For those who have this learning disability, reading and writing is most difficult.

The b becomes a d, the g changes into a p or a q. Some letters are jumbled or reversed, while others seem to move across the page or even disappear.

Here’s more: some dyslexics also mix up sounds in multi-syllabic words. They tend to mispronounce words, such as “aminal” for animal, “bisghetti” for spaghetti, “hekalopter” for helicopter, “hangaberg” for hamburger, “mazageen” for magazine.

Teacher Reina Macalinao-Pante of Worldlab School Inc. says dyslexics are often criticized as stupid, lazy or slow.

“Sadly, many are made to believe that they are and thus suffer from insecurities and a low self-esteem. They find it hard to keep up with regular students in the mainstream school and are further alienated due to prejudices and a lack of understanding toward their condition,” Teacher Maki says.

But with proper instruction and assistance, dyslexia, a lifelong condition, can be effectively addressed and managed.

Manging dyslexia

Dyslexia (a Greek word that means impaired for dys and word for lexis), is a learning disability that manifests primarily as a difficulty with written language, particularly with reading and spelling. Dyslexics have trouble making the basic connection between letters and their sounds.

A neurological condition, dyslexia is said to result from differences in how the brain processes the information it receives, particularly in written and/or verbal language.

Unlike the rest, dyslexics process information in a different part of the brain. But it is not an intellectual disability and therefore, can occur even in kids with average or above-average intelligence.

Dyslexia is often familial or acquired genetically, from parents to children. It can likewise affect one or several members of the family.

Who would have thought that famous actors Tom Cruise, Liv Tyler, Orlando Bloom and Keanu Reeves, award-winning film director Steven Spielberg and celebrated producer Walt Disney are dyslexics?

It’s much harder to believe legendary inventors and geniuses Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and renowned painters Leonardo Da Vinci and Pablo Picasso all had dyslexia. But all of them proved that dyslexia transcends learning abilities and a dyslexic can indeed soar to greater heights in any profession.

Julio and his older brother Diego are two who have transformed their disability into a gift. They inherited their disability from dad Manuel who also struggled and managed to excel inspite of his condition. Manuel, now a successful businessman, didn’t seek help though and survived on his own.

Fortunately, their mom Ginny immediately sought help upon realizing that her sons had dyslexia.

“Both my sons were excelling in school from nursery to grade 3 and even belonged to the top 10 in class. But Diego wrote with jumbled letters and Julio had a hard time copying lessons from the blackboard. He had to stay after class most of the time just to copy. His teachers also got mad at him as they couldn’t go home because of that,” Ginny recalls.

Julio, who is not articulate in Filipino, had a hard time in Filipino and Spelling subjects so he was put in a special class. Still, he found it difficult to cope so he was demoted a few levels down.

“I took them to a psychiatrist and had them diagnosed. After that, I learned everything I could about dyslexia and enrolled them at Wordlab School, Inc. which was then right across our house. They have never been happier since where they both excelled in academics and extra-curricular activities,” Ginny enthuses.

Coping strategies

Teacher Maki attests to that.

“They are both very smart and have a very good background of different subjects from Science to Social Studies. Julio is excelling quite well in Math, articulate in explaining things, has sensible reasons and very charismatic. He is the more outgoing type while his older brother Diego is the shy, silent type,” explains Teacher Maki.

But while Julio is a promising mathematician who someday wants to become a scientist, Diego is a good essayist and an athlete, excelling in sports like running and skateboarding.

“Many of our students who came from traditional schools bring with them a lot of emotional baggage such as low self-esteem and the feeling of being a failure. So a part of our program is to restore their disposition. Because even with the best program if the child is not ready and not willing to learn we cannot help them,” she reveals.

Diego will be graduating from elementary on March 30 and Julio is an incoming 7th grader.

The Wordlab School is the only specialized institution in the country that primarily caters to dyslexics. Teacher Maki explains that they use the multi-sensory method in teaching students with this kind of disability.

“We base our program on the Department of Education (DepEd) requirements but the teaching strategies and approaches are different,” she adds.

The multi-sensory method is an integration of oral, visual and kinesthetic modalities in every student. This integration helps dyslexics learn to combine the sound with letters and write it more accurately. A different approach is also used for Science and Math.

Teacher Maki says that the school also employs an individualized style of teaching their students.

“First, we study the profile of the student, focus on their strengths, identify their weaknesses and the best ways that will make the child respond to learning. Then we take into consideration the profile of the classroom composition and use the best approach that will apply to them and integrate it into the lesson plan.”

There are only 12 students or less in a class. This set-up allows the instructor to give greater and more focused attention to the students.

For Grade 7 though, Teacher Maki says, training is more rigorous to prepare students for reintegration in the mainstream school.

“Compared to traditional schools, there’s more focus in the amount of studying here. But it’s not as loaded because we want them to achieve a significant comprehension. By building that comprehension as the foundation and teaching how to enrich it, we are able to achieve higher levels of whatever branch of learning,” she reasons, adding that their approach is also applicable to regular students.

Wordlab, she says, is planning to accept regular students and integrate them together with the rest in the near future.

Specialized education

Wordlab was founded in 1995 by Mailin Paterno whose advocacy was to help dyslexic kids thrive and excel. It was originally a clinic built to address the condition through a one-on-one set-up. Later on, it evolved into a small school in Mandaluyong City. Just as its population grew, the school also expanded in size and in the number of students in its present location in New Manila, Quezon City.

Today, Wordlab caters mostly to children who have dyslexia and ADHD (Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder). The minority are those with other conditions such as language perception problems, expressive language problems and severe learning difficulties.

The institution has also retained its clinic division for outsiders availing of its spelling and reading programs. There are currently 16 teachers, all highly-qualified and adept at handling students with these conditions.

Making a difference

“I find fulfillment in being a teacher to these kids. Knowing that they are persevering, coping and are becoming successful is my teaching compensation. It is important that you know you’ve done something worthwhile. And I know I’m making a difference,” exclaims Teacher Maki.

She particularly gets thrilled when her former students visit her in the school to give inspiring anecdotes about their struggles.

“Many dyslexics have become successful because they were able to identify what their dreams are, as well as strengths and ambitions. And they were able to work at it. That’s their success,” Teacher Maki says.

For mom Ginny, she doesn’t even consider her sons’ dyslexia as a disability — but a gift.

“My dream for my sons is that they do something that they passionately like and help others. Dyslexics can be even smarter and more emotionally mature. Their creative juices can soar so much if they allow it to happen. There are no limits and no boundaries if you’re living passionately,” she says.

Diego perfectly captures the essence of his continuing struggle and aspirations in a speech he is set to deliver on his graduation. Here is an excerpt from a speech that is hard to believe was written by a 7th grader, much more a dyslexic.

“We have received great education in a setting where others could only dream about. We learned so much in such a fun and wholesome environment. Wordlab to us is our 2nd home. Nowhere have I seen a group of competent, intelligent, hard-working, loving and fun group of educators. You teachers have truly been instrumental in preparing us to move on and to take on whatever challenges come next in our lives.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my years here is that for creativity to thrive, we need to be in an environment where we can work uncensored – where mistakes are considered an important part of the creative process. Wordlab School lets us be who we are and allows room for mistakes. Often on graduation day, we look outside for inspirational figures but I see them right here among us. We don’t have to look far for inspiration. Know that we each have the potential to make an inspiring contribution to others by being true to ourselves, our values and committing ourselves to our goals.”

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