Learning to read. It’s as easy as ABC, right?
Unfortunately for people with dyslexia, the path to literacy can be a serious struggle. So serious, the stigma of failure for some can lead to a lifetime of self-esteem issues and worse.
Editor of online resource Dyslexia Daily, Liz Dunoon, has spent the last 10 years researching and studying dyslexia and now devotes her time to supporting individuals, parents and teachers.
The Park Orchards mother of three children – all with dyslexia – speaks about her experience and the light she is committed to shining on a difficult subject.
Cherie M: I understand there are different definitions of dyslexia but basically, how does it affect people?
Liz Dunoon: In simple terms, individuals with dyslexia have difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading and spelling. Problems can be visual, audio and memory based, or in decoding sounds and letter symbols. All people with dyslexia have a slower processing speed, however no two people exhibit the exact same set of symptoms.
When did this ‘hidden disability’ become a factor in your life?
My eldest son began to struggle with reading early on in primary school. He’d bring home flashcards but it didn’t matter how many times I showed them to him, he simply had no visual memory for words. His teacher implied it was a developmental stage and he would just “get through it” but I’m a teacher who specialized in reading and I knew there was more to it. The teacher showed me his workbook, all perfectly correct… because the child next to him was copying the work in each day!
So, the school didn’t help much?
After my son was assessed elsewhere and found to have dyslexia, I learned how to help him myself. Schools teach Reading Recovery, which is a ‘whole word’ reading approach. It doesn’t help a child like mine, who would need to see a word at least 50 times for it to sink in. Using an alternative approach, I ended up teaching six kids with learning difficulties at his school, four days a week for 45 minutes. Within six weeks all those children, my son included, were reading. Years later, I developed an online video based literacy program along the same lines.
How does it work?
The Ten Minute Tutor is a video and work sheet program done over the internet with a real teacher. It breaks learning down into bite-size steps that children can cope with at their own pace. I’ve heard great feedback from kids who like the program because it’s multi-sensory and restores self-confidence. Children with dyslexia need more time, more steps and more practice. Importantly, the program uses the child’s strengths to overcome weaknesses.
You are the author of four books including Helping Children With Dyslexia, with a foreword by high-profile businessman and dyslexic Richard Branson.
Richard wouldn’t stand up and read in class. Today, he is a distinguished entrepreneur, able to simplify business concepts astonishingly well. He’s a great example of someone who has focused on his strengths and not let dyslexia become a barrier to success. I appreciate he took the time to share his perspective on dyslexia for my book.
In 2014 you became an advisor to the then Federal Minister for Education Christopher Pyne on dyslexia and learning disabilities in school.
Unfortunately, acute psychological damage can befall children who feel like they are dumber than everyone else at school. Christopher Pyne has dyslexic children so, like me, he knows how much work needs to be done around learning disabilities in schools. I’m an advocate for post teacher training in dyslexia, early screening of students, multisensory teaching and learning methods, and the use of technology to ensure the needs of dyslexic students are met.
A few years ago, you remodeled the website you started in 2010 into Dyslexia Daily.
There was very little information around when my kids were small. Dyslexia Daily brings together an online community where people can download free information and meet like-minded parents and educators. Visitors can access a service provider directory, our blog, a discussion forum and a shop with products like the typing tutor for adults. It’s really never too late to learn. I introduced the tutoring program to a 70-year-old CEO of his own company who had never read a book. After a year of using it, he’s gone on to finish 70 books and loves reading.
You’ve done radio and TV, been a keynote speaker at the National Learning Difficulties Conference, You’re co-founder of Dyslexia Empowerment Week. What further ground do you see yourself breaking?
The tutoring program is being trialed in 100 schools now worldwide. However, I want to provide a forum where people can find suitable online solutions for any stage of their dyslexia journey. My aim is to offer everything from maths to essay writing products and tools for early intervention. I’m currently designing a survey to help people access the best option easily. I also plan to contact the Australian Minister for Corrections, David Elliott, as studies in the UK have shown increased literacy rates during incarceration reduce reoffending rates by 30-40%
What advice would you give parents with concerns about their child’s learning?
Start with this perspective: my child isn’t learning, what is it about him that makes it so difficult? If it is dyslexia, don’t stress. With able support, intelligent children with dyslexia can shine.