Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Are We Losing The Art of Conversation (literacy deficit disorder) by Dyslexia Toby, © 2014

The decline of human interaction has led to a huge number of teenagers and young adults going into higher levels of education with a low standard of punctuation, grammar and comprehension… in many cases struggling to build even a short report or story.  The backbone of story writing comes from the gathering of information both from creativity and also by absorbing the word of others.  There is a distinct possibility this may lead to a fall off in creative writing in the near future with less books being written.

It is incredible how far we have come since the Stone Age… we had no form of speech (grunting at best) or the ability to read or indeed write and now we are reverting at a pace!  There is an increase in speech delay and speech related problems (increases in the need for speech and language resources) and also growing numbers of people with short term memory loss, … why?  We need to ask why.

With the birth of modern media, face to face conversation has fallen way down the scale as a way of getting information from one party to another.

We have the internet and a wide use of mobile phones, made possible by a reduction in cost and improved technology.  This leads to conversations being made bit part… texts tend to have character limits, less chatting by phone, through to communication by short messages (140 Twitter/Facebook) we even see things like #this and #that.

I can appreciate the benefits of this fast moving, portable means of communicating with others and to some degree am guilty of same.  And it should be said that this has increased spontaneous conversation that possibly never happened in times gone…people with learning needs suffer more than most as they already have problems with conversation and short term  memory.

Many, including myself, could be classed as living in the past, but strong evidence backs the fact that conversation face to face or over dinner creates the opportunity for many to increase their word bank… something still seen in many cultures including mainland Europe.

I asked someone the other day to pen a short story and they said they couldn’t think of anything to say… when asked had they read a book, picked up a newspaper or listened to the news recently the reply was “No, why?”.  So much has disappeared over the last decade… we can now programme our TV boxes to record individual shows based on its perceived thoughts regarding our prior programme choices (scary thought!) and even skip through the news and ads… we are also witnessing the decline of the daily newspapers.

I know there are benefits for having mobile comms… certainly it has huge positives for the business world.  On a personal level, we can have chats and be in touch while on the move, on breaks at work and, even whist doing things like cooking, etc… the downside of this can lead to the person at the other end feeling like they are playing second fiddle and not having your full attention, which in some cases can lead to feelings of inadequacy.  Friends sit over coffee and text away… how does this make the others feel (less important) or when you stop chatting to answer a call or send a text.
Why have we stopped writing letters, even on holidays I can remember my parents writing postcards, few do now…if you tell your loyal followers you are abroad they are less likely to contact you due to roaming costs.
It is also worth noting how more often than not these conversations are rushed.

I wonder with contact so readily available, will there come a point in time where society runs out of things to say to each other, but continues to constantly make calls simply because of availability?

We have also reached the point where we see society becoming more hurtful and it is now accepted by many to end relationships and many other things (like missing a day’s work, or resigning from your job) by text/email rather than doing it face to face… we can also do this on impulse and maybe even regret our actions.  Many of our top Universities are highlighting this as a serious issue… we are even seeing predictive text entering written reports and assignments.

What of the older generation and those with specific learning needs who depend on conversation to feel wanted and part of society?  For many it’s an easy way to expand our vocabulary and improve general knowledge.

 It is such a shame that this is looked upon as almost amusing and there are those that deliberately kill conversations which improve our ability to do many other things.

We can order fast food online and even our daily groceries… we can walk into a bank and out again without a spoken word and walk into many stores without any human interaction.  Even in Mc Donald’s you can pay by touch screen and just collect when your order number pops up.  I noticed recently in Japan the introduction of robots to work in hospitals with in-built stereo typical chat lines.  Where will this all end?  Well, it’s up to us to get back the art of conversation and the place to start is with the young… sitting around the table to have dinner was a tradition and a great opportunity for parents to see problems on the horizon.  What happens in most households is dinner being eaten in front rooms and bedrooms as they all head off to chat on their comms!

There are some who try to build in social ground rules whilst out for coffee or a meal with groups of friends, who are just fed up waiting for their friends to finish texting to carry on with their chat, but they are the minority and to some degree fighting a losing battle.  At least in America there is a trend for people dining out in restaurants to put their phones in the centre of the table and first one to use theirs, pays for the meal!
The art of conversation lies in our hands, why can’t we turn back the clock and have those dinner time chats…coffee with friends, try it for a month and look at the difference. Many who suffer with depression could also have less chance to hide the fact in open conversation (body language), its much easier to carry it off through texts or emails.

*Comms = phones, ipads, tablets. check out these resources and more at

NB. This information is from personal experience and research and also partly sourced through the work of others. It is purely for improving the understanding of dyslexia and to offer helpful advice. Dyslexia Toby © 2014

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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Praxis makes perfect? (Understanding thought processes and physical reaction)  Dyslexia Dublin CETC © 2014

Praxis is the ability to organise a thought/action from the brain into a pre-planned movement. In order for someone to demonstrate the appropriate movement/command, the brain extracts and uses information from all of our memory and sensory processing areas ie. touch,  auditory, smell, vision, taste plus vestibular balance/inner ear  (proprioceptive/muscle receptors) to start and finish a given task… an example is right hand knowing what the left hand is doing.  Taking this into useful terms, apraxia and dyspraxia expresses the lack of maturity in the areas required  to fully plan some coordination of movement or speech…this does not mean that we cannot carry out all processes…indeed some with DCD/Apraxia are very good at sport but lack maturity in other areas.
Before we talk about Praxis further let’s look at how we send signals from our brain to our body (movement planning and activation of those movements) -
Cognitive …what does that mean?
It is the mental/thought process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment…everything we do for every second of our lives involves our brain in some way, shape or form…even whilst asleep (dreaming…moving, etc.)!
Sensory memory is the first tier of memory. Sensory memory retains the briefest image of a sensory stimulus…one effect of brain training is to strengthen this part of our memory…look at an object that is new to you and then close your eyes…then open them.  After the object has gone, can you still remember or visualise that object?  Rather like turning off the bedroom light and planning your journey to the bed without tripping over the bed or your shoes, we manage it sometimes but not always.
A baby learns this from around 8-10 months of age.  Up to this point it believes everything that goes out of its immediate visual range has gone forever.  This is due to lack of maturation of the short episodic and indeed long term memory.
We use this as a means to also determine body actions/movement…without signals from the brain to our body we would only move due to nerve or spasm  reactions (to coin the phrase ‘running around like a headless chicken’) having no control over movement.
Psychomotor - relating to the origination of movement in one or more (single or multi-task) conscious mental activities.  It is the transition from the thought to the planning and doing of actions, be it big or small physical activity. Psychomotor learnt skill stored in the motor cortex is portrayed by  us through physical skills such as movement, coordination, manipulation, dexterity, grace, strength, speed… actions which demonstrate the fine motor skills, such as use of precision instruments or tools, or actions which evidence gross motor skills, such as the use of the body in dance, musical or athletic performance.
We feel cold and a signal is sent from the skin surface to the brain, we then react by shivering…a part of our clothing irritates and the brain moves us to try and create a resistance to that irritation though scratching the area affected…most of these would be deemed primal reactions.
Visual motor integration is about taking all this into consideration in order to move forward with a given task and we can do this with all children and adults, but on occasions we must adapt the way we attack the learning process… this means linking coordinated visual perception skills together with gross-motor movement and fine-motor movement in a way that becomes as simple as possible in the early stages of learning new tasks, until sufficient levels of proficiency are reached… for both practical and academic outcomes to be fulfilled.
Praxis for the most part comes from learning and development (maturation) although as mentioned some would be primal (genetic).  We use several processes to complete the most basic of tasks. Some of the tasks in early infants are learnt through monkey see monkey do and others through stimulus and natural development.
These would range from the sitting up phase of a baby around 6-8 months, to coordinating limb movements to enable the child to crawl and then to stand and eventually walk…much of this progression is down to curiosity and the need to survive….keeping warm to eating and drinking.
 However we have far more complex tasks along the way and we can’t do everything by ourselves. On occasion we have to coordinate with others… this could be using one’s thoughts and another’s physical skill to complete a task.
Fine motor tasks are often harder for someone with Dyspraxia or DCD… like learning to ride a bike involves multi-tasking or tying your shoes for the first time is a very complex task and one which many take for granted.
 We don’t perceive all these components separately.  For example, as you watch a child/adult complete a task, such as tie his/her shoe laces, we don’t break it down into different actions, even though in the case of dyspraxia we should (over-learning is vital).  Also, balancing maybe to put on a sock or wash their feet.  However, when a child has apraxia, these tasks have to be broken down into singular components and then practised and built in order for the child to complete the whole task.
If you take a sequence like dressing, which becomes second nature to many, this would be an extremely complex task to someone with dyspraxia or apraxia.
In order to achieve this, as with other activities, they could benefit from visual instruction in the early days until the skill becomes second nature…pictures or even post-it notes are very handy.
Tying shoe laces is a task made easier by practising with the shoes on their lap at first, break the task down to single actions and then let them repeat it until it’s achieved with ease…my son achieved this after two hours and is now delighted to be able to wear any shoes he so chooses.  Being honest he did better than I…when I was young I remember sitting with a very tolerant girl in our village (who wasn’t aware I was dyspraxic) nearly the whole day and I finally mastered the skill!
The focus of many dyspraxics is more often than not is singular…multi-tasking is quite difficult, if you overload them with several things to accomplish be prepared for them to get this wrong or complete only part of your request and always remember rarely is this done deliberately.
“Be patient and praxis will eventually make perfect”. For those whose children bum shuffle, show them how to crawl, the increases in co-ordination are invaluable. it is so important due to slow processing ability to give long periods for practice that you would to their peers, remember demonstrate a task several times and show them piecemeal (over learning wins every-time).

Nb.The information is the work of our team and will occasionally contain the words of others…all our information is provided on a guidance basis and we always recommend that you seek professional advice. Dyslexia Dublin CETC © 2014

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Friday, 12 September 2014

What Do We Know About Brain Processing Speed?  ©Dyslexia Toby, 2014
Brain processing speed deficit is so common in many of us… it can be comorbid in dyslexics, dyspraxics, dyscalculics, dysgraphics, ADD and those with ADHD.
Are you ever given, or have you given, several instructions to someone… maybe your child or partner and wonder why they have carried out part of the instructions, or none at all?  Maybe you have been given a verbal instruction, like a phone number or directions to a venue and had to ask again? How are you at remembering names? Not great… why is that!
Most of the children and adults we work with are extremely bright and have high IQ’s, but present with a learning support issue.  Processing speed is not presented as a key issue in many cases… the child with dyspraxia for instance might not get resource hours, as this tends to be given to those with dyslexia in the main.
You might have been told by your child’s teacher that they are always the last to finish an exercise or maybe you have taken a look at their course books and find gaps (take a look, it will tell you a lot!).  Does their writing deteriorate towards the end of their work?  This is an indication of them rushing to keep up with their peers.
Those with slow processing speed were, in the past, classed as stupid or lazy children.  This would be judged, as many are, on core subjects, whereas the opposite was true in the non-core subjects… why?
Children and adults with slow processing speed have gifts that others don’t have, like creating something from nothing.  They need to rehearse things a few times and then they fly.
As a parent, have you ever wondered why your child (or pupil, if you’re a teacher) performs really well in the school drama production and yet they underachieve in say Maths or English? With someone who have slow processing, rehearsing a play or over-learning is just what they need… how many times do they rehearse… 3-4,-5-6 times?  How many times are they shown a Maths equation or a piece of poetry… once maybe twice?  There is part of the problem.
Maybe you have noticed your child dragging their heels with homework or putting their books together for school.  Maybe you have asked them to do something whilst they watched television and you felt like they were ignoring you?  You haven’t got their attention… try standing in front of the telly and they will listen. 
Have you ever sent them shopping and they come back without some of the items?  Visual  stimuli is great in helping them to get this right.  Make flash cards… for shopping, flash cards of items are easy to do… download pictures of lemons, eggs, milk, etc.
For school, lay out their books on the table and place a tag with the day of the week alongside the books they need, take a photo and print it.
Take a picture of them with their uniform on, for dressing.  This can also be done for many other things like brushing hair, teeth, etc.
I get parents to use a colour coded weekly calendar of their timetable and this improves processing and reduces problems with forgetting books, etc.
Try and talk to your child’s teacher and maybe they will give them the homework on paper or early in the lesson, as the end of a class or day becomes hurried and noisy.
During my many years as a teacher I have seen a variety of approaches in ideas and later in the use of technology to support areas such as this (some indirectly); in my last post we had an internal internet that the students could log onto where most teachers like myself used to log the homework and course work… a great idea and if they were off sick they could work at home or catch up later.
We as parents/carers and teachers need to look very carefully at our children and identify this and if we feel there is a problem get it diagnosed! Governments and those at the top of the Education Departments also need to be aware to include this where necessary, when it comes to giving extra time in exams and also resourcing during term time.  We work with so many students that are just over the bar as dyslexic learners, due to improvements… and might I add the bar is set too high in the first instance, but yet the child might still have slow processing speed and this is not taken into account.
Can you remember being back at school and the teacher writing down copious notes on the board and at a fair pace?  She or he had no problem with flow…why?  Well, for one, not many teachers would have slow processing speed and they would have also written that many times before.  New teachers tend to go much slower, as this is new to them too and they would write slower, thus the pupils with slow processing speed would have a greater chance of keeping up.
I would urge teachers to make a cross reference with a student who is struggling in the written subjects and excels in the kinaesthetic areas such as Home Economics, Woodwork or Drama.  Maybe the Home Economics teacher wonders why the child is great in practical (stimuli and repetition) and poor in the written/theory side of the subject (lack of stimuli and repetition).
Have you ever looked at your child’s Report and wondered why the Art teacher says great things and the English teacher appears concerned, or maybe writes in a negative way?
Homework can be improved if it’s based on what the child has done during the day.  Use a sand timer (say 15 minute stints) and allow them to have a very small break between subjects.  I think schools should move to giving less subjects each evening, but more of the same.  This will not only reduce the weight of the school bag, but also reduce the risk of forgetting a long list of homework and would also improve retention.
Short term memory work can make a big difference and making all of the subjects kinaesthetically based too.

NB. This information is from personal experience and research and also partly sourced through the work of others. It is purely for improving the understanding of dyslexia and to offer helpful advice. Dyslexia Toby © 2014

I hope you found this article useful… there are many more, including one on homework, on our Blog(