How Reading, Writing, & Spelling Difficulties Are Connected

Filed Under (UnLearning Difficulties With NLP) on 20-08-2010

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A frustrated parent contacted me with a fabulous query which I’ll share here.  If you read to the end, you may find a lot of answers to the difficulties of that special someone you know…   Here’s what the parent said…

My son is now 10 and a half years old.  He was always a very bright verbal preschooler in the eyes of his preschool teachers.  He went to school and we were surprised that he did not pick up reading as quickly as we imagined.  His math was excellent.  Fast forward a couple of years and his reading is below average. He has started to make silly errors in exams and refuses to rote learn timetables etc.  He had difficulties with the fine motor part of handwriting from the start, but seemed to get over this, but his writing seems years below his verbal ability.  His writing looks like that of a 7 years-old in grammatical structure (uses no punctuation and joins sentences with “and then” like when he is speaking).  His spelling is atrocious.

He has always been immensely sociable and kids adore him as he is very funny and likeable.  He was tested with the Weschler (WISC) and his verbal came at 132 (98th percentile), performance at 138 (99th percentile), processing at 106 (75th percentile), and working memory at 97 (44th percentile).  The achievement test (WIAT) reflected his below average school results – particularly in spelling which was at the 14th percentile.  The psychologist at this point said this was a very smart child with a learning disability – probably auditory in nature.  The school did not test his hearing saying he was ‘way too articulate to have a hearing problem’.  Eventually we had his hearing tested – he has mild unilateral hearing loss (35db – 40db) at the lower hearing thresholds – he apparently only hears 55% of what is said in the left ear when noise is in his right ear.  To me he looks a bit ADD as well – won’t concentrate on and actively avoids homework, and is quite distractible in class.  Could the mild unilateral hearing loss make him appear like this?  Could this cause the difficulties in writing, his worst area?

His reading comprehension is well above age.  Is it likely there is something else going on?  Due to his wonderful social strengths we are very reluctant (and he is devastated by the thought) to use any amplification options.  He does not want to appear different in any way – in his mind it would be committing “social suicide” by having to wear a hearing aid or have an FM system and be labelled.  I tend to agree that this may not be the best course for him.  I was just looking for any input on what to do with this information I have.  I would appreciate any help or comment on any part of the above.

…and here’s how I advised her:

Yes, there definitely is something else going on here.  And the thing that’s going on is VERY positive for him – if you know how to directionalize it!  Your son is – and notice, none of the tests nor the psychologist told you this – incredibly VISUAL and all that’s going on is that he’s using his visual skills inappropriately in the context of words.  I hazard a guess that a very common thing that happens to many children happened to him – his brain got confused when he first encountered words at a very young age and his brain has so far not found a way out of the confusion.  Your son is incredibly visual and the fact that he’s excellent at math and reading comprehension perfectly confirms this!  Think about it: math is visual science.  And how do you remember what a story that you read was about?  You remember the content and plot of the story because as you read it, you created pictures or movies in your head.  That’s visual memory.  And the label “learning disability” that the psychologist gave your son is a generic cover-all term that people who do not understand what’s going on give you, because it sounds professional and provides an easy way out of having to deal with you and your son to greater depths.  In your son’s case the appropriate abel is “using his visual skills inappropriately in the context of words”.

Can his slight hearing impairment contribute to the cause of this?  Yes!  But things can be done about this – free of charge! Let’s think about this deeper: if a person is visually impaired, what happens to their other senses?  Hearing usually gets to be incredibly good, and feeling [=touch] also strengthens!   That’s nature’s way of giving the visually impaired and blind a chance to survive.  One sense [vision] goes down, the others [hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting] go up as a balancing act.  The same is true if hearing gets impaired.  Because a person cannot hear well, they compensate by the visual sense.  Hearing goes down, visual goes up. This beautifully ties in with the ADD qualities you’ve observed in your son.  ADD is a deficit of attention,  so no wonder he gets easily distracted!  There’s way too much information around him that he needs to take in!  No wonder he doesn’t stay with one thing for long!  He feels compelled to have to take everything in visually – and fast – because he feels that as his hearing is worse, he has only the visual sense to rely on for survival.  And so the visual sense gets overloaded and the result of this overload is your son’s easy distractibility and overwhelm. Nobody wants to be overwhelmed.  So in order to cope your son has found the strategy to avoid homework and other things that give him this overwhelm.  That explains his protests against homework!

Writing. In the first paragraph of my answer I said that at a very young age his brain got confused when he first encountered words.  The reason for this is simple: when you’re a child, until the age when you go to school everything around you is three-dimensional [3D].  Your toys, furniture, parents, siblings, people, food, clothes, everything.  You go to school and there they start teaching you how to read and write words and numbers.  A word and a number are the first two-dimensional [2D] things a child comes across in his life.  If a child is as highly visual as your son, his brain will naturally want to find the third dimension in the 2D word or number.  And because the third dimension doesn’t exist in written words and numbers, the brain gets confused by this, because no matter how hard the brain tries to recreate this third dimension, it won’t be there yet again every time a new written or read word / number comes up.  Did you notice I talked about written as well as read words?  Well, that, not a motor fault in your son’s arm or hand, is exactly the reason!

Because of what I described in the previous paragraph it’s very common for people [of any age] to develop the belief that they can’t write because there’s something motorically wrong with their arm or hand.  Don’t give into this – it’s simply the mind playing tricks.  The mind has to find a coping strategy and this “explanation” serves as the perfect one!  It’s – again – a label which provides an explanation and an excuse for not having to take further investigative action.  But  investigate is exactly what you must do.  And speaking of action, here’re tips that you can implement immediately after reading this and won’t cost you a cent!

1. WRITING: if your son has serious difficulties with writing, ask him if he can draw something at first.  If he does draw something, the very fact that he did will make the theory that there’s something wrong with his arm or hand ridiculous / irrelevant.  You can then teach him to send that belief into the museum of old beliefs, like the belief in Santa Clause!
If he has problems drawing at first, give him a picture of a simple object, such as a star, and ask him to copy it on paper as he sees it.  His observational skills are excellent, so he’ll have no issues with this.  Once he can copy an object, he will draw, and once he can draw, he will write.

2. Invest in a large sheet of paper and stick it on the wall slightly above your son’s eye level.  For the first few weeks practise drawing and writing everything on this sheet of paper on the wall.  This way he’ll be working in his visual field and he’ll feel that he can do it, because working in his visual field will take him out of his feelings.

3. Our feelings are in our tummy area and when we write on a straight table, we’re looking down, i.e. into our feelings.  This doesn’t help if the child already has aversion to writing, because his feelings are negative, such as “I can’t do this” or “I hate doing this” or “I’m terrible at this“.  Therefore while writing and reading, always take him OUT OF HIS FEELINGS!   Get him to look up, hold a page of any reading material at his eye level, and initially for the first few weeks write on a sheet of paper stuck to the wall.  Practise in this manner until he gets confident.  The more confident he gets, the lower the page of reading material will go, and the less he will mind writing on a straight table.  But it may take some time before he arrives at this point, so be patient and endure!

4. To improve his hearing ask him to observe and imitate sounds around him.  For example, when he hears birds sing, can he hear any words that the calls of the birds resemble?  Or can he hear any words in the ticking of the clock?  Or when he listens to the radio, can he imitate the accent or pitch of the speaker?  Or can he imitate the sound of a car engine?  Being aware of sounds will force your son to have to hear them better, and will sharpen his auditory sense,  observational skills, and attuning to his environment.

5. SPELLING: has been atrocious, because he was most likely spelling auditorily.  Spelling is a visual activity – you must SEE the word you want to spell in your imagination before you speak the letters!  So start teaching him spelling with three-letter words, such as cat, dog, bed, egg.

  • First ask him to imagine the object of the word.  Let’s go with cat.  Ask him to imagine a cat.  Once he does, ensure his imagined cat is still [=not moving], clear, and neither too close to, nor too far from his face.
  • Then write the word cat on a blank sheet of paper.  Let him look at it and ask him to put the letters as he sees them on the body of his imagined cat – as if somebody sprayed / stuck / wrote them on the cat’s fur.
  • Once he sees the cat with the word cat written on its body, ask him to spell it forwards.
  • Then ask him some completely unrelated question, such as whether he likes pizza.
  • Then ask him to see the cat with the word cat written on its body and spell it backwards.  You’re only spelling backwards to check that he’s SEEING the word and not doing it by sound.  The unrelated [pizza] question is there to interrupt the pattern.
  • Once he is confident (after some time of practising) that he can spell forwards and backwards well, ask him to fix his eyes on the word and tell him that the cat needs to go to sleep, so it’ll walk away from behind the word.  Once the cat is gone, he’ll see the word as the picture.

And THIS is when he’ll be seeing the word written down just as does any good speller!  The more confident your son becomes, the more irrelevant spelling the word backwards will be.

Contact me for more on how NLP can help unlearn spelling, reading, and writing difficulties.




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