” he explained.

He then spoke of phonological awareness, the ability to manipulate the sounds of words you hear—one of the best predictors of one’s reading skills and the number one predictor of dyslexia which can be diagnosed as early as age four.