October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month
By Diana Hammell
Jermiah Jacobson is a bright, energetic, freckled, friendly kid in Nancy Mullins’ fourth grade class. The smiles on his open face can light up a room. After Jacobson finished the second grade, his parents, Kevin and Erica, learned he was dyslexic.
“It’s a hard road for a child in school with dyslexia,” Erica Jacobson said. “Imagine your teacher asking the class to read a story. The rest of the class finishes and begins to answer questions, yet you are still struggling to read the story; and once you’re done, you have no clue what you just read because you had to concentrate so hard on each sound. Everything Jermiah does, he has to work twice as hard as others. He was always so worried about someone seeing his papers and seeing how poorly he writes and spells that it would make him anxious and nervous.”
This year, Jacobson became empowered. Toward the beginning of the school year, he, along with his mother and his teacher, stood up in front of his peers and told them just why he can’t read and write like they do. “I believe that, to his surprise, some of them had family with dyslexia and understood,” Erica said. “He has become my hero for finding the courage to do that. At that age, I know I would not have been able to stand in front of my friends and announce something like that.”
It’s a confusing world of words
“It’s the most confusing thing in the entire world,” Erica said of her son’s dyslexia. “It’s not just seeing things backwards.” Erica said that Jermiah reads and reads, trying to figure the printed words out, and he’ll probably have to work at it the rest of his life and never get done. “Each person is different. He’s almost going to have to find his own way,” she said.
An example Erica gave is when someone without dyslexia learns to read, and they learn the word “cat,” then they know that word is now cat. Every time Jermiah sees that word, however, he has to sound out each letter again. “Jermiah’s spelling is horrendous,” she said. “I look at all the things he has to write and I have no clue what he’s writing. Then he’ll read it to me and I can see it.” Jermiah spells as the words sound to him; for example, earth is “rth.”
“Last year wasn’t too bad; we were able to make it through last year; but, this year it’s getting harder,” Erica said. “Each year more reading is being demanded. It’s harder for him to even play a Play Station game because reading is required there, too. There are so many things that he misses because he can’t read it and you feel so bad for him. Even simple games and movies – it has to be so hard, and when it’s one of his favorite games, he has to read a lot.” “That sucks,” Jermiah said.
Help is out there
Jermiah and his mother said that the teachers have been terrific. “Oh my, there are no problems at school,” Erica said. “This year is going to be even better because they have iPads now and when he was diagnosed, he qualified for a program called Bookshare. Bookshare is a program for students who are blind and disabled; Jermiah qualified because he’s dyslexic. With a doctor’s signature, the program is free. The library is endless and Jermiah can download any book he wants onto his iPad. “He downloads books such as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” He couldn’t read them before, but he wanted to be like his friends. Now he can download any book he wants; the program reads it to him, highlighting a sentence at a time. He can see the word as it’s spoken to him. Bookshare has been approved for use at Caledonia Elementary and when the program arrives at the school, he’ll be able to access his reading book on Bookshare. So, now if they have to read at school, he will be able to pull up his book right there at school when all the other kids are reading so he won’t be so far behind.” Jacobson said that Jermiah would become very far behind last year. While the rest of the classroom would be answering questions about what they read, Jermiah was still struggling to read the assignment and would become lost. Now he can stay right with the rest of the class. Last year’s reading book was a 2000 edition so it was too old to be on Bookshare. “When he goes to bed at night, Jermiah puts his headphones on and can “read” his book in his way,” Jacobson said. “You can adjust the size of the font, the voice, the volume, the speed and the color and you can pause it at any time. Jermiah usually does about 20 pages a night. This has made a huge difference for Jermiah, otherwise we were reading first or second grade level books. Now he’s a fourth grader and he can read the same books the rest of his class is reading. The books are free and there’s more than just Jermiah who will benefit from it once they get it at Caledonia Elementary.
Lots of hard work
“When Jermiah was in first grade we knew something was a little wrong and then in second grade, I definitely knew when I would be reading with him at night,” Jacobson said. “We knew we had to do something and so did his teacher. Between me, his teacher and his tutor, who comes to his house, we’re not easy on him.” Spelling is a real challenge for Jermiah. “We have to study the hardest to learn the words, and then they’re gone by Monday. That’s how it’s always been, and will always be,” Jacobson said.
Jermiah brings his school papers home and Jacobson has to ask what he wrote. Although he likes his teacher and his classmates, it’s not really fun to go to school. “He’s surviving,” Jacobson said. The teachers are good and his favorite is Mrs. Mullins “so far!” He says that the kids are all good.
It’s easier sitting in class now that he told everybody about his dyslexia. He wanted to tell everyone because, “last year they didn’t tell me a word if I asked what it was,” Jermiah said. Now if he asks they’re happy to tell him words. One person has a brother and one has a dad who has dyslexia too.
Sports haven’t been a problem yet. He’s good with money; math is a strong point. Jacobson said that their two boys are very different; one was reading fifth grade books in second grade and the other has difficulty.
Jermiah was relieved to find out that his difficulty wasn’t his fault, that it wasn’t “him” and that it wasn’t because he wasn’t smart. He’s an outdoorsy kind of guy and reading doesn’t get in the way of that. He and his brother built a racetrack near their house for their big remote control monster trucks. “He’s good with his hands – fixing stuff, wrecking stuff. He’s dirty and stinky – getting hurt – all the ‘boy stuff,’ he’s great at,” Jacobson said. “He’s a pleaser at school; he saves all the other stuff for home.”
Facts about dyslexia
Dyslexia is a specific kind of reading difficulty. Despite average to above average intelligence, children with dyslexia have difficulty learning to “decode,” or read words by associating sounds and letters or letter combinations. They have difficulty recognizing common “sight words,” or frequently occurring words that most readers recognize instantly. Examples of sight words are “the” and “in.” Children with dyslexia also have difficulty learning how to spell, sometimes referred to as “encoding.”
First of all, people with dyslexia have weak phonemic awareness. This means that they have difficulty hearing the fine distinctions among individual sounds, or phonemes, of the language. They also have difficulty rhyming and breaking words down into individual sounds. Phonemic awareness relates directly to learning to decode and to spell words. In addition, it takes longer for people with dyslexia to “process” phonemic information, or to make connections between sounds and letters or letter combinations. When reading, people with dyslexia need more time than typical readers to put together individual sounds into words.
Symptoms of dyslexia
If a child exhibits one or more of the following symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that she has dyslexia. A thorough evaluation is needed to determine if a child has dyslexia. If a child exhibits many of these symptoms, however, it’s a good idea to talk with her teacher.
• Is late to recognize letters.
• Has trouble rhyming.
• Has difficulty listing words that begin with the same sound.
• Is slow to learn the sounds of letters and letter combinations.
• Has difficulty recalling the sounds of letters and letter combinations rapidly and have difficulty in learning and remembering the names of letters.
• Has trouble learning to recognize words.
• Has difficulty learning to decode unknown words.
• Reads slowly and/or in a word-by-word manner.
• Is reluctant to read.
• Has weak spelling.
• Writes far less than other children.
Causes of dyslexia
The brains of children with dyslexia simply have a harder time learning and remembering the code to how sounds and letters go together. Despite this difficulty, children with dyslexia have strong listening vocabularies and understand text when it is read aloud to them. They are bright, are good thinkers and are often very creative. With special instruction, children with dyslexia learn to read, but most continue to be somewhat slow readers and many struggle with spelling into adulthood. Luckily, there are many strategies that people with dyslexia can learn to help them compensate for these difficulties. As a result, people with dyslexia who have had special help as children and who have developed ways of using their strengths to help them compensate for their weaknesses, can be successful in all walks of life.
Albert Einstein was dyslexic
Research suggests that about 10 to 17 percent of the population has dyslexia and is by far the most common learning disability. The numbers of girls and boys who have dyslexia are about the same.
Some of the most brilliant minds of our time have been known to have dyslexia: Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and John Lennon, to mention only a few. There are people with dyslexia in many types of highly respected careers such as: Tom Cruise, Danny Glover, Cher, Magic Johnson, Carl Lewis, Bruce Jenner and General George Patton.
Dyslexics often enjoy and excel at solving puzzles. They have excellent comprehension of the stories read or told them. Most dyslexics often have a better sense of spatial relationships and better use of their right brain. Dyslexics have excellent thinking skills in the areas of conceptualization, reason, imagination and abstraction and have a strong ability to see concepts with a “big picture” perspective. Dyslexics are adept to excellence in areas not dependent on reading and typically have a large spoken vocabulary for their age. They tend to be more curious, creative and intuitive than average and their special mode of thought easily produces the gift of mastery.