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Demystifying dyslexia

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by Rima Thompson
Arts Editor

It was a day of discovery. So sad that it took so long. From pre-school through high school, there were no answers, just years and years of feeling like a failure. Fortunately, the invisible shutters of confusion opened, and the source revealed its name to be dyslexia.

Victoria Drost, a University of La Verne CAPA student, was diagnosed with dyslexia during her freshmen year of college when one of her professors noticed that she was having difficulties with numbers in assignments.

“My professor in my anatomy and physiology class noticed that I was changing my numbers on multiple choice questions. Like number 13 would come out as 31,” Drost said. “He had dyslexia, so he pulled me aside and they tested me for it.”

Drost spent years in remedial classes throughout her schooling. Her parents and school officials attributed her learning deficiency to the short coma she experienced from a horseback riding accident as a child.

“We didn’t know because back in those days, they didn’t test you for it,” she said.

They gave her a written and verbal test, as well as a test that required her to write numbers and a letter of the alphabet, which she would repeat back to the tester.

“I scored genius level,” Drost said about the test.

Fortunately, Drost is not alone and according to Schwab Learning, an online resource organization for learning about and managing disorders, an estimated 2.9 million American students receiving special education services has a learning disorder.

The Learning Disabilities Association of America categorizes dyslexia ­ which is the most common learning disorder ­ as a reading disability. According to the association: “A person with dyslexia is someone with average to above average intelligence whose problem with reading is not the result of emotional problems, lack of motivation, poor teaching, mental retardation or vision or hearing deficits.”

However, while people with dyslexia are commonly known as having a reading disorder, many specialists include other problems in their definition of it. Difficulties in math, speaking and spelling, for example, can be a sign that someone is suffering from it.

“Anything like fill-in-the-blank questions and answers I aced, but anything with numbers is really hard. I can’t even balance my checkbook,” Drost said.

The difficulty for many lies in translating words into concepts; this difficulty often results in poor spelling and reading.

“Reading is understanding what you read,” said Marta Bomortino, licensed clinical supervisor for San Bernardino Country Behavioral Health Department. “Patients who have a difficult time recognizing words often lack in their comprehension skills. They spend most of their time trying to figure out what the word is and often bypass the meaning.”

Verbally, Drost said she is very intelligent, but sometimes when she writes or speaks she either exaggerates or uses the wrong word.

“It’s like I get confused, so I stop and think about the concept of it before writing it down,” she said.

To retain long-term information Drost must be able to understand a concept and apply it to something. Making topics into stories enables her to accomplish this.

Letter formation is also an issue for people with dyslexia.

“You don’t really see them backwards, you perceive them backwards,” Drost said.

When she looks at the letter “x”, for example, she writes it down as a “y.” Somewhere in the process of her brain, what she visually perceives is mistranslated when it is written.

“It’s frustrating, because I’m not stupid,” Drost said. “I’m very intelligent, but it’s like you feel dumb. It’s hard. I’m not a dingy blonde. I do have a brain, you know?”

Typically, the problem with word pronunciation begins in kindergarten and often the problem is not visible until later on in life when a higher reading level is required.

As a child, she said, her family did not understand that her difficulties in school were beyond her control. She would come home crying and her parents would scold her for not listening or paying attention in class.

“Of course teenagers don’t (listen) but I’d stay after school and ask (teachers) to help me understand it,” she said.

The cause of dyslexia is not known for certain, though recent research has shown that abnormal functions in the left side of the brain may be a cause, as this part of the brain is responsible for language, Bomortino said.

“It is also important to note that dyslexia is not a disease, meaning there is no cure, and it is (an) inherited disorder,” Bomortino said.

While there is no single test for dyslexia, those suspecting that they or someone they know might have the disorder should undergo substantial psychoeducational testing. Some of the things that should be included in the tests are hearing, vision and problem solving.

Treatment for dyslexia varies from person to person and generally involves collaboration among teachers and specialists. As a child, it begins with developing an individual educational program, which under a federal law requires educators of students ages 3 and older to outline their disability and how it will be managed.

Similarly, ULV’s Health Center offers various ways in helping dyslexic students. However, a student must self-disclose they have the disability before help can be received.

They need to first make an appointment with Cindy Denne, director of student health services, to go over policies and procedures.

Once that and all psychoeducational tests are done, a team that consists of several qualified individuals will then try to determine the best learning styles for that particular student.

“Some students might have a processing disorder and it’s easier for them to read more material, so they’re visual learners,” Denne said, adding that for some, books on tape are useful.

The Health Center also uses a program called Kurzweil 3000.

“It’s a software specifically for students who have dyslexia,” Denne said. “What it will do is it will scan a paper or a book into a machine and the software will literally read to you the text.”

The program highlights each word as it is read. It helps to reinforce what a student is seeing for those who have a problem recognizing certain words as they read.

For Drost, she said her professors are very supportive. They allow her to take her tests at the Learning Center and give her more time to complete them.

However, she would like to see some support on campus for people with dyslexia.

She struggles everyday to learn and said her grandmother used to tell her to “do the best you can do and be the best you can be.”

Drost said she tries her hardest to live by her grandma’s words of wisdom and encourages others with dyslexia to get help.

“Speak up,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask some questions. Don’t be afraid to stay after class. Get help because it’s not all about fun. This is your life and it’s your career. You have to succeed.”

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