This week I had the opportunity to experience, then facilitate a very realistic and impacting simulation about what it feels like to have dyslexia. It was beyond anything I ever thought it could be! By the end of the simulation several parents were close to tears as they discovered just how hard school was for their child with dyslexia.
NOTE: I have in NO WAY been asked to promote this product. These are my genuine opinions with no prompting from the company to promote them.
The Northern California Branch of the International Dyslexia Association has developed a dramatically realistic representation of what it is like to experience dyslexia with standard academic tasks that you'd see in any classroom.
This simulation is one they do each year as a form of parent education and this year I was asked to be a part of it. Before the parents came, we were each given an activity that we had to read/prepare and were expected to facilitate the parents as they went through the simulation. Then before the parents came for the seminar, all of us had the opportunity to experience all 6 simulation activities. Boy was it an eye opener!!
Obviously as a special education teacher I understand each of these struggles my students face, but it's quite different to sense them myself. Even as teachers, there were certain activities where people just gave up. They felt like they just couldn't do it. It's an emotional, frustrating, and eye opening experience.
There were 6 activities: 2 writing, 2 reading, and 2 listening. I wish I could pick a favorite, but they were all eye opening in their own special way.
My station was called "Write or Left" and required participants to write with their opposite hand to demonstrate the difficulties with writing and copying. Some parents got very distraught trying to complete the tasks. Some showed task avoidance, some cheated, and some were on the verge of tears.
I also observed some very interesting things! One woman was shockingly good at the task and I complemented her. She told me that she's naturally left-handed, but in school teachers forced her to become right-handed so she's now proficient in both. It's such a wild idea in modern times to assume you can force a natural phenomenon to change. However, I do know that this was common practice many years ago.
I also had 2 young girls (sisters) come with their parents. I believe they were in 3rd and 4th grade. When the dad and one of the girls came to my table I watched them both closely because clearly they brought their daughters for a purpose, not just to avoid getting a baby-sitter. One task was to copy a gibberish cursive-like doodle from memory on to the back of the paper. I saw the little girl trace it, then stare straight forward and trace it in the air without looking as she memorized the shape of the "word." I told her I was impressed and that it was the most creative and effective strategy I'd seen all night. She told me that she has dyslexia and it's the way she practices her spelling/vocabulary cards.
The dad's reaction was almost hard to watch. To see the look on his face as he realized just how hard everyday school tasks for his daughter... it was a combination of revelation and tears.
Another mother could hardly speak when I asked her follow up questions about what it felt like. She said she finally understood why her son does so many things he does, and why he's getting in trouble for things when he gives up and gets off task. She noted she now understands when he doesn't care when he doesn't finish an assignment, because he feels like he can never finish any assignment on time.
One mother said she'd been to every seminar possible about learning differences and dyslexia and that this was unlike any other! She was begging for us to hold another one so she could bring more people to experience it.
For more information please visit The Northern California Branch of the International Dyslexia Association