Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

A Strategy to Overcoming Dyslexia
A direct, explicit and multisensory approach

by Carrie Bishop

September 01, 2011

Dyslexia is a language-based learning difference. People with it have trouble with language skills like reading, spelling, writing and pronouncing words. Surprisingly 15 percent of the population are believed to have dyslexia according to statistics by the National Institutes of Health. It’s a life-long condition, but one that can be overcome with the right instruction.

Mary Ragsdale, assistant head of school for the Hutson School, an Indianapolis-based comprehensive day school for students with language learning differences, said the exact causes of dyslexia are not entirely known but studies do show differences in the brain of a dyslexic person in terms of how it develops and functions. In the past, she said students with dyslexia were simply misunderstood and labeled as unmotivated or unable. In reality, many people with this type of learning difference have average to above-average intelligence and possess a great deal of potential.

Despite this potential, dyslexia still makes it very difficult for students to succeed in a traditional academic environment without intervention and specific teaching strategies. Rosie Hickle, executive director of the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana, said there is now enough evidence that shows people with dyslexia can learn to read and write proficiently with the proper teaching strategies. Their brains need structure and organization, it has to be directly and explicitly taught.

“Their brain learns to read and write differently and therefore they have to be taught differently,” she said.

The identified approach is called multisensory structured language instruction. According to Hickle, this strategy requires teachers to go through the English language step by step, breaking it down and putting it back together for each learner.

“It’s direct. It’s explicit. It’s multisensory,” she said. This, apparently, is the key. This approach teaches students to read and spell by using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning pathways simultaneously. For instance, when a child learns to read through multisensory structured language instruction, he or she learns by looking at print, talking out loud and tracing letters with his or her left index finger.

Hickle said there are various products and curriculums available that are based on this concept, and these can be debated. Yet to actually teach a student with dyslexia to read and write they need a multisensory approach that is directly and explicitly taught from simple to complex.

Her viewpoint echoes the strategy recommended by The International Dyslexia Association. According to material published by the organization, dyslexia and related learning difficulties can be treated with effective instruction that is explicit, systematic, cumulative and multisensory. The instructional approaches and programs may differ in specific techniques and materials, but the philosophy is the same.

Interestingly the same strategy can be used for dyscalculia, which is a learning disorder similar to dyslexia only it applies to mathematics instead. A direct, explicit and multisensory approach to math provides the student a more concrete lesson in what is often an abstract subject.

“We do good with children when they are little. Math is hands on when you count Cheerios. They need this all they way through...They need to see it, touch it, manipulate it,” said Hickle.

Experts say that early intervention is ideal, but people with dyslexia and related learning differences can be helped at any age.

“Yes, [dyslexia] can be overcome. Not only overcome, but these are people who have average to superior intelligence. If we work with them appropriately and get them the help they need, they can be wonderful leaders in our society,” said Hickle.