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When you google the word ‘dyslexia’, you will come across many articles about its definition, symptoms, causes, treatments and other various teaching strategies that are centered around helping people with dyslexia to cope with this difficulty. From the vast amount of online resources available, we may be able to form some idea as to how dyslexia affects a person but, do really know what it is like to be in their shoes or even fully comprehend how this difficulty affects their daily lives and what kind of struggles they face? In this article, I will try to explain what it is like to be dyslexic.
Firstly, you must understand what graphemes and phonemes are. Graphemes are the smallest unit of understanding in written form (how the letter is written) and phonemes are the distinct sound of a single unit in the alphabet (how it sounds). When we read, we attach the proper phoneme to its corresponding grapheme. For example, we know that the letter “A” makes an “ah” sound. However, for people with dyslexia, the grapheme-phoneme principle is not well-formed in their brain’s processing areas. They struggle to match phonemes and its corresponding grapheme as they cannot recognise the individual alphabets. They have difficulty processing that the letter “A” makes an “ah” sound because the letter “A” simply does not make sense and it merely looks like strokes of lines and shapes overlapping each other.
Secondly, aside from having difficulty in recognising alphabets, people with dyslexia also see words and letters differently when reading. Unimaginable as it may seem, in the eyes of people with dyslexia, letters are dancing as if they have lives of their own. They move sideways, up and down; they flip, juggle and disappear individually or sometimes all at once. Some even describe it like little insects running around. People with dyslexia also often mix up the letters in words when reading. For example, they read “day” as “bay”, “queen” as “pueen” or “left” as “felt”. They often mix up letters that look alike such as “p” and “q” or “b” and “d”, and even words that are spelt in similar ways such as “book” and “cook”, “chips” and “ships” or “male” and “lame”.
To further understand this idea, the illustration below shows how reading is like in the eyes of people with dyslexia:
(**double click image to play)
As a result of their difficulty with reading, people with dyslexia also tend to have problems with writing. They write as they read, so letters are usually not in place and are mixed up. Their handwriting is often cluttered and messy.
Dyslexia is incurable and is a lifelong condition. However, people with dyslexia can learn different techniques on how to manage and overcome it. Some people who were able to overcome dyslexia rely heavily on their memory. They memorise how words and alphabets look like and their corresponding sounds, so they are able to recognise it when they come across it in the future. This process, however, is tedious because it requires a lot of effort and patience.
Now that we understand what people with dyslexia are going through, we should try to be more patient and understanding towards them. Do not mock the way they read because they will get embarrassed and be discouraged towards reading. Pay attention to them when they read. Lastly, be patient no matter how slow they are in reading and writing because they are also trying their best.