Are you dyslexic, or have you got dyslexia?

I read an article yesterday (which I’ll publish later as a guest blog) by an author who describes herself as a “proud dyslexic”.

I expect I’ve written about this already, but it just made me think again about the whole PC business of labelling people. The author, Sarah Chapman, says “I haven’t got dyslexia, I’m dyslexic!”  The PC police (sorry reader, if you are one of them – this is probably goodbye!) tell us we mustn’t label someone as being “dyslexic”; we must say they “have dyslexia”. But doesn’t that make dyslexia sound like some sort of illness? The same PC police correctly embrace, and even campaign for, the notion that dyslexia is not a learning disability; it is a learning difference. And indeed it is. How much poorer the world would be if Einstein, Churchill, Branson and all the well-known names in the gallery of the “heroes of dyslexia” were not different from the rest of us.

So why then talk about it as if it were an illness? Why not use “dyslexic” as an attribute in the same way as we use “creative”, or “analytical” or “funny” or “thoughtful”, for example? And as far as avoiding the label of dyslexia goes, I do not know a single dyslexic person (and I know some very well indeed) for whom the classification (I will avoid the word “diagnosis” because of its medical connotations!) of dyslexia has not been helpful in enabling them to understand their history and their uniqueness. If I find out that someone is dyslexic I expect two things: one; that they will have encountered difficulties at some level or another in their educational journey; and two, that they will give me a fresh take, a broader vision, another colour pallette, to bring to my view of the world. If you are dyslexic, you may have had some issues in the past, but you can give your bit of the world a brighter future.

Dyslexia is a gift, not a syndrome. It may be hard to unwrap at times, but we need to value it and cherish it; not pretend it doesn’t exist. You don’t have dyslexia; you are dyslexic, just like you are tall, or short, or blonde,  and possibly also creative, funny, brilliant, thoughtful, kind …

Of course you may also be various other things. But we won’t go there.

Have you Been Phoniced? (Guest Blog from Beccie Hawes)

We are delighted to be developing a partnership with one of our local Inclusion Advisory teams, based at Rushall Primary School, near Walsall. In this article, head of service Beccie Hawes asks the question…Beccie Hawes

Have you been phoniced? (Pronounced: “phonicked”)

I think I may have invented a new verb! In terms of tenses and in conversation it goes something like this:

“Today I have been phonicing some children in Year One” meaning that today I have taught synthetic phonics to some five and six year olds.

“Yesterday I phoniced some children in Year Two” meaning that yesterday I taught synthetic phonics to some six and seven year olds.

My problem lies in that sometimes we ‘phonic’ children and it doesn’t work and quite often these children have been phoniced for two or three years before someone scratches their head and says “I thinks we need to do something different!” It is at this point that my phone rings and I am asked the million dollar question “What do we do about our phoniced failures?” I have a simple answer…..send them to phonic rehab! What follows is not necessarily what all children will need but part of what should form a rich buffet of approaches for all learners to taste!

So what happens in phonic rehab? Firstly, we recognise that not all children learn following a synthetic approach. Some children have limited working memory capacity which means that they can’t ‘hold’ all of the sounds that they need to synthesise. Others may struggle to sequence all of the sounds, fail to isolate individual phonemes or get locked into sounding out everything that they try to read. The next step is to explore a range of methods to find the way in which the child learns best such as looking at whole words, using analogy (if you can spell bat you could get to hat, mat, sat….), exploring onset and rime, mnemonics, word shapes, simultaneous oral spelling and anything else in your teaching armoury. All phonic rehab approaches much be multi-sensory so that children can truly experience the teaching focus in all modalities. It’s time to get back out the sandpaper letters, wikki sticks, magnetic letters, sand trays, slime and anything else that you can think of. This needs to be done whilst looking, saying, smelling and – where you can – tasting. Phonic rehab must also offer opportunities to over learn everything and chances to use what we have learnt in a real world scenario are essential! Opportunities to be in control of the learning such as selecting the words to learn foster engagement. The most crucial element is that phonic rehab starts early and acts like a dripping tap: little and often – a constant drip. We must stop phonicing our children and change direction as soon as we suspect it isn’t working and do something else.

Phonic rehab is a bit scary for some teachers because we remove the structured scheme of work that we believe we must religiously follow and bin the tick list of sounds that must be reader to prove that a child can read. I believe that instead of finding it scary we should embrace the opportunity to respond to what the child needs from where the child shows us their starting point is rather than a neat intervention group.

I regularly work with an amazing lady who has a brilliant saying: “Don’t tickle a pig!” Apparently, pigs are not ticklish so you can tickle them as much as you like but no one will get anything from it. I question if it is time to recognise that for some children synthetic phonics is a pig that is immune to laughter!

(Beccie Hawes is one of the workshop presenters at our conference SpLD Central, coming up on June 20th.)

SpLD Central Update

As some UK readers will know, we are launching a new conference on June 20th this year, called SpLD Central. It will have a dyslexia focus, and we are delighted to have the excellent Neil Mackay presenting two keynotes on the theme “Getting it right for Dyslexia, getting it right for all”. There’ll be about 15 exhibitors (not just ourselves!), excellent food, a free shuttle bus from the station, b&b on site if you want it – the full monty. Basically, we’ve been to so many events since we started in 1993 – good, mediocre, and absolutely dire – we think we know how to put a good programme together. If you want to know more, visit www.spldcentral.com.

There have been two changes to the programme since the conference was launched. Here they are:

1) A new workshop. 
Originally I (Bob Hext) was going to present “Visual Stress: What it is and what to do” in both the afternoon workshop sessions (we’re running two sessions of 9 parallel workshops in the afternoon, so there’s plenty of choice), but I decided a few weeks ago that I would present “Dyslexia, Learning, Games and Puzzles” for the second session. I used to do this workshop regularly before we got so involved in visual stress support, and it was always popular, so I’m looking forward to doing it again: it’s going to be a bit of going back to our roots.

2) Stress management (not visual!) timetable change
A contact of ours with a background of teaching lower ability FE students for core skills subjects has started a stress management consultancy. We originally thought it would be helpful to include a short session (including relaxation exercises) on “Stress management in the workplace” as part of the main programme, with an alternative option of detailed presentations on flagship products from selected exhibitors (TRUGS, Wordshark, and others including ourselves). However we have now taken this session out of the main programme, and included “Identifying and managing stress” and “Product related workshops” in the workshop options, making the timetable less cluttered and allowing more time for input that relates specifically to outcomes for SpLD students.

I’ll also post profiles on our speakers on this blog, but I’ll keep these updates short and sweet.That’s it for now.

Bob Hext 11/2/15

Conflicting theories about Visual Stress

In his comment on my (fairly) recent post on “academic arguments and anecdotal evidence”, Philip Jones referred to the conflicting views of two academics, namely Professors Arnold Wilkins and John Stein, who put forth differing theories on the neurological causes of Visual Stress. I appreciated Philip’s comment: I don’t agree with him, but it’s interesting on a site like this to hear what other people have to say.

I am not a scientist myself – I used to be a  schoolteacher, and now I run a business, and I have to admit that I very quickly feel out of my depth in scientific discussions. As I have already made clear: if a lot of people, with no axe to grind, all report a common experience (in this case that, for some people, reading through colour alleviates distortions and discomfort when reading), then for me that is more real than analysis and more analysis of data. If you fly high enough above a forest to see the whole landscape, you lose sight of the trees that make it up – but it doesn’t mean they are no longer there.

Anyway – conflicting theories. Unfortunately I haven’t got time (no, really!) to explain them at the moment, but Wilkins (Essex University) suggests that Visual Stress is caused by “Cortical Hyperexcitablility”, and Stein (Oxford) theorises that the cause is “Magnocellular deficit”. The Cortical Hyperexcitablility model proposes that the correct tint to alleviate visual stress in an individual can be one from a wide range of colours across the spectrum; the  Magnocellular Deficit model suggests that the only colours that “work” are blue and yellow.

We (Crossbow Education) sell coloured overlays – thousands of them, every year. Our records of colours selected by thousands of customers consistently show, year on year, practically the same percentage of our ten tints sold. The figures are so consistent that they have statistical significance.  By far the biggest number sold are blue and yellow, but the point is that we sell thousands of the others as well – purple, pink, green etc.Visual Stress is perceived as a syndrome (often known as “Meares-Irlen syndrome), that is a collection of signs and symptoms that are observed in, and characteristic of, a single condition. Right now I have an itch on my leg. My skin is in an irritated condition. Is it caused by my varicose vein (yes I am that old)? Am I reacting to the detergent my wife used when she washed these trousers? Do I have an insect bite? These are all real causes of an irritated skin condition, and there are many more.

Generalising very broadly, there are more than twice as many people using blue and yellow overlays that any other colour. Is it possible that there is a condition called Magnocellular Deficit, which causes the symptoms of visual stress and which is remedied by reading through yellow or blue coloured overlays, and another condition called Cortical Hyperexcitability, also causing the same symptoms, and which is remedied by reading through a wide range of colours which also includes blue and yellow?

Arnold Wilkins and John Stein are men of great intelligence and integrity, who have come to their conclusions through thorough and painstaking research. As I said, I am not a scientist; but rather than seeing their conflicting explanations as cancelling each other out – and therefore destroying the scientific validity of using coloured overlays and tinted lenses to improve reading experience – I think that they could both be right. There isn’t just one scientific reason why reading through colour appears to benefit about 20% of the population to varying degrees: there are two.

Bob Hext, 10 Feb 2015

Seven Lessons on teaching maths, learnt from the students.

The seven points below are taken directly from Steve Chinn’s summary of a workshop he will be delivering a Feb 17th. I thought anybody involved in teaching can benefit from a reminder of these important principals, and having read in this morning’s paper that proposals exist for sacking head teachers who fail to have 100% of students able to repeat their times tables from memory, I would suggest that they are daubed in large letters across every wall of the Department for Education – ideally accompanied by an appropriate illustration by Banksy…

Steve used to be the principal of a beacon specialist school for dyslexic students, and has advised the government on numeray strategy. They really ought to listen to him. This is what he says:

“After 17 years of successful teaching in University and mainstream schools I had a reputation for being a ‘good’ teacher, but then the lessons from my first experiences of trying to teach maths to dyslexic students taught me that I wasn’t good enough. In this session I will explain the significance of the ‘seven lessons’:

Lesson 1: Rote learning does not work for all students

Lesson 2: If they can’t learn from the way I teach, can I teach the way they learn.

Lesson 3: Know which students have poor working short term memories.

Lesson 4: Making students anxious does not help learning.

Lesson 5: Asking students to do mental arithmetic, or any maths question, quickly is rarely productive

Lesson 6: Children rarely learn from their mistakes in maths (but teachers can).

Lesson 7: It’s complicated!”

Nicky Morgan, please read.

Steve is an excellent speaker and a leading authority on maths and dyslexia. You can get  a series of low cost teaching videos by Steve at www.mathsexplained.co.uk.

He has written a number of books and articles on the subject: NEW for 2015 is ‘The Routledge International Handbook of Dyscalculia and Mathematical Learning Difficulties,’ edited by Steve Chinn, with 30 chapters from experts around the world.

Is Autism “Ballooning”?

I’ve just had a linked-in “discussion” drop into my inbox, starting with “In the last 20 years, Autism has ballooned across the nation and the medical community is ‘baffled’ as to why this is happening.” It wasn’t really a discussion, more of an advertising pitch, so I didn’t get involved there – but I do have a couple of thoughts on the subject.

The Recognition Curve

Firstly – and I think this is the case with a lot of Learning Differences – whether or not autism autism has actually “ballooned”, certainly the awareness of it has. We now recognise certain traits as being “on the ASD spectrum”, whereas ten years ago the same traits may have just marked someone out as being “different” without defining how. Depending to a certain extent on the policy of the Local Authority, dyslexia was in a similar place on what you might call the “recognition curve” fifteen years or so ago. And ten years ago who had even heard, for example, of Oppositional Defiant Disorder? Yet just because the condition was not on the public radar this doesn’t mean that individuals and families were any less affected by it.

Help! I Need a Label.

So as science continues to extend the boundaries of our understanding we are able to identify different conditions, and with identification comes tailored support, adaptation and in some cases treatment. Unlike in some cultures, where “Special Needs” is still stigmatised, I think we can be proud of our inclusive philosophy in the UK, and because of that I think it’s important that we see the identification of a “Special Need” as a positive guide to understanding, not as a negative label for discrimination. The better we can categorize and define our behaviour, the better we can understand and help each other.

The Bubble that’s Ballooning

Alongside all this – and here’s the other thought – I do think that society is changing in such a way that people can spend much more time in their own private “bubble” than used to be the case. There was a time when the rise of the TV dinner was deplored in some circles for its detrimental effect on family life. Those days are long gone: now a multitude of virtual worlds, digital friends, and all the worst excesses of the internet are available, literally, in the palms of our hands. The nature/nurture debate is an old one, but if we are shaped at all by our environment, isn’t it likely that the time that children can spend cut off from other people by the screen in front of them is going to cause an increase in social communication difficulties? The linguistic root of “aut” ism is “self” ism, and today’s world is surely breeding it.

Bob Hext
Director

Academic Arguments and Anecdotal Evidence

http://bit.ly/Yzy1L7

I don’t normally get involved in the fallout from academic arguments, but on this occasion I will, because, like Mark (http://beermonstermark.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/visual-stress/), I feel that this needs a response.

You can look through both ends of a portable telescope – it will either magnify what you are looking at, or make it practically disappear. It’s the same with figures. Depending on what position  you want to justify, you choose your data accordingly. So for example global warming is happening, or it isn’t. Drinking a certain amount of red wine is good for you, or it isn’t. Coloured overlays and reading rulers can make a difference to some people’s reading experience, or not. There is actually a wealth of accumulated evidence from 20 years top level academic research to say that they do, plenty of which is peer reviewed – if anybody who wants to look at it, just click on the link in the footnote below. The question is, what do you want to believe?

As one of the people responsible for the significant increase in awareness of Visual Stress over the last decade, the following (alongside the compelling scientific evidence from Essex University, Oxford University and elsewhere) is what I believe. It comes from a seven-year old girl called Maddy, and was given to me by her dyslexia tutor who is a senior professional at a highly respected teaching college:

“ …. The words look different, they won’t stay still and then I start to see ‘rivers in the text’ when I try to  concentrate on text books at my school.  Sometimes it looks like the words are almost 3D and with little lights behind them.  I try blinking a lot to get the words back into focus and then sometimes I even see colours round the text.  But then when I started to use the blue reading ruler, the “weirdness” went away …”

Ah, but there’s a problem, isn’t there? This is merely anecdotal. Maddy doesn’t exist in the cloud of figures that swirl around research like midge swarms. But she has a face, and a story; and I’m sure we could arrange for the people who said “manipulation of the visual system using colour to facilitate reading lacks scientific support” to meet her, or her tutor, if they wished. Or maybe  the American Academy for Pediatrics, Council for Children with Disabilities, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and the American Association of Certified Orthoptists, who concluded that “… scientific evidence does not support the efficacy of … special tinted filters or lenses in improving long term educational performance” would like to meet the little boy that Mark quoted who, when he looked at text through a blue overlay, said “Is that what you mean by a word? Can I start learning to read now?”

We designed the Eye Level Reading Ruler ten years ago now. There are thousands more stories like Maddy’s out there, of lives that have been changed during that time because “the weirdness went away”.  We hear some of them, when people have the time to write to us, but mostly they exist in the results from schools who assess all their weak readers for visual stress and see significant increases in reading levels when the overlays have been given out; or in the research project from a London University dept of psychology (over 30% increase in reading speed in some children) that wasn’t accepted for peer review because apparently 72 subjects was not enough. To you 72, even though you apparently don’t exist, you know better, and I salute you!

One of our staff sent me an amusing post a few months ago. It went something like this: “To the optimist and the pessimist: While you two were busy arguing over the glass of water, I drank it!Signed, the Opportunist”. Whatever the arguments, there is only one truth. No doubt the midges will continue to swarm. And while they do, the “weirdness” will carry on going away as more people discover how filtering out specific wavelengths of light can neutralise the pattern glare from the repeated stripes in text and put an end to the over-excitation of their visual cortex. So to everyone in that great body of anecdotal evidence, I have one thing to say: we will be here for you.

Bob Hext

Managing Director, Crossbow Education Ltd.

(Unashamed purveyors of Visual Stress Solutions.)

 

Footnote: Crossbow, Cerium, and I.O.O., who are the leading UK manufacturers of overlays systems, work closely with the scientific establishment to ensure that their products meet the criteria established by the research that detractors say doesn’t exist, but which can be easily found, for example, at www.essex.ac.uk/psychology/overlays/ , or read about in Arnold Wilkins’s excellent book “Reading Through Colour”. We don’t get involved with coloured lenses: we leave that to the optometrists, whose patients will have their own set of stories of life-changing freedom from Visual Stress. The instrument they use to prescribe the correct lens tint is called the Intuitive Colorimiter. It was developed at Cambridge University and funded by the Medical Research Council. Unscientific? Really?