Ter­rill Jen­nings, found­ing teacher of Bos­ton’s Land­mark School and au­thor, has spent four decades of teach­ing chil­dren with dys­lexia. The con­di­tion, she says, does not have a quick fix

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Dys­lexia does not have an easy so­lu­tion, says ed­u­ca­tor Ter­rill Jen­nings.

What brings you to Dubai? I’ve been com­ing to Dubai quite reg­u­larly for the past year. This time I’m here to con­duct a three-week-long sum­mer school on Writ­ten Ex­pres­sion Skills at Lex­i­con Read­ing Cen­ter, Jumeirah Lakes Tow­ers.

How did you start teach­ing dyslexic kids? I first started out as a teacher in an in­ter­na­tional nurs­ery school in Tokyo, where my hus­band was as­signed to a busi­ness con­tract. Upon re­turn­ing to the United States, I vol­un­teered as a read­ing tu­tor in the pub­lic schools and worked with chil­dren who were slow to learn and ex­pe­ri­enced poor read­ing com­pre­hen­sion. The pro­fes­sional read­ing spe­cial­ist who su­per­vised my vol­un­teer work rec­om­mended that I ap­ply as a stu­dent in a new tu­tor­ing pro­gramme spon­sored by the re­cently opened Land­mark School, a school for dyslexic chil­dren. The chal­lenge of help­ing stu­dents with lan­guage-based learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties mo­ti­vated me to re­main at Land­mark for over 40 years.

What is dys­lexia? Dys­lexia is a spe­cific learn­ing dis­abil­ity that is neu­ro­bi­o­log­i­cal in ori­gin. It is char­ac­terised by dif­fi­cul­ties with ac­cu­rate and/or flu­ent word recog­ni­tion and by poor spell­ing and de­cod­ing abil­i­ties. These dif­fi­cul­ties typ­i­cally re­sult from an in­abil­ity to un­der­stand words from pro­nun­ci­a­tion or the way they sound. Se­condary con­se­quences may in­clude prob­lems in read­ing com­pre­hen­sion and re­duced read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that can im­pede growth of vo­cab­u­lary and back­ground knowl­edge.

Can dys­lexia be cured? Un­for­tu­nately, there is no cure for dys­lexia, which re­mains a life­long con­di­tion. But it is im­por­tant for dyslexic chil­dren and their fam­i­lies to un­der­stand the na­ture of their dys­lexia and seek the best re­me­dial help avail­able. With guid­ance from special ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers, stu­dents will learn strate­gies to ac­com­mo­date their lan­guage deficits in read­ing and writ­ing. This could be a long-drawn process, which might take sev­eral years in some cases.

Are there any tests to de­ter­mine the con­di­tion? What should the par­ents do if they sus­pect their child could be dyslexic? Test­ing for sus­pected dys­lexia is avail­able. The Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity of Dubai has granted the Lex­i­con Read­ing Cen­ter the li­cense to di­ag­nose and re­me­di­ate chil­dren with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties such as dys­lexia and dys­graphia. The mo­ment par­ents sus­pect their child is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a de­vel­op­men­tal de­lay, they should seek pro­fes­sional help, es­pe­cially if there is a history of dys­lexia in a fam­ily.

While see­ing the im­prove­ment in dyslexic kids must be a source of hap­pi­ness, is there any­thing that ex­as­per­ates you? It is un­for­tu­nate that many par­ents feel that dys­lexia can be cured with short-term in­ter­ven­tion. It is also un­for­tu­nate that many ed­u­ca­tors feel that a kid who is in the pri­mary and early grades, and is not learn­ing to read or write, is merely a bit slower than his peers and will catch up even­tu­ally. This could po­ten­tially mean that by Grade 3 such a kid might be­gin to lose self-con­fi­dence and by Grade 4 he will not be ready to learn and will fall fur­ther be­hind.

What ad­vice would you give to such par­ents and those who are around dyslexic kids? I would like to tell them that dys­lexia is not a ‘quick fix’ sit­u­a­tion and there are no such thing as quick re­sults. Teach­ing a dyslexic child re­quires hours of re­me­di­a­tion un­der the guid­ance of a highly trained and ex­pe­ri­enced tu­tor-teacher. It is im­por­tant that a dyslexic child be tested as soon as pos­si­ble by a cer­ti­fied psy­cho­me­tri­cian and that the fam­ily be ed­u­cated about the specifics of the test­ing re­sults. The child needs to be re­as­sured that his dys­lexia means he learns dif­fer­ently and that a mod­i­fied ed­u­ca­tional plan can be or­gan­ised for him.

It is com­monly be­lieved that kids with a learn­ing dis­abil­ity are ex­tremely tal­ented in other ar­eas. Is that true? Yes, in fact many dyslexic chil­dren are ex­cep­tion­ally tal­ented in the visual and per­form­ing arts as they don’t rely on dif­fi­cult words to ex­press what they feel and know. Of­ten such tal­ent is ev­i­dent at a young age and they should be en­cour­aged to con­tinue and im­prove these artis­tic skills. They also do well in sin­gu­lar sports such as karate or golf where they com­pete against them­selves and are recog­nised for their ef­forts.

There are sev­eral per­son­al­i­ties and celebri­ties who are dyslexic, too. Any favourites? Not re­ally, as there are many more suc­cess­ful dyslex­ics who have not been recog­nised.

If there is one thing you could change about this com­plex prob­lem, what would it be? The ed­u­ca­tion of dyslexic chil­dren de­mands the best trained and cer­ti­fied pro­fes­sion­als usu­ally re­quir­ing a mas­ter’s de­gree in special ed­u­ca­tion. Such pro­fes­sion­als are re­quired to take ad­di­tional cour­ses as well so that they are aware of the lat­est re­search in the field. Al­though teacher’s aides may pro­vide a help­ful ser­vice in a class­room, most do not pos­sess the skills nec­es­sary to re­me­di­ate the many and spe­cific weak­nesses that the dyslexic child brings to class. Teach­ing dyslexic chil­dren to read and write is a com­plex process with slow progress.

Par­ents should in­ves­ti­gate any read­ing strug­gles early on, says Ter­rill

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