{Guest Column} Learns Differently: To My Grandson

MEEKER | It was my freshman year in college that I found out I was dyslexic, with some auditory malfunction with words and especially numbers. What my brain hears is often very different from what is spoken. To date I often listen to phone messages up to 10 times and still write the number down wrong. Words still show up that make me stop, like was and saw, chicken and kitchen. Letters I get twisted are b, p, d, and q, along with h, n, m, and r, as well as t and f. By my first year in college my self-esteem had been beaten up long before my arrival. What was I doing trying out college? As a child I had been told I wasn’t paying attention, I wasn’t listening, I didn’t apply myself, and yes, I had been called lazy and stupid a few times in my life. This really became an issue after I scored 138 on an IQ test. My reasoning was I got lucky at guessing. Most people who learn differently have high IQs.

I became a master at avoidance, diversion, excuses and other ways of getting things done. I didn’t like being looked at as a failure, and the weight of judgment stung deep inside. I agonized that something was wrong with me, and that has lasted a large part of my life. I never really learned how to read until I was in seventh grade, but I can tell you the first book I read that wasn’t just black and white words but melted into a story I could see and feel. I still get stinging comments on social media about “spell check” and grammar, but if they only knew how hard it was to get here. There are times autocorrect and spell check don’t have a clue as to what it is I am trying to get on paper.

My success came from a few people who did not give up on me: summer school programs, family, our librarian Mrs. Kerrburger, and being able to be a fair artist. I had that one thing, drawing, painting and creating. Art was the one level I could perform a little better than most of my peers. I did not hear “you could have done better.”

Much has been learned about those of us who learn differently, which brings me back to this story, and the great need for compassion and understanding. Having struggled with perception and judgment of others and hiding my dysfunction most of my life, I take learning differently very seriously.

There are some reasons why we are seeing more LD issues. I will start with saying too much TV, video games, too little parent interaction and too much blaming schools and teachers. There is poor diet, lack of exercise like climbing trees, riding bikes, and just being a kid.  There is also an excuse factor that I disagree with. We seem more comfortable with a label of ADHD or having trouble with medication rather than embracing we all learn differently. Some of us must work harder in a world that is set up for left brain learning. In 2012 it was found that less than 37 percent of the population is left brained, yet most of our educational standards are set up for left brain learning. That is not meant to criticize, just question.

Imagine my shock when I found out how common and yet unknown dysgraphia is? What is dysgraphia? It is the inability to write, lack of fine motor skills. Writing becomes so laborious and slow that the child’s thoughts are lost in the task of writing, which leads to the total frustration of losing thought. The percentage of children with dysgraphia that usually don’t show up until middle school are around 20 percent. Why middle school? Because that’s when the demands of taking notes and writing come forward. No, typing doesn’t make it any easier.

Here are just some of the signs of dysgraphia:

Trouble forming letters and spaces consistently

– Awkward or painful grip on a pencil

Difficulty following a line or margins

Sentence structure or following grammar when writing, but not when speaking

Pronounced differently between spoken and written understanding of a topic

Finger tapping and twitching with problematic issues

Impaired memory

It is not about “just more practice.”

Here is what I found most interesting. There is a suggestion that there is more dysgraphia today because we no longer teach cursive handwriting. Cursive uses a different part of the brain. In fact it is easier to write in cursive than learn how to print or type.

Those of us who learn differently must learn how to cope and accomplish things in a different way. To help a child who has dysgraphia it takes parents and teachers. How can parents help?

Require them to finish their work.

Promote proper posture and writing position, proper pencil grip and relaxation techniques before writing.

Provide a simple thing like a stress ball or exercises that demand eye and hand coordination.

Do not criticize sloppy work. Offer positive reinforcement for effort and completion. Just embrace the writing process and correct later.

What can schools do? First, be aware that 20 percent of students possibly have some type of dysgraphia. Start teaching cursive at an early age. Remember the old cursive exercises of circles and eights? There is a reason they help. Allow more audio-visual reports for children with dysgraphia along with using computers that have voice-to-text. Hand out copies of notes, allow recording of lectures. Allow those who are challenged to do oral reports and exams rather than written ones.

Working in the construction industry for 27 years I learned not to hand out notes to my crews or expect them to write me one. These were brilliant men who could build anything but were functionally illiterate. I can now say many had dysgraphia. They learned differently, and the idea of writing was completely impossible. Reading a blueprint and cutting a grade was easy compared to the task of writing it down.

Bring back cursive in schools for future generations along with the conversation that we all learn differently.

Thank you for your time.


By Michelle Hale, CH.t. | Special to the Herald Times