Have you ever wondered how come so many people with Dyslexia can be so creative, talented and are obviously intelligent and yet they find it hard to spell or read? If you are good at spelling and reading you may find it hard to believe that something that seems so easy to you is so hard for someone else. On the other hand, if you struggle yourself, either with a diagnosed problem or without, you may be totally confused as to how these tasks can seem so easy to others and yet appear difficult and complex to you.
In 2010 I met a remarkable woman named Olive Hickmott. She was speaking at the Annual NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Conference in London and was delivering a talk entitled ‘NLP and Learning Difficulties’. At the time I was working at a local secondary school with over forty students with various labels and issues who all had below average literacy and numeracy. I was frustrated with myself as I felt there was something I just wasn’t getting that would make the difference to these young people. When I heard Olive talk the proverbial lightbulb went on. Just as I had been doing, she had been using the traditional NLP Spelling Strategy, as devised by the brilliant Robert Dilts in the 1980s, with children with learning difficulties. The big difference though was that when it didn’t work she didn’t scratch her head wondering what was missing, she asked the students directly!!
This may seem so simple and obvious now but at the time no one was really asking these struggling learners what was really happening inside their minds when they were attempting to spell. Sure there were fMRI scans to show the difference between the ‘Dyslexic’ and non-Dyslexic brain, but these images only showed what part of the brain they were NOT using, not what they were ACTUALLY doing.
Olive has labelled herself ‘incurably curious’, and that curiosity helped her reveal the true nature of the ‘Dyslexic’ brain. The NLP Spelling Strategy is based on proficient spellers and how they ‘see’ words in their mind’s eye, get a good feeling that the spelling is correct and copy it down from the image. This is a strategy that when taught to many students who are not visualising words works very well to help them use the same successful system. Someone with Dyslexia though could be doing all kinds of weird and wonderful things inside their brains that prevents them from adopting the strategy easily. These include, but are not exclusively;
- Feeling anxious and stressed, therefore unable to access the positive state necessary for learning or controlling the internal systems required for learning.
- Having an extremely highly developed sense of mental imagery. This means that 2D images can be formed into 3D objects, images seen from different perspectives, simultaneous multiple screens and images, images moving very quickly and changing in rapid succession, to name but a few.
- Being phobic about looking at words and perhaps numbers (Dyscalculia) as they would make them feel queasy because the external images could be moving and forming strange patterns and therefore hard to read.
- A term I have coined ‘Labelism’, which is where a person with a diagnosis has start to buy into that label so that they believe they ARE that label and all the limitations that the label affords. ‘I can’t learn because I have Dyslexia’, ‘I will never be able to spell’ and most damaging ‘I will never amount to anything because that is what I have been told by an authority figure’. These are some of the statements that I have heard many times from real clients.
Once Olive knew what was happening she started looking at how she could coach these students to adopt and use a more effective strategy that would allow them to spell and read more fluently. She started with how to get students into the optimal learning state before any actual learning would take place. Once the students were able to calm themselves sufficiently so that their bodies were calm but their minds were still alert, she was then able to help them control their mental imagery. The effect of this is that letters and words that would previously have been reversing or jumbling up would now be still, flat and easily seen.
This seemingly simple approach has proven so effective that when a learner, who has been struggling for years, finally understand what they are supposed to be doing internally they realise that they can actually do what others find so naturally easy, and all within a very short space of time.
Since 2010 I have had the extreme privilege of working directly with Olive in developing her process into an easy to learn system that others can replicate and use with themselves, their children or their students. I used her process as part of my MA research and successful helped a group of adult learners with low literacy in a short 4 weeks. With the addition of Paula Montie, a retired primary school principal with over 30 years experience, we finally had the missing piece as to how to deliver to schools. In 2013 an amazing national school in Westmeath piloted the process to see how it could be implemented within the classroom, both mainstream and learning support, with phenomenal results that continue to improve.
If you want to know more about this amazing process and be part of the ever growing community of people using it with such amazing results, you can by attending the next Jumpstarting Literacy & Numeracy Course on the 14th and 28th November in Rathwire, Westmeath.
This is an open course and is for parents, teachers (primary and secondary), literacy tutors, youth workers, in fact anyone who works with anyone where learning is either involved or has been shown to be a barrier to personal growth and progression.
I look forward to seeing you there and sharing with you this ground-breaking and innovative process that is changing lives and empowering learners.
Visit http://www.quantumleaps.ie/other-programmes/empowering_learning_prac-course/ for full course details and to sign up. You can also contact me on +353 (0) 860775452 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara Haboubi MA, BSc.
Master Trainer Jumpstarting Literacy & Numeracy.