For students like Jake, dyslexia is a challenging learning disability. However, the right support program can make a huge difference in maximising their learning potential.

Boy writing at desk

Like many kids his age, Jake struggled with subjects such as mathematics during his primary school days.

However, he soon realised that his struggles went beyond not understanding complex problems. He recalls being noticeably slower that his peers in learning and processing various concepts taught in school.

“I found it very difficult to visualise and understand math problem sums when doing practice papers,” he shares. “In addition, I struggled a lot with English as I would get stuck when it came down to spelling, reading and pronunciation.”

As he was falling behind in school, Jake’s parents decided to send Jake for a diagnostic assessment. He was diagnosed with dyslexia by psychologist Ms. Frances Yeo, when he was in Primary 5

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurological condition. It has no relation to intelligence and is not a result of lack of instruction. According to statistics, about 4 to 10% of Singapore’s school-going population are estimated to be dyslexic.

Dyslexia is a hidden handicap, and the disabilities are manifested in how the brain processes graphic symbols (letters) and the sounds of words. It affects reading, spelling, and the ability to match letters to sounds.

The effects of dyslexia vary from person to person. However, most individuals with dyslexia generally have trouble reading quickly and without mistakes. They may also have trouble understanding what they read. Symptoms of dyslexia vary from child to child, but generally include:

- Reading below the expected level for their age or grade

- Confusing letters that look alike

- Reverse letter sequences e.g. "was" for "saw", "on" for “no”

- An inability to sound out the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word

- Difficulties in finding the right word or forming answers to questions

- Difficulties remembering and understanding text passages

- Making multiple spelling errors when completing essays and open-ended questions

- Spending an exceptional amount of time completing tasks involving reading or writing

Students with dyslexia often have limited working memory capacity too. Working memory is crucial for learning and refers to the ability to hold and manipulate information mentally over short periods of time.

Limited working capacity causes difficulties in:

- Holding sounds in working memory and blending sounds together

- Holding and sequencing sounds for spelling

- Composing, holding and connecting ideas in written text

- Holding on to and integrating information read early on in a passage with information that comes later. This affects reading comprehension and reading fluency.

Support for dyslexia

Even though dyslexia affects learning and academic performance, the right support can help children learn to read, spell and succeed in school.

After Jake’s diagnosis, his school teachers provided additional help in understanding various subject topics. He was also given access arrangements during examinations and was taught by an educator who specialised in teaching dyslexic children. Students with dyslexia need specialised reading instruction that explicitly teaches systematic word-identification and decoding strategies. “I was taught various techniques such as breaking down long words, pronouncing and spelling them out,” Jake says

As Jake admits, overcoming dyslexia didn’t happen overnight. It took time before he started seeing tangible results. “Though it was a slow process, I was able to speak confidently and became proficient in spelling after a year or so,” he relates.

He also adds that he didn't immediately do better in examinations and tests in primary school. “But as I entered secondary school, I found that the strategies I learnt helped me tremendously,” he says. “I was able to absorb and process information quickly and more efficiently.”

One strategy was making bite-sized summary notes next to each paragraph during English examinations. This served as a quick refresher about the contents of individual paragraphs, helping him better digest the passages.

Now a confident 19-year-old who has just completed his A Levels, Jake’s diagnosis has shaped him into the determined person he is today. He advises other students with dyslexia to stay resilient and trust the learning process even though coping with studies may be challenging at the start.

“Although it was a long and arduous process, the strategies and tips I learnt became a strong foundation for me throughout my life, not just in my studies,” Jake acknowledges. “I’d encourage those who are struggling now to continue working hard. One day, the skills you are learning will help you tremendously.”

How Thomson Kids supports children with dyslexia

As Jake’s experience shows, getting diagnosed for dyslexia early and receiving right and timely intervention is key to overcoming the condition.

One such specialised centre that seeks to help children with dyslexia is Thomson Kids. Thomson Kids is established by Thomson Medical Group − a private health care provider with more than 40 years of experience in children’s healthcare needs.

Supported by a team of psychologists, speech and language therapists and special needs-trained teachers, the centre offers diagnostic assessments and specialised curriculums for children with learning difficulties. These include dyslexia, autism, ADHD and language delays.

At the helm is Ms. Frances Yeo, a child psychologist with more than 20 years of clinical experience. She also leads a paediatric clinic specialising in psychology and counselling, and has worked extensively with children like Jake to address their learning difficulties.

Striving to help children with such difficulties maximise their learning potential, Thomson Kids employs structured English and Chinese programmes derived from research-proven teaching methods. These include Orton-Gillingham techniques for reading and spelling instruction.

Each student is assessed before enrolment, so interventions are targeted to address specific learning needs. For instance, students with weak auditory working memory would be equipped with more visual supports to enable learning.

Teaching and student materials are specially written by the experienced team, and closely aligned with the Ministry of Education’s curriculum to match what students learn in mainstream schools. Lessons are designed to be sequential, with students taught basic concepts and progressing to more difficult and advanced ones. Each lesson is cumulative, building on concepts previously learnt. Multi-sensorial activities and technology are used to make learning fun, dynamic and engaging as well.

As children with learning difficulties often suffer from poor self-esteem, the centre’s programmes also equip them with essential life skills. By breaking down learning into manageable parts, Thomson Kids helps children build self-confidence and a sense of independent inquiry, empowering them to succeed in school and beyond.

Find out more about Thomson Kids and its specialised learning programmes here.

 

Photos: iStock

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