Overcoming Dyslexia

A dyslexic child doesn’t need to be locked out of learning because of his reading and writing challenges
By Elaine Eksteen

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Behind this smiling face, I’m not like the others. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had difficulty absorbing information, I’ve struggled to read and write. All the simplest, most natural things the children around me learnt to do without questioning, I just couldn’t seem to do. By age 10, the creeping tentacles of shame already had a grip on me. My inability to perform the most natural tasks of reading and writing made me ashamed of who I was,” says local 20-year-old Erin Levitas in her book Through a Dyslexic Looking Glass, which she co-authored with Mariëlle Renssen.
“The most difficult part was that throughout my early teenage years, no-one would give my condition – clearly a form of learning disability – a name. I always believed that if only we could label it, it’d be much easier for me to deal with,” says Erin.
“I was 16 when the big black mushroom of a cloud that hovered over my head was torn open,” she continues. The “cloud” was given a name; Erin was found to be dyslexic.
“Dyslexia can be summed up as the inability to make sense of the sound system of language,” says Dr Anita Worrall, psychologist and director of Pro Ed Assessment & Therapy Centre/Pro Ed House School in Cape Town. Dyslexia runs in families and has been linked to problems with information processing, particularly in the language centres of the brain.
Its signs and symptoms are varied, “depending on the child’s patterns of strengths, barriers, attention, personality and so on. Generally a dyslexic child is slow to ‘break the code’ to reading and spelling, and gets frustrated at school because it is so difficult. Their self-esteem is often affected,” says speech-language therapist Elizabeth Nadler-Nir of The Reading Language Gym in Cape Town. The child with dyslexia will have difficulty understanding rhyme and manipulating sounds, may jumble up words and mix up directionals (up and down, for example). They often have trouble breaking things up into logical steps, and have difficulty with lists and sequences. These children also struggle to access their “working memory, finding it difficult to retain and recall information when they want it,” says Worrall.
Moving Forward
Dyslexia can be a debilitating condition, if not overcome. However, a dyslexic child can almost certainly learn to be a successful reader and, with things such as spell check and voice recognition software, it’s possible for those with dyslexia to succeed in tertiary study and to go on to operate very effectively, and even excel, in the workplace.
As with most learning differences, the earlier it’s picked up the better. If you suspect your child has dyslexia, and if you have a history of reading difficulties in your family, speak to your child’s school about having her assessed by a specialist educator or educational psychologist. Once she has been properly diagnosed you can set about getting her the appropriate help – this may include seeing an educational psychologist, speech and language therapy, tuition from a remedial educator and, in some cases, occupational therapy.
The most powerful tool in helping a child with dyslexia, says Nadler-Nir, is “demystifying” their difficulties. “This helps the child understand why they find reading and writing so difficult,” she continues. Following this, dyslexic children generally need assistance in the areas of phonics and fluency. They “need to understand how words are put together and at the same time they need to become smoother readers,” says Worrall. One of the challenges for dyslexic children who have learnt to read is then developing the ability to express themselves in writing.
Depending on “a child’s ability to compensate with other cognitive strengths and the type of support there is for them,” says Nadler-Nir, “many are able to cope adequately at a mainstream school.” One such success story is a Grade 5 child Nadler-Nir worked with for five years, who recently received the most prestigious award at her school. “It was for determination and perseverance,” explains Nadler-Nir. “She also got 78% for English and has read the Twilight Series. She is a dyslexic learner who shows that academic success is possible.”
Other dyslexic children make better progress at a special needs school. In fact, says Worrall, whose school was set up specifically for children with learning differences, “many children whose dyslexia is picked up early attend specialised education like ours for just one to three years before being ready to switch to mainstream education”.
Different Strokes
For Durban-based mom Sharon Gerken, herself dyslexic, the schooling of her sons, both dyslexic, was an enormous frustration. “My eldest son could not read and write by nine and my youngest could not read. If I had not stumbled on the Davis method my boys would not have been accepted into any school – their IQ was too high for remedial school,” says Sharon.
The Davis programme, developed by American Ron Davis, focuses on eliminating the perceptual distortions many dyslexics experience. The dyslexic, says Davis, thinks in pictures, not words; making them creative and imaginative, big-picture thinkers. Although some mainstream practitioners are dismissive of the programme, there are many parents who swear by it, claiming Davis’s book The Gift of Dyslexia has transformed their children’s lives. “My sons can both now read and write and they no longer consider themselves stupid. They know that they are bright and that their brain just works a little differently. I would love to say their lives are easy, but that’s not true. But they now have tools to face being in school,” explains Sharon.
Whatever your journey is with your child, there are a few very important things parents can do to assist the child thought to have dyslexia. These are:
  • Take action. Don’t delay having your child assessed if you are concerned.
  • “Read to them. This is most important,” says Worrall. Read to your child every night and ask them questions, discuss what’s happening. “Once your child is into the pleasure of reading you are halfway there,” she encourages.
  • Keep new teachers informed about your child’s learning barriers.
  • “For some children the image they have of themselves as a dyslexic can interfere with their progress,” says Worrall. Make sure you are feeding into your child’s strengths. This will help their motivation levels and is key to their moving forward.
  • Accept that overcoming their difficulties will take time and be patient, says Nadler-Nir.


Anonymous wrote 3 years 37 weeks ago

My 6 year old daugter has been diagnosed with dyslexia and there is a huge gap between her and her friends. She really struggles at school. A friend suggested homeschool. What is your opinion and which is the best programme to use? I'm thinking of one year home schooling and next year back to basic school.

admin wrote 3 years 36 weeks ago

We would recommend that you speak to your daughter's teacher and school about how she would respond to homeschooling. Here is some additional reading on the topic: www.childmag.co.za/content/home-schooling. Your daughter's teacher may also be able to recommend local programmes for dyslexia. One option is the Davis Dyslexia Services: www.dyslexia.com/world/south-africa 

Tholsie wrote 3 years 44 weeks ago

My son is 10 years old and I know he is dyslexic. I’ve tried to deny it because it hurts me to see him try to learn or read. He has lost one year of his schooling because he had to repeat a year. I am from Ladysmith in KZN and I don’t know where to go or where to take him. He is really struggling. Please help me to help my child.

admin wrote 3 years 44 weeks ago

Unfortunately, we don't know of anyone who can help in Ladysmith. But an educational psychologist may be able to point you in the right direction.

sandra ngolu wrote 4 years 7 weeks ago

My young sister is 12 year old. I think she may have dyslexia. We live in Cape Town and I don't know where to take her to be treated. Thanks.

admin wrote 4 years 7 weeks ago

The Davis Dyslexia Services website lists practitioners in Cape Town: www.dyslexia.com/world/south-africa/

Yeolanda Harris wrote 4 years 12 weeks ago

I am 33 years old and dyslexic. I struggled for the longest time and it affects me in every way possible. I'm asking for your assistance. I'm studying interior decor, but now I've got stuck. I don't know what to do because it's a long distance learnershinp. I'm mainly stuck with caluculations. Is there anyone I can talk to who can see me through this hurdle? I know I can make it. I passed 80% of my modules very well, if I may say so, but got stuck with calculations :-( Please assist.

admin wrote 4 years 12 weeks ago

You could try the Davis Dyslexia Services: www.dyslexia.com/world/south-africa

Anonymous wrote 4 years 30 weeks ago

I was wondering if anyone has any advice for me besides the remedial school. I have a 12 year old and her private school recommended us to take her to a remedial school. I was young and had no experience with South African schooling. I am also a dyslexic mom. We took her out and placed her in the remedial school, it was the worst thing I could have done for my child's social development. It maybe helped her with the learning, but it turned a perfectly normal, popular girl into a 12 year old who hardly has any friends, and cannot play sports because of the demands of school and travel time. 

I so want her to go back to a mainstream school so she has a normal childhood, but none of the schools want to take a chance on her.

This is really disgusting and I am wondering where love and compassion for our children has gone to and also to educate them that not everyone is the same and we need to be accepting to those who are different.

Mother wrote 4 years 33 weeks ago

Personally I can  highly recommend Ronita from Familyzone Learning in Gauteng. My son is dyslexic and went to her for the Davis Correction programme. His schoolwork has improved by leaps and bounds and his teachers report only good things. For the first time he actually enjoys reading. I did a lot of research on Davis before commiting and Ronita was honest and upfront during the entire process.

Angela Prinsloo wrote 4 years 33 weeks ago

Brain scanning research has showed in proficient readers, the areas of the brain that process visual and auditory information, as well as the pathways that link them, are activated simultaneously during efficient reading. For a dyslexic reader, these same areas are not activated, resulting in reading that is laboured. The Cellfield reading treatment is revolutionary in that it activates all of these areas resulting in as much as a 24-month improvement in decoding ability over 10 hours. It is also imperative, that if required, concessions of a reader/extra time/spelling etc are put in place in tests and exams so that a child with difficulties sees his results reflecting his cognitive ability and the effort that he is putting in. Children with difficulties often have a high IQ and put in so much hard work. Having concessions allows them to see their effort rewarded.

Ethel wrote 4 years 35 weeks ago

I think my grandson is dyslexic. Pease advise where I can have him tested to confirm. I have had a one-on-one with the teacher and he is struggling with reading, spelling and sometimes his sentences do not make any sense. His handwriting is a mess. Please help. Also, where can I find an educator to assist with one-on-one extra lesson?

admin wrote 4 years 35 weeks ago

Hi Ethel. We recommend Dore SA for help with dyslexia: www.dore.co.za. They should also be able to advise you about tutoring help. Your grandson's school may also know of tutors in your area. All the best.

Anonymous wrote 4 years 38 weeks ago

I have a nine-year-old daughter who is battling to read and write English. I have sent her for assessments and have been told that she is not dyslexic and did some lessons with the school, got good results from the teacher but I could not see any improvement. I live in Centurion and need some advice. Many thanks.

admin wrote 4 years 38 weeks ago

Your daughter may have another learning difficulty, so it would seem that further assessment is required, which will hopefully indicate what professional help would be best for her. You could start by discussing the issue with your child's school. Dore SA specialise in helping children with learning difficulties. Contact them at: www.dore.co.za

Riaan wrote 4 years 41 weeks ago

My son turns 16 this year. He wears coloured lenses in his glasses for dyslexia. I am looking for an optometrist in Cape Town or Port Elizabeth to test his eyes.

admin wrote 4 years 40 weeks ago

We have a number of optometrists listed in our health care practitioners resource: www.childmag.co.za/resources/healthcare-practitioners

If you need support for dyslexia, you could contact Dore SA: www.dore.co.za

Anonymous wrote 4 years 46 weeks ago

My son is turning 10, but he can't write or read. I suspect he is dyslexic. Where can I take him to be tested in Cape Town? His school says he needs to go to a special needs school. Please help.

admin wrote 4 years 46 weeks ago

We recommend that you discuss assessment and remedial options with your child's school. They should be able to refer you to an occupational therapist. If your son does have dyslexia, you could contact Dore SA for their advice: www.dore.co.za/contact/

Anonymous wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Hi. My son is 21 this year but he can't read or write although he did pass Grade 9... I don't know how. He still wants to go back to school, but this problem stops him. I'm in Cape Town. We need a help please so that next year he can fulfill his dreams.

admin wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

We recommend that you look for a tutor who can teach him to read and write before he attempts to go back to school. Perhaps ask the school for their suggestions of a tutoring service.

Samantha Ferreira wrote 5 years 11 weeks ago

I am a parent to a 9-year-old daughter. Since starting school it’s been a struggle as she has attended OT, speech therapy, extra maths, extra English, eye testing, hearing testing and eventually the last resort was an Educational Assessment at WITS University. She was diagnosed with dyslexia. How strange that at her private school the therapists did not pick this up, since her swapping her “b” and “d” was one factor and the concentration another. We were told to go the remedial school route and I put my foot down; she is not a slow learner and I just could not bear to take her away from her friends. We found a programme called Edublox. What an eye-opener this programme has been. I went onto their website and cried reading the amazing results that they have got from children with the same problems my daughter faced. Why is it that schools and therapists are so quick to point to remedial as the only option when you have programmes such as Edublox that can help a child with dyslexia? Please try Edublox; this might be the answer you’re looking for.

Anonymous wrote 5 years 30 weeks ago

Where can I get my daughter aged 10 get tested for dyslexia in the West Rand?

admin wrote 5 years 30 weeks ago

We recommend you contact Dore SA: http://www.dore.co.za/contact/

Nasreen wrote 5 years 32 weeks ago

My son is 9 years old and has reading difficulties. I suspect dyslexia, even though there is no family history of it. Can anyone recommend an assessment centre? I live in Durban.

admin wrote 5 years 32 weeks ago

Hi Nasreen. We recommend that you contact the Just Being Holistic Centre in Durban North: www.dore.co.za/contact/

Ruchita wrote 5 years 33 weeks ago

I am a special educator and a remedial teacher. I deal with children who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, along with children who have mild autism. I also specialise in children who face learning difficulties such as abstract thinking, spelling rules etc. I am based in Mount Edgecombe, Durban and my contact number is 079 507 6136.

Rene Christiane wrote 5 years 36 weeks ago

This is such an interesting article. I can help people in JHB with the Ron Davis Programme. I am currently on the course and have been assisting children for over a year with great results. Email: reneve@vodamail.co.za

Manini wrote 5 years 39 weeks ago

I have a 13 year old son who is dyslexic. I need to place him in a school for this year and I can't find the school for him. A government one will do because I cannot affort a private school. Please help. I stay in Soweto.


admin wrote 5 years 39 weeks ago

We recommend that you contact the Southern African Association for Learning and Educational Differences: http://www.saaled.org.za/

Liesl wrote 6 years 4 weeks ago

Hi, I offer one on one support to dyslexic students. I have over 10 years' experience as a Special Needs Teacher in the UK. All ages from 8 to 80 are welcome. I am based in Durbanville. Contact me: 0728518878

An wrote 6 years 4 weeks ago

Hi. I am 30 and dyslexic and want to go for my learner's license. What must I do to get it?

admin wrote 6 years 4 weeks ago

Hi there. We recommend that you contact Dore as they have programmes to help with dyslexia: www.dore.co.za

Annalize van Zyl wrote 6 years 12 weeks ago

About six years ago my son was introduced to the Davis programme. It felt like a miracle. As a 13 year old, he could not write, spell, or read. After the third day, he was reading... not only reading, but understanding what he was reading. I was in tears! Today he is in Grade 12 and he is doing well. I believe that the Davis programme helped him.

Rosa von Rischbieuder wrote 6 years 12 weeks ago

Could you please supply contact details of a qualified person who is able to improve the ability of a dyslexic learner in Alberton, Gauteng.

admin wrote 6 years 12 weeks ago

Hi Rosa. We suggest that you contact Dore SA: www.dore.co.za/contact/

mandi wrote 6 years 12 weeks ago

Hi everyone, my son is 9 years old and in Grade 3. I suspect that he is dyslexic. No one else in the family had or has a learning problem, but I think he does. Can anyone please advise me where to take him to get tested. We are in Cape Town. Thanks. Worried, in agony mom

admin wrote 6 years 12 weeks ago

Hi there. You could contact Dore. They have programmes dealing with learning difficulties. Visit their website here: www.dore.co.za/contact/

masingita maluleke wrote 6 years 24 weeks ago

I am 24 years old and I have dyslexia. I would like to go to university but I need help. What should I do?

admin wrote 6 years 24 weeks ago

Hi there. You can contact Sharon Gerken, a dyslexia expert, on 082 828 5180 or email her gerken@telkomsa.net.

Anonymous wrote 6 years 44 weeks ago

I think I may be dyslexic and that my daughter is. Where can I go for her to be tested in Cape Town?

admin wrote 6 years 43 weeks ago

Hi there. You could try MindStretch in Pinelands. Visit http://www.mindstretch.co.za/

Nkosikho wrote 6 years 49 weeks ago

Hi there! I'm in Cape Town. My boy (9) was diagnosed with dyslexia. I want to know if there is any school I can take him, whether here or in East London. Regards, Nkosikho Mzuku

Emma Mogaule wrote 6 years 51 weeks ago

My sister’s son is 12 and has been diagnosed with ADHD. He is always in trouble at school and not achieving academically. We live in Pretoria. Is there a special school around Gauteng that can accommodate him? He is on medication taking rispalet, epilim.

admin wrote 6 years 51 weeks ago

Hi Emma. Please contact Adhasa on 011 888 7655 or info@ADHASA.co.za. All the very best!

Alistair Shaw wrote 7 years 2 weeks ago

My granddaughter aged 9 is dyslexic. I feel I need to do more to assist her. Who can I contact in Durban to assist with extra lessons etc? I need a starting point/name to get the process going.

admin wrote 7 years 2 weeks ago

Hi Alistair. You can try the I can Therapy Centre (Musgrave), Remedial Therapist – Michelle Jones (Ballito), or DORE (Durban North). You can also try remedial centres such as Solace in Durban North (www.solaceatc.co.za) or the Westville Remedial Therapy and Assessment centre (www.remedialeducation.co.za).

Axel Gudmundsson wrote 7 years 50 weeks ago

The Davis methods are now available in South Africa - both as a personal one-to-one intervention and as workshops for parents, therapists and educators, training them in how to help a child or an adult struggling with dyslexia (literacy), dyspraxia (motor skills/coordination), dyscalculia (maths/numeracy), ADD or AD/HD. Gifted Dyslexic offers cutting edge personal intervention for correcting learning difficulties and innovative training for teachers in order to accelerate literacy for all learners, while preventing learning difficulties from arising in the first place.

Donna Williams wrote 8 years 12 weeks ago

How and where do we go, apply, phone or contact to start or access the Davis correction programme, once your child has been diagnosed dyslexic in South Africa? I live in Gauteng, JHB, Alberton. Please can somebody give me direction.

admin wrote 8 years 12 weeks ago

Hi Donna. The article mentions that many parents of dyslexic children have found Ron Davis' book The Gift of Dyslexia very helpful. We recommend you start there. The Davis correction programme is US-based.

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