By Daniel J. Vance


  Dyslexia can affect a young person's handwriting, spelling, reading, and writing—and his or her life-long confidence and self-esteem. The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a permanent learning disorder characterized by problems in "single word decoding."

  A person with dyslexia may reverse, invert or transpose letters, thinking, for instance, that the word "dog" is really "bog," or that "felt" is "left." Words in a sentence can appear to run together. It affects to some degree about five percent of Americans.

  Though usually average or above in intelligence, individuals with dyslexia are often called "slow" or "stupid." In school, they may become the "class clown" or withdraw to avoid being called on by a teacher. But hope exists: Reading and writing skills can improve with school intervention early on—and often the Orton-Gillingham approach is the means used.

  "Orton-Gillingham is multi-sensory," said Janet Jones, an instructor at The Jemicy School of Owings Mills, Md., and Fellow of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators.

  "Many approaches used in teaching dyslexic students are visual, in that a teacher has a student look at and memorize a word," she said. "Orton-Gillingham and similar approaches rely on four ways to learn: visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic. Its distinctive component is the kinesthetic modality, which is a powerful memory tool. For example, we all know that once you ride a bike the knowledge of doing it stays with you and you never forget."

  Jones also teaches the association between a letter, its sound, and the way that letter is formed in writing and speaking. Rather than teach spelling separately, to reinforce learning she teaches it alongside reading and writing. And through individually paced, sequential and direct instruction, students gain mastery of the alphabetic-phonics system.

  The Jemicy (pronounced JE-muh-see) School, where Jones instructs, has been a nationally recognized leader since 1973 in teaching dyslexic students. Enrollment is limited to 144 for children ages 6 to 15, with a student-teacher ratio of three to one. Its "Community Outreach" annually trains more than 500 teachers in phonics-based reading instruction.

  One old myth: The presence of dyslexia has nothing to do with a person's motivation, sensory impairments, or with inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities. The causes are neurobiological and genetic.

  For more information try the International Dyslexia Association website at www.interdys.org or The Jemicy School at www.jemicyschool.org. 

  [Contact Mr. Vance through www.danieljvance.com. Copyright 2003 by Daniel J. Vance.]