Dyslexia’s new dawn

The ability to read and write is not only important for success in career and life, but becoming an accomplished learner also contributes to self-esteem. Consider for a moment that the US Department of Education estimates that a shocking 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems and that 60% of that country’s prison inmates are illiterate and all of sudden it becomes clear why the ability to read is so socially important.

And yet, up until very recently it has been impossible to definitively diagnose a very common neurological condition that affects between 10%-20% of all people across the world. Dyslexia is a very common learning disability and yet 90% of those who have the condition will never even know it.
Luckily there is now a test that can not only definitively diagnose the condition, but it can categorise it into 7 different types with varying severities, ranging from mild to severe. A test of such a magnitude will mean the difference between success and failure for hundreds of thousands of children.
This test was proudly co-developed by a South African; 42-year-old Veereniging-based paediatric optometrist Sandra Stark. The test still depends on parents, caregivers and teachers being vigilant when learning difficulties present themselves, ensuring that the child in question is given the chance to see a professional as soon as possible.

The Learning Disability Institute’s 1999 Roper Star Poll, which measures the understanding of learning disabilities, stated; “44% of parents who notice their child exhibiting signs of difficulty with learning waited a year or more before acknowledging their child might have a serious problem.”

Making a difference

After working as an optometrist for years, dealing with children who displayed a host of reading difficulties, Sandra learned that these children were often thought to have dyslexia. However, there was never a real test that could be used to see exactly how severely these children were affected.

Sandra chose to do a course in paediatric optometry through the NECO College of Optometry in Boston and it was at a conference in South California that she met other professors who were also interested in dyslexia.
“One of them was Professor John Griffin and we started researching and working on what is now the very first real diagnostic tool for dyslexia in South Africa,” says Sandra. “Up to now the kind and severity of the condition was only guessed at by an educational psychologist.”
A brief look at dyslexia

A neurological condition that does not affect levels of intelligence, dyslexia often shows symptoms early in life because of the way in which the brain is wired. “These children’s brains are wired in such a way that messages are sent along neural pathways and arrive at their destination with bits missing. This makes reading, writing and spelling particularly difficult,” explains Sandra.
What happens essentially is that a person with dyslexia struggles to visualise something they hear (for example ‘dog’). And alternatively, when they see an image of a ‘dog’, they find it difficult to hear the word in their mind. “They are effectively auditory-blind and visually-deaf,” says Sandra matter-of-factly.
While dyslexia, if left untreated, often leads to learning delays – people with the condition are often brilliant and creative learners. “A person with dyslexia can ‘read’ up to 10 000 images in the same time that it takes a typical person to read 250 words,” Sandra explains.
That is why, if diagnosed early and treated correctly, children with dyslexia can go on to become anything they want and achieve all manners of success in their lives. “All children can see a major improvement in their ability to learn, with 80% becoming completely able to compensate for their dyslexia, allowing them to choose almost any profession under the sun,” says Sandra.

The key is proper diagnosis

“The important thing is for parents, caregivers and teachers to recognise the symptoms of dyslexia early on and have the condition properly diagnosed,” Sandra implores. And now it has become that much more effective, using the Stark-Griffin Test.
If you are interested in finding out more, please contact Sandra Stark on (016) 423 7709, email Sandra@sanoptom.co.za or visit her website www.disleksie.co.za

How have you handled your child's dyslexia?

Dyslexia - the overlooked learning disability

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