Recently by Samuel L. Blumenfeld: The Glory of the Alphabet
Some time ago I received a letter from England that was written by an intelligent, accomplished and motivated adult who had a “reading problem.” He had been taught to read by the look-say method and exhibited the usual symptoms of dyslexia, and he wanted to know how to cure his disability.
He had read one of my articles on dyslexia and wrote:
It was extremely interesting, logical and above all explained the whole problem. It gave me important clues as to my own disabilities with reading and writing. I do’nt [sic] remember which method of reading I was taught, but I am positive it was the look-say method; this would certainly explain my difficulties in reading and writing as a child; and to this day I still have problems with reading or should I say misreading and especially spelling.
He then went on to explain how he reads:
I can read well enough, but I have to concentrate. For some reason I miss words or don’nt [sic] see them. I have a fear of reading aloud in public even with family or a child. I miss-read or insert the odd word, but I manage to stay within the context of the passage. I have a little difficulty in pronouncing new words, I seem to make them fit what I think they should be or I look at a word to [sic] quickly and ad-lib, Eg. Alpha-Phonics at first was Alphonics.
Obviously, he is a sight reader rather than a phonetic reader. His fear of reading aloud is common among dyslexics. It can be extremely embarrassing if one can’t read a word on the page. He then explained his writing problems, as follows:
Bad handwriting although it is getting better. I don’t have patience for it. Punctuation and especially spelling are substandard, but with rereading, and the use of a dictionary I can eliminate most mistakes. Sometimes I totally forget how to spell a simple every-day word. I have difficulties with the ‘i’ and ‘e’ relationship and the rules regarding word end changes.
As he himself reveals, the way he was taught reading and writing at primary school did him no favor. Many teachers, too, have no idea that what they are doing will create a life-long handicap to an otherwise highly intelligent youngster. The letter-writer continues:
To read this letter it might seem as if I have quite a problem but I don’t. I speak very well (posh some might say); with a little effort, concentration and the aid of a dictionary I can write quite constructive letters, although the hand-written variety have to be rewritten a few times. Thank God for the invention of the World Processor. But essentially reading and writing should not take so much thought, it should pass almost effortlessly from eyes to mouth and from mind to pen. I would be grateful for any assistance with this particular journey that I’m on and thank you for your help this far. Yours Sincerely.
Motivation Is the Key to Success
It is unusual for a dyslexic to be able to see his own problem as clearly as this individual does. Many dyslexics are so crushed, so embarrassed by their disability, which, they fear, is the result of a defective brain, that their sole way of dealing with the problem is to hide it.
The letter writer, on the other hand, realizes that his reading and writing problems are not due to a lack of innate ability or intelligence but are due to the teaching methods used in his primary education. He is highly articulate and a great conversationalist, but his primary school teacher gave him a poisonous gift: a reading handicap.
In my own experience as a tutor, especially in teaching disabled sight readers to become proficient phonetic readers, I have found personal motivation to be the key to success. Those who resist the teaching or have a hostile, angry attitude growing out of past failure and frustration are the most difficult to retrain. It is hard to blame them for this negative attitude since the damage that was done to them in primary school causes them continued pain and humiliation every day of their lives. And they expect the retraining program to be as painful and frustrating as the original back in primary school.