- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

Heather Anthony shows her students by example that they can overcome difficulties in learning. Miss Anthony, a fifth-grade teacher at Mount Vernon Community School in Alexandria, instructs 18 children in an "inclusion classroom," which has students of all learning abilities. As the special-education teacher in the classroom, she shares with them her battles with dyscalculia, a learning disability associated with dyslexia that involves arithmetic.
"My students all know I have had my problems and I've dealt with them," she says. "It makes them feel comfortable to know I have a learning disability."
At least two of Miss Anthony's students have dyslexia, a neurological condition that hinders the learning and processing of language. It varies in degrees of severity and affects reading, writing, spelling, handwriting and sometimes arithmetic. Although dyslexia is a lifelong disorder, people with the difficulty usually respond to various learning techniques.
"In college, my professor was looking over my shoulder, and I was writing the numbers down the incorrect way, and I didn't realize it at the time," Miss Anthony says. "I went to extra tutoring where they taught me to look at one number at a time."
Miss Anthony gives special attention to anything in her life involving numbers. She keeps a datebook to organize dates, names and phone numbers. When tallying her checkbook, she covers all the numbers except the one she's using at the moment.
People with dyslexia often are highly skilled in math because they are able to visualize concepts more clearly than the average person. Miss Anthony says each dyslexic person has different strengths and weaknesses. Mathematics can be difficult for some because of trouble remembering detailed steps. This can be seen when they are dealing with long division, for example. Because those calculations require working from left to right, right to left, up and down, using addition, subtraction, division and multiplication, dyslexic persons sometimes confuse the steps.
"Sometimes, I subtract when I should add," Miss Anthony says. "Overall, I learned to control it so it doesn't bother me in my everyday life. I'm very systematic. "
She tries to instill the same attitude in her students by helping them with organizational skills using a homework notebook and color-coded folders for each subject. She says most dyslexic people do learn to read, write and solve math problems, but the solutions vary from person to person. There is no "cure" for the disorder.
She suggests typing on the computer for children with dysgraphia, a function of dyslexia in which people find it difficult to form letters or write within a given space. Severely dyslexic people need scribes to write for them.
"The computer helps them see the spacing between words," she says. "Otherwise, it's just one long word to them. They don't know to indent for paragraphs. They write one huge, long paragraph."
The most common problems for dyslexic individuals occur with reading, Miss Anthony says. They often reverse, invert or transpose letters, words or sentences. The difficulty causes them to confuse similar letters like "b" and "d."
Skipping words while reading is a key sign of the disorder because for dyslexics, words can float on the page, she says. In older persons, dyslexia might appear as problems with reading comprehension instead of word identification.
"For one student, we take an index card and cut a hole in it and move it over the page so she can read one word at a time," Miss Anthony says. "The reading is slow and sloppy, but she only sees one word at a time. Some kids try to read from right to left. You have to show them with finger tracking that you go left to right always."
As a class, Miss Anthony's students discuss what words mean. She has an "Active Word Wall" in her room where the class lists new words the children discover. Because most dyslexic people have problems with spelling, she reviews the letters and syllables of the words with the children. The students who are not dyslexic also benefit from these exercises because of their own struggles with learning.
"Once when two boys in the class had a fight, someone asked what was another word for 'fight,'" she says. "Because the boys didn't really have a fistfight, I said 'quarrel.' Now most of the kids know that word."
Miss Anthony brainstorms ideas with her students before they attempt to write at length. She makes a story frame for them so that all they need to do is fill in the sentences.
"They usually have a hard time with conclusions," she says. "They forget what they've written by the time they get to the end of it. They are concentrating on how to write instead of what to write."
For students with reading disabilities, Miss Anthony suggests highlighting the major parts of the text with a marker. Color-coding information by characters, characteristics and ideas distinguishes the material. She also stresses the importance of parents' reading to dyslexic children every day.
"It models for them how they should read," she says. "Read a story to them so they have an idea of what the story is about before they try to read it. Teach them the sounds of the letters."

J. Thomas Viall, executive director of the International Dyslexia Association in Baltimore, says parents with dyslexia frequently have children with the disorder. He says it is an inherited genetic condition in which persons usually have a larger than normal right hemisphere in their brains.
"If you are dyslexic, there most likely is someone in your family prior to you who has had it," he says. "It's a difference in brain structure. It's not bad eyesight. It's not laziness. It has nothing to do with intelligence."
Mr. Viall says building the self-esteem of dyslexic children is crucial to their future success, especially when other students possibly belittle them.
"Imagine you are in the first grade, and you look left, right, front, and they are all getting it," he says, "and you know you're not getting it. And somebody makes a comment about you being a dummy. By the end of first grade, you still haven't figured out how to read. Imagine going to school knowing you have to hide it."
Ronald D. Davis, founder of Davis Dyslexia Association International in Burlingame, Calif., says he views dyslexia as a gift instead of a disability. He is the author of "The Gift of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can't Read and How They Can Learn."
"A dyslexic child should actually have higher than the normal IQ," he says. "They are highly aware of their environments. They are more curious than average and think mainly in pictures instead of words. They are highly intuitive and insightful. They can think and perceive multidimensionally. They have very vivid imaginations."
If these abilities are not destroyed by parents or the educational system, Mr. Davis says, they will result in higher-than-average intelligence and exceptional creativity. Dyslexic people work in every field but usually excel in careers in the performing arts, architecture, athletics, engineering, computers, photography, graphic arts, mechanics, electronics, scientific research, carpentry, cooking, sales, teaching, psychology and interior design.
"If you are dyslexic, you are among the elite of the world," he says. "A kid in the third grade that can't read is struggling the same way Albert Einstein was. Thomas Edison wasn't allowed to go to school. He wasn't destroyed by the system because the system wouldn't have him."
Many accomplished people have had dyslexia, Mr. Davis says, including Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei, British statesman Sir Winston Churchill, inventor Henry Ford, filmmaker Walt Disney and writer William Butler Yeats. Today, some celebrities known to have the disorder are actress Whoopi Goldberg, pop singer Cher, Olympic diver Greg Louganis, actor Tom Cruise and NBC comedian Jay Leno.
"Some very brilliant persons have some eccentricities, like you can't find the car keys that you're holding in your hand, or the sunglasses on your head, or where your car is parked," Mr. Davis says. "There isn't any definitive test for dyslexia. It's a product of talent and abilities. If you eliminate everything else, what's left is dyslexia."

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