Once a child is diagnosed with dyslexia, many parents dive into research on how to help their child learn to read more easily. However, in doing so, we can sometimes give less attention to the areas where our children are gifted.
My son, for example, knew every dinosaur by its full scientific name by the age of three. He would recite them, and tell anyone who would listen if that type was a herbivore, omnivore or carnivore. Yes, he would use those huge words!
He found joy in watching the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet, but not so much cartoons. I knew he would be a genius! So I was surprised when school was not so easy.
He is now eight years old and in the 3rd grade. I find most of our time, both at school and at home, is focused on reading, writing, and spelling.
While learning to read is of utmost importance, I sometimes worry I am missing the mark in fostering his natural gift in science. So, stumbling across this article written by Dr. Barbara Moskal
from the Colorado Schoool of Mines
acted as a huge wake-up call. She says "through an educational system that emphasizes literacy over all else in the early years, we may be losing or discouraging children who have a gift for understanding STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) from identifying and developing these talents." Those sound like wise words to me.
Here's more from Dr. Moskal's report on STEM and Dyslexia:
I have regularly worked with dyslexic learners in STEM. This work is easy, fun and rewarding because most dyslexic children “get it” when it comes to STEM. I will illustrate this through an introduction to “Susie”. A more extended version of Susie’s story appears in Wright and Moskal (2013). Susie’s experiences learning, although individual, resemble the successes and challenges of many dyslexic children. I could have easily introduced you to “Johnny”, “Tamera,” “Catalina,” or “Jerome”. The implied gender or ethnicity does not matter; learning disabilities have no boundaries.
At the start of this story, Susie is a precocious two and a half year old. She is spinning in circles with her hands in the air and experiencing the pure delight of being a toddler and having achieved balance. Her babysitter warns Susie that soon she will fall to the ground as a result of being dizzy. Susie corrects her babysitter, explaining that it is “gravity” that pulls a person to the ground, not being dizzy.
From the age of 3 until the age of 5, Susie shares many delightful scientific theories. For example, after watching an episode of NOVA, Susie explains that the earth is an asteroid which has been shot off from the sun during the “Big Bang.” At 4, she develops a theory of where the earth’s energy comes from. She explains that plants capture the sun’s energy, animals, such as cows, eat the plants, and humans receive the energy by drinking milk or eating meat. Susie is a rising star in STEM, already recognized for advanced observations concerning the world around her.
Throughout kindergarten, Susie struggles to learn to read. At first, she memorizes texts and repeats the words in the order that she recalls them. She is not reading and she knows this, as does her teacher. By the end of kindergarten, her teacher recommends that she repeat the grade. Susie is tested; Susie is gifted. With this new information, Susie is permitted to progress to first grade. Her experience in first grade, much like kindergarten, is distressing. Susie continues to struggle in reading and science is not a regular component of her lessons. Susie begins to dislike school and learning and the recommendation is again made that Susie repeat her grade. Susie is tested; Susie is dyslexic.
Many of us know a child who is similar to Susie. Their early learning experiences indicate an ability to learn and a strong sense of the scientific world around them. Some of these same children fail to advance in their schoolwork, especially during the early “literacy intense” years. During the first four years of elementary school, kindergarten through third, the main focus of the curriculum is the mastery of reading. Children who struggle with reading are remediated and/or repeat a grade. Remediation may mean pulling these children from other subjects, such as science, in order to receive additional support in literacy. Gradually, these children fall behind in the subjects that they are missing, while continuing to struggle with reading. The message to these children seems clear: you are not as capable as your peers in school-based learning. This is not the intention of the teachers or decision makers; the intention is to help these children master reading. Unfortunately, the intention and the interpretation by the children often do not match.
Read more from Dr. Moskal
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