Raising and educating kids with dyslexia

Archive for March, 2011

Travel broadens the mind

Reading has its benefits as it opens up the world for the reader, but when the reader is dyslexic the gains obtained from reading are much less and the world is not so accessible.

So far, this blog has talked a lot about living with dyslexia, but it been rather quiet on the subject of travel even though Dysconnect is about dyslexia and traveling. For our family, we believe travel and experience is a way to open up the world whether it is local, national or global. This time of year we’re limited by school calendars but, as I hinted in my post “A Cloud on the Horizon – visual stress,” travel is happening in July 2011! Just as we are beginning to see a few signs of spring here in Massachusetts, so a few signs of summer travel are visible too.

This summer we are venturing beyond the Western world that we know so well and into a very different culture. Flights are booked – from New York to Hong Kong to Beijing to London and to Boston – an around the globe trip to visit relatives on a two-year work assignment in China.

Guidebooks are scattered across the dining room table, web pages are bookmarked on the laptop, flight confirmations are printed, sticky notes remind us to get visa photos taken and passports are stacked in a corner on the kitchen counter.

Up-to-date guidebooks are hard to find and usually do not seem good value for money, plus they are like lead weights in baggage when weight allowance is precious. But with many dollars worth of Borders gift cards from our Gabrieli Lab research participation, I’ve found up-to-date Frommer’s China, Frommer’s Hong Kong and Frommer’s Beijing Day by Day published in 2011. Not only are they up-to-date but our relatives already in China and Hong Kong have relayed experiences that corroborate Frommer’s information.

So, with guidebooks in one hand and laptop within reach of the other hand, I’ve been trawling the hotels of Hong Kong and Beijing. Language, food and local customs will be just a few cultural shocks for us on this trip. Western brand hotels are perhaps the place where we can guarantee some familiarity if we need it. This lodging also allows us to use hotel points instead of dollars and reduces the risk of turning our educational investment into a financial nightmare.

For two evenings I’ve clicked through hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, maps on Google Earth and hotel web sites. I’ve compared the percentage of “excellent” and “very good” to “poor” traveler ratings on TripAdvisor and considered location, location, location in my decision-making. After intensive evaluation, I have booked four nights for a family of five in Beijing!


I forgot my husband’s name!

I forgot my husband’s name. Well, he wasn’t my husband at the time, but he was soon to be. We had just met and I introduced him to my friend by the wrong name. “This is Chris,” I said. “Actually,” he said, “my name’s Colin.” Awkward! But he did ask me to marry him two months later.

All my life I’ve thought I was just a really bad listener. When someone tells me his or her name, I seem to forget it almost immediately. I’ve tried really hard to listen and concentrate, and even repeat their name out loud after they’ve told me, but a couple of minutes later I’ve no recollection of their name. Even worse is having to introduce a group of people, especially people I have known for a long time, as I have a hard time remembering their names. Panic sets in as I struggle to retrieve from my memory the names of my best friends.

Living in the United States exacerbates the problem! I’ve noticed that Americans, when they meet you in passing, are very good at saying “Hello ____________ (fill in the blank with your name). It just rolls off their tongue so easily. I can only splutter back an embarrassed “Hello, err…” There’s nothing there! My mind is blank! If I had a bit more time I could probably come up with their name. But by then, they’ve passed me and gone.

Following another trip to the Gabrieli Lab for child number three to take part in the reading assessment, I wonder if my inability to remember names is a symptom of dyslexia that I never knew I had? I hesitate in writing this because if my children read this then I know they will be blaming my gene pool!

At the Gabrieli Lab, it was my turn to complete a questionnaire about my own reading ability, family history and… capacity to remember numbers, names and addresses. Well, it was quite revealing! I had to circle the highest score, that signified “most difficult”, to the questions on my ability to remember phone numbers, names and addresses. I also had to admit that my spelling wasn’t that great. Perhaps, after all these years of stressing over my incompetence to do these things, I do have a valid excuse. Spell checkers are a great way to overcome poor spelling, but finding a strategy to overcome poor recollection of names is a different matter.

Testing the dyslexic brain

The following is an interview with my dyslexic son following his three-hour assessment at the Gabrieli Lab in Cambridge, MA to assist in their research on reading and the dyslexic brain:

G: Mom, why don’t you blog about my testing.

Mom: Okay. How was the testing? What did you do first?

G: I forget! Oh, they asked me which hand I wrote with and which hand I used for my fork and which hand I hold a spoon in. I was mostly right-handed but I was in between right and left for some things.

Mom: Did they ask if your parents were right or left-handed?

G: Ask Dad because he had fill out a packet.

Mom: Then what?

G: She [The technical research assistant] took me to a room. There was a board with numbers placed randomly. I had to connect the numbers in order. Then I did the same with the alphabet and then I had to put numbers and letters together – like 1A, 2B. It was difficult. That took a while.

Mom: Then?

G: We did regular testing like I’ve had at school. I had to read words. I had to tell her a sentence for what the person was doing in a picture.

Mom: How long did that take?

G: That took a while. There were many different things.

Mom: Then what?

G:I had to spit in a cup.

Mom: Did she tell you why you had to do this?

G: No

Mom: She didn’t say anything about it? Did you know what it was for?

G: Yes, DNA.

Mom: How did you know that? [Dad interjected at this point saying the research assistant had explained the spit was for DNA when they arrived for the testing.]

G: She told me she got spat on by tons of five year olds. She gave me an easy story to read. I read it and she timed me. At the beginning I had to read as many words as I could.

R; How well did you do?

G: Pretty good. I also had to answer yes and no questions. I got them mixed up.

Mom: What do you mean?

G: Does March come before June?

Mom: Does… you got that wrong?

G: Yes, it was confusing.

Mom: That’s fine. Was that the end?

G: No, then I read a harder story and filled out questions. The stories kept getting harder.

Mom: How many stories?

G: I did about five. The last story was full of words I didn’t know so I couldn’t answer the questions. I guessed.

Mom: Was that the end?

G: Yes, I got paid $50, which you still owe me. [Payment was in the form of Border’s gift cards. We, as parents, have agreed to give cash in exchange for the gift cards.]

Mom: What did she say at the end?

G: Good job.

Reading the brain

We’re participating in research on reading and reading difficulties performed by the Gabrieli Lab at MIT in Cambridge, MA. Well, the kids are participating. The Gabrieli Lab’s studies are designed to investigate the behavioral and neural basis of reading and reading impairments. My understanding of what that means is vague. They hope the results of their studies will help them to better understand dyslexia and benefit people with dyslexia in the future. I can understand this purpose. I really do hope the studies will benefit people with dyslexia in the future – perhaps my grandchildren or great grandchildren.

For the kids, the incentive for participating in the studies: payment – although this comes in the form of Borders or Barnes and Noble gift cards! The drawback: books or bookstores do not motivate my dyslexic kids! The solution: parents give cash in exchange for gift cards. The result: happy kids! Books purchased so far: Frommer’s Hong Kong – an up-to-date guide published in 2001. It looks good. Books to be purchased very soon: Frommer’s China or other guides. Guess where we’re headed this summer for an educational summer vacation!

As the Gabrieli Lab’s studies are looking at people with and without reading and language difficulties, all three of our children are involved. We provided information for eligibility. The studies involve two trips to the Gabrieli Lab at MIT. The first trip requires giving developmental history details, between 2-4 hours of diagnostic testing and providing spit in a cup for DNA collection. The second trip entails MRI and/or EEG brain imaging – fMRI that captures images of the brain painlessly & non-invasively using magnetic fields – that also take two hours. A stop at Chipolte, added to either trip, on the way home is preferable!

Thriving with dyslexia

“Thriving with Dyslexia” caught my eye as I browsed through The Carroll School brochure. That little phrase speaks of my desire for my children! Doesn’t it speak for all of us who care about someone with dyslexia, or any other difficulty for that matter? It says: unleash the potential, enable a child to achieve their best and let them flourish in learning.

My browsing and our tour today of The Carroll Lower School for grades 1 through 5 with my husband and our daughter were not for her potential admission to the school but returning as an alum.

We had come to look at the brand new Lower School campus that opened in September 2010. The familiar Carroll logo on the sign in front of the school clearly beckoned us. We passed a new play structure and tall stone sculpture beside the path as we came to the main doors. Artwork adorned the walls in the main entrance and words such as “self-confidence, healthy in self-concept, happy and reflective” were scribed around the top of the walls near the ceiling. Stretching to our right and left were long corridors in mute colors broken by archways painted in mellow blue, green or orange. We passed through the archways as we peeked in on classrooms, spied teacher and students clustered around an interactive smart board and entered larger common areas, some filled with computers, others with mats for yoga and one area, where we finished our tour, dotted with tables and chairs and shelves filled with books.

Five years previous the sight of shelves of books in a school made me nervous – would this school understand that rows of books just emphasized the content locked on pages, unable to be accessed because of a struggle with reading. But today, it was okay! We had experienced the Carroll methods that provided access to curriculum and taught techniques to read words. Our daughter’s Facebook status after our visit: “happy memories.”

We sat and talked with some faculty. We discussed where our two Carroll graduates were now in their education. My daughter was listened to as she spoke about the support she currently needed but also her desire to learn and be challenged, just like a regular kid, in in history and science and other subjects. We talked too about brains – research in neuroscience, advances being made in cognitive development and its impact for those with dyslexia. But these matters will have to wait for future posts!

A cloud on the horizon – visual stress

In the YouTube video (part 4) in my post “Don’t Call me Stupid” the UK actress Kara Tointon went to visit an optometrist, Mr. Burnett-Hodd, in London. He prescribed spectacles with colored lenses for Kara that eliminated what looked like clouds moving across the printed page that affected her reading. Like a big kid, I was jumping up and down and telling my kids that this was my optometrist when I lived in London and that I had sat in the very same chair as Kara having my eyes tested. That didn’t seem to impress them too much but what impressed me was that Mr. Burnett-Hodd’s path and my path would cross again with our interest in dyslexia. Of course, with me being located on the  East Coast of the United States for a number of years there has been little chance for us to discover that dyslexia was of mutual interest. But I have discovered that Mr. Burnett-Hodd is a specialist in prescribing the use of color tinted spectacle lenses or contact lenses for people with visual stress.

Now, I was intrigued. Did either of my children experience this visual stress? The inkling I did have that the printed page was seen as distorted by people  with dyslexia, I considered myth. In all the years I have talked to people about dyslexia, this has not been mentioned.

I couldn’t wait for the documentary to end, to question my children about this. To my surprise, I discovered that my dyslexic son, George, had used colored overlays for reading at school only last year. He said that the color overlay helped his reading because it stopped him seeing cracks on the page. His specialist reading teacher had given him the overlay but he’d only used it for a couple of weeks. She had left on maternity leave and he hadn’t used the overlay since. She has not returned to the school. Stephanie, I think that was her name, come back! If you read this blog Stephanie, get in touch!

So now this is something I will investigate myself. Cracks on the page seem like a symptom of visual stress. Skipping words, which George does when reading, can be a sign of visual stress.

I’ve been on the phone to Mr. Burnett-Hodd. I want to see him myself. But now he will be seeing George too. We will be traveling to London July 2011, more about this in a later blog post, so I have booked a “dyslexia” appointment with Mr. Burnett-Hodd for George. Whatever we find out will, of course, be written about here.

I’ve been doing a little bit of research too. Mr. Burnett-Hodd will be using a machine called the Intuitive Colorimeter – sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie – that helps select the right color lenses that improve reading. Maybe my son will end up with yellow or blue or pink-tinted spectacles! It seems that a guy named Arnold Wilkins is behind this idea of color overlays as the solution for visual stress. He’s in the UK and not surprisingly, after a little surfing the web, lots of UK results popped up about dyslexia, visual stress and colored lenses. So, off to London we go. Anyway, whatever transpires from this investigation, we’ll get to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace!

Don’t call me stupid

I have to recommend the BBC3 documentary Kara Tointon: Don’t Call Me Stupid. It was shown in the UK as part of a Born Survivors Season – aptly named for those who have dyslexia and have difficulty reading, spelling and writing in an education system and world that requires all these things. The episode follows the UK actress Kara Tointon as she discovers more about her dyslexia.

I have watched the documentary twice now, once with my husband and then with my three children, two of whom have been diagnosed with dyslexia.

As a parent I found it emotional viewing – the tears welled up in my eyes on a number of occasions. But be encouraged, as I was, that you join an army of understanding and supportive parents, like Kara’s parents.

For my own “survivors” it was an opportunity to see someone like them who was cheerful, attractive, optimistic and determined. As they entered Kara’s life, there was an air of dignity in their comments that lifted the stigma of not being good readers and writers. They could relate so well to her experience, particularly the diagnostic testing.

But the documentary also features someone who was not diagnosed with dyslexia as a young boy until much later in his life. His survival story is tinged with sadness for all those people whose life story is similar. It makes “Don’t Call Me Stupid” important viewing for the population who are uneducated about dyslexia to begin their education – for them to raise a red flag and consider the cause when they may have misunderstood a person and called him or her stupid.

So, if you’ve reached the point of frustration and wish there was some way this BBC documentary could be aired in the USA, be thankful for YouTube:

P.S. Don’t forget to watch all four parts.