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Simulation helps others see how kids with dyslexia cope

SALISBURY — Try this exercise.

To read the sentence that follows, you’ll have to realize that an “i” might be an “i” or an “e.” And a “p” can be either a “p” or a “t.”

Here’s the sentence:

Nop po add po your spriss livil, but accumulaping risiarch indicapis phap conpinuous or inpinsi spriss may somipimis nigapivily influinci phi brain and ips funcpion.

Now here’s that same sentence translated:

Not to add to your stress level, but accumulating research indicates that continuous or intense stress may sometimes negatively influence the brain and its function.

This was just one of several exercises tackled Wednesday night by about 20 people attending a dyslexia simulation sponsored by The Park Academy.

Sue Park, owner of the private practice and a learning disabilities specialist and dyslexia tutor, led the simulations. They were designed to give participants an idea about how children with dyslexia must navigate their schoolwork when it comes to things such as reading comprehension, writing, spelling, choosing words, processing information and doing it all in front of their teachers and peers.

After each simulation, Park asked the teachers, grandparents, parents and siblings in the room how they felt.

From around the room, the answers coming back included: “Frustrated.” “Slow.” “Stupid.” “Exhausted.” “Depressed.” “Rushed.” “Aggravated.”

One mother who has a sixth-grader with dyslexia stumbled over intentionally mixed-up words — what a dyslexic student’s brain might be trying to process — during a simulation that required her to read out loud.

“You just want to crawl under the table and stop reading,” she said.

At the end of the evening, the same mother (who asked not to be identified) said the simulations were worthwhile.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “I felt like I was in school doing what my child was doing. And I saw how frustrating it was.”

Many family members who have dyslexic children said they were leaving knowing they had to be more patient, more understanding. Park reminded them they had gone through just one hour of simulations.

For a dyslexic child, school is a whole day of these challenges.

How would they feel, Park asked, if they had to do this every day in school?

Again, the answers sounded similar themes:

They would not want to go to school. They would be tired of constantly competing against themselves. They would feel frustrated and negatively toward the whole school experience. They would carry bad feelings toward the teachers and students who might not show patience.

“Patience, I think, is the biggest gift you can give them,” Park said toward the end of the simulations. “… The student with dyslexia is working harder.”

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. Wednesday’s simulation exercises were done at Rowan Public Library.

Dyslexia is “a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin,” the International Dyslexia Association says. “It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”

In essence, dyslexia affects reading and related language-based processing skills.

Park, who is dyslexic herself, said that while she focused on how dyslexia affects children in class, “those same children will be affected by their dyslexia in adulthood.”

A college graduate, Park said she wanted to be a nurse.

“I became aware of the fact that since I often reverse numbers, my dyslexia could take the life of the very patient I am trying to help,” Park said, “if I reversed the numbers on a dose of medication I was asked to dispense.”

The International Dyslexic Association says 15 percent to 20 percent of the population has some signs of dyslexia.

The signs can be the following:

• Difficulty learning to speak.

• Difficulty mastering rhymes.

• Difficulty expressing oneself.

• Mixing the order of letters or numbers when writing.

• Difficulty manipulating sounds in words.

• Difficulty learning to read.

• Reversing letter sequences, such as reading “left” when it really says “felt.”

• Difficulty reading quickly enough to comprehend.

There are many common misconceptions about dyslexia, such as it’s caused by poor eyesight, that those with dyslexia see words or letters backward, or that it’s a developmental disability, a degenerative disease, a lack of educational opportunity or the result of laziness on the student’s part.

Brain imaging studies have revealed there are differences in brain functions for people with dyslexia, who are primarily relying on an area in their frontal lobes and overutilizing the right sides of their brains.

Dyslexia can be inherited, and it’s common to have more than one family member with it, but the symptoms can vary dramatically.

Help for individuals with dyslexia requires a combination of accommodation, modification and remediation.

The accommodation could be tools to assist the students to be successful in a classroom. Modification can be changes in curriculum content, classwork and homework.

Remediation is direct, explicit instruction in helping a student with learning phonemes, phonology and phonics rules in a structured program.

Before the participants left Wednesday night, Park made sure they had a list of resources — websites and recommended books — that can offer help beyond what’s available in schools and private practices such as hers.

Those attending also wrote journals or their personal reflections after each simulation. Park encouraged them to go back and read those journals periodically to remind themselves of the frustrations they felt.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

The Park Academy is at  315 N. Main St., Suite 3, Salisbury. The phone number is 704-754-5625.

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