How does dyslexia impact home life? Article by Joanne Gouaux

Many parents find themselves feeling exhausted and frustrated with the role of homework enforcer and personal tutor.  Homework support for a child with dyslexia adds another item to the ever expanding to-do list of family responsibilities.  Our children spend the greater part of their lives at school, and homework time often determines how much family time remains at the end of each day. If your child struggles to learn independently, it’s easy to fall prey to the pressure of the ticking clock.  Whether or not time efficiency is a reasonable expectation, the pressure to perform can quickly become a power struggle between parent and child, resulting in angst and tension.  The family dynamic surrounding homework can dramatically affect our relationship with our child, and likewise how our child views their relationship with us, along with how they feel about their own abilities.

“All kids want to do well.  All kids are trying,” said Sarah Entine, director of the documentary film Read Me DifferentlyRead Me Differently explores how undiagnosed dyslexia and ADHD have impacted three generations in Entine’s family, and portrays the confusion at home surrounding missed connections between parent and child, along with general misunderstandings within families.  While working on her Masters Degree in Social Work, Entine realized how being dyslexic shapes her communication style, despite having ‘overcome it’ as a reader and writer in elementary school.  Through a broader understanding of dyslexia, she discovered that the identification is not limited to a mere difficulty with reading, writing or speech.  She recognized communication patterns in her family relationships that spanned well beyond the school years, bridging from one generation to the next.  By sharing her family’s story, Entine unravels some of the communication mysteries that are common in households with members who identify as ADHD or dyslexic.

Communication and coping mechanisms

“You want to be like your friends.  You want to be like everyone else,“ says Entine.  Communication conflicts bring to light coping mechanisms that some dyslexics adopt in hopes of securing parent approval: pushing themselves to the point of exhaustion, participating in activities they don’t enjoy so as to appear productive or smart, struggling to prove their capability and worthiness over and over again.  She recommends teaching children self-compassion as a method to alleviate some of the anxiety and stress that children encounter while trying to perform at school, or while doing homework with their parents. There are also some other strategies parents can use to create a cooperative and healthy homework relationship with their child at homework time.

Strategies to help end the homework struggle:

  • Practice empathy. Put yourself in their shoes.  Homework, when coupled with overcoming dyslexia, is no small task for either child or parent.  Play anthropologist for an hour and pretend you’re simply at the homework table to observe and witness a marvel of human invention, homework.
  • Welcome mistakes as teachable moments. Trying something and failing gives us valuable information.  Mistakes are often how we learn.  It helps develop resilience, something successful dyslexics have mastered.
  • Customize techniques for your child. Listening and asking questions about your child’s experience will provide valuable insight into their behaviors and interests which can help you develop appropriate incentives based on knowing your child’s motivations.
  • Do your homework, too. Prepare for the homework session by checking in ahead of time on the subject matter.  This especially helpful for math assignments.  YouTube is a wonderful resource for a three minute refresher or intro to the latest curriculum.
  • Develop multi-sensory strategies. Help boost your child’s homework stamina by bringing in other sensory outlets. For example, offering your child a piece of gum to chew, the option to sit on a yoga ball, or to stand rather than sitting in a chair.  Invite your child to pace around the room while brainstorming aloud for a writing assignment, or provide a rubber band they can fidget with to facilitate an outlet for their need to move.  Do some silly stretches, think calisthenics, with an emphasis on crossing midline to help bilateral integration, which means using both sides of the body at the same time.  For children distracted by noise, offer a quiet place, or allow them to put on some noise canceling headphones.

Above all, avoid power struggles.  It takes two for tug-o-war, so beware of picking up your end of the rope.  If your child is showing signs of overstimulation such as: decreased focus, yawning, or you notice their gaze drifting off, ask them what they need to do to get back on track. Offer a snack, or bathroom break.  Sometimes they’ll tell you they need a break. Set a timer for five to ten minutes and provide a “brain break.”  Keep your cool, and don’t mimic negative behavior.

“It’s not just a learning difference,” says Entine.  “Our brains are wired differently.  It’s a mistake to blanket lack of effort as the cause of a dyslexic child’s struggle with reading and writing.”

As parents, we naturally observe certain qualities in our children that evoke feelings of closeness, or inspire a warm nostalgia about our own childhood.  Seeing these qualities is rewarding.  We feel close and connected, understood.  What about the opposite? What happens when our children, through no fault of their own, struggle with something that triggers feelings of anxiety, shame, or helplessness – all three as relevant to our present as they maybe from our past? Entine’s advice, “Put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help someone else.”

Strategies for parents:

  • Give yourself permission to ask for help. Whether from another parent, a teacher, a tutor, a friend, or even an online dyslexia support group, sometimes you need help as well.
  • Stay flexible, and observe your child’s responses rather than reacting.  Use I statements, “I’m noticing you’re yawning,” and follow up with engaging questions such as “what do you need to do right now to move forward?”
  • Do something nice for yourself. You’re doing a great job with your child, you also need to stay motivated.
  • Start the homework sessions with a hug. Reassure your child that they’re loved and valuable as a person.

Utilizing some of these strategies with your child can help foster better communication and family relationships, not just during homework but throughout the day.

Additional reading:

How Do ADD, Auditory Processing Disorder, and Dyslexia Overlap?

Problems with the Human “Letter Box”: A Component of Dyslexia

Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive by Daniel J. Siegel & Mary Hartzell

Indigo Learning | Tech Report

THE ROLE OF NEUROSCIENCE IN EDUCATION

An article written by Loren Leclezio of Indigo Learning for SAALED

2014-10-15-newsletter

 

The role of neuroscience in education, by Loren Leclezio MSc (Med) in neuroscience

Brain plasticity is arguably one of the most exciting concepts in the field of neuroscience over the past 40 years. It refers to the revolutionary discovery that the brain can change itself, and with the right stimulation and intervention, can strengthen weakened neural connections and even form new neural pathways in the adult brain. The brain constantly rewires itself based on sensory input to become physically different from what it was in the preceding moment. It is this remarkable ability of the brain that scientists and educators around the globe are attempting to leverage.

Research into how the brain learns has been ongoing for many decades, mostly focusing on addressing cognitive and developmental deficits as well as targeting traumatic brain injury (TBI). Renowned brain scientists such as Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, professor in the department of psychology and the graduate programme in neurosciences at the university of California, has focused on and developed strategies to assist patients with TBI whilst Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus neuroscientist also at the university of California, used his discoveries in brain plasticity to develop educational intervention programmes (Fast ForWord®) that has dramatically changed the educational landscape not only in the United States (US), but globally. And over the past decade or so, renowned universities such as Cambridge in the UK and Johns Hopkins in the US, along with non profit organisations such as the MIND research institute has formalised their research and development efforts into entire departments focusing solely on neuroscience and its role in education. This is terribly exciting, but what does it mean for us in South Africa?

We need to start with what we know. We know that the brain can be trained to form new neural pathways with the right intervention and under optimal circumstances. Starting at the very beginning: consider the critical role that sleep, diet and exercise play in the learning environment. This is something that is not necessarily within the control of a teacher or therapist, but it is our responsibility to educate parents about the seriousness of the matter. We need to stay abreast of the latest developments and research, incorporating what we can into our everyday dealings with students. For example; emotion, curiosity, choice and empowerment are all linked to effective and lasting learning. This can easily be used in a classroom setting i.e. students can write essays and deliver orals on something that they have a keen interest in and emotional link to, one can excite students by delivering curricular content in a “solvable mystery” format etc.
There is of course also a role for new technology, be it usage of an i-pad in the classroom or embracing new programmes. There are very few programmes available in South Africa that are scientifically sound, and they come at a cost. This does not mean that we shouldn’t consider them. Many schools and parents have access to funds and it is our ethical responsibility to make parents and educators aware of what is available. Then it’s up to them to make an informed decision. The popularisation of neuroscientific ideas about learning and neuroscience-based interventional programmes poses a real challenge for professionals and teachers. The clever people at SharpBrains, an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of neuroscience, recently released a brain training programme evaluation checklist. This is an excellent tool to aid in distilling of the myriad of “neuroscience” programmes being offered. For more information on this and to access the checklist, feel free to contact me directly at: loren@indigolearning.co.za or visit my website www.indigolearning.co.za

Neuroscience research is not going to deliver a magic bullet, transforming learning, but it can guide our teaching, therapy and intervention.