Could video games be good for dyslexia?

Could video games possibly be good for dyslexia?

Could they? My own experience tells me YES.

One of our sons would be carrying the label dyslexic if he’d ever ventured into school. Having been homeschooled all of his life, his exposure to the word “dyslexia” hasn’t been special classes and teasing, hasn’t been hours of tears and struggles with homework, hasn’t been knowing that he’s smart but being told that he’s not…He knows that he’s learning to read later than many of his siblings and some (but not all!) of his homeschooled friends, but he has learned — and he is becoming more fluent. He understands that we all learn different things differently and at different times. He’s learned that we are each smart in different ways. He has a strong sense of self and knows that he’s a smart, competent person. He’s had the opportunity to investigate things that he enjoys and he’s had the time to develop confidence and competence in many areas.

Dyslexia  means “difficulty with words.” We all have difficulty with something. People with dyslexia have various amounts of difficulty with words.

There are plenty of theories about what causes it. Some theories blame standard educational practices (lack of phonics, only phonics, the wrong use of phonics and so on and so on…) and some brain research has shown some evidence of differences in brain activity between normal readers and those who are dyslexic. Dr. Sally E. Shaywitz, a Yale University School of Medicine researcher, has investigated dyslexia using a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).  What her study showed was that people who read easily and people who are dyslexic readers tend to show activity in different parts of the brain, especially as reading tasks became more difficult. Most researchers seem to use terms like “disability” and “disorder” when referring to dyslexia…and, yes, that’s what you have if your child is in school, struggling to learn to read on a school timetable. I prefer to think of this difficulty with words as a “difference” in learning patterns. It is a difference that may call for different ways of learning from ways employed in institutional settings. Things can progress differently at home, unschooling. Our family found that video games could be part of the solution for our son.

Here are some of the best current ideas about helping dyslexic kids learn to read:

  • Don’t focus exclusively on either phonics or a whole word approach. Be open and flexible and experiment to see what works for your child.
  • Find ways for reading to make sense to your child.
  • Repetition is helpful, but please avoid mind-deadening drills
  • Gradual is fine, don’t be in a hurry.
  • Active learning – let it stay interesting; try new things, new places, new people, all kinds of new stuff to spark new brain connections; don’t obsess about reading, do the things you love and be kind to yourself, encourage your kid to do what he loves and to be kind to himself.
  • Let it be useful and related to the child’s life
  • MULTI-SENSORY: allow for auditory, visual, oral, and kinaesthetic elements and processes. Dyslexic people benefit from trying out and engaging as many senses as possible. Sight, sound, touch, physically doing…let the stuff get in there through a variety of neural pathways, let stronger channels build up weaker ones.
  • Trust your child always…but in this case, trust him to be working out ways to make the connections. We parents are an invaluable resource but we’re not going to make it happen. Just trust that it will, in time. (see below)

People with dyslexia may find their own ways of making sense of the written word, especially if they are learning in a supportive environment and not hindered by coercive didactic techniques! One of my favorite dyslexic people is also one of the most intelligent (and compassionate,  funny, and perceptive) women that I know. She really struggled in school, she accepted the label of “not smart” which really, really wasn’t true — it is the evidence of a tragic failure of institutional schooling.  This person compensated when young by developing her wonderful people-skills, her EQ (Emotional Quotient). When she hit her late 30s she began to work with herself on her reading skills. She found a way. She reads well now. She comprehends. Her own technique was basically Unschooling 101. She read what she loved, what was relevant to her life, and she was completely patient with her progress. She compared herself to no one and she trusted the process. She’s provided much of my inspiration to stay calm and to trust the process.

So…looking at the list above, you can see unschooling and the potential of video games reflected in every point, right?

Another fine thing about learning to read with video games is that the “material” has a structure that makes sense, the information they contain includes lots of built-in review, there’s plenty of potential for cumulative learning. New and useful neural pathways are undoubtedly formed by video game play, just as brain connections are enhanced by all kinds of creative activity. Video game play is creative activity.

Multi-sensory learning is one point that comes up in almost every study of dyslexia that I’ve read. Video games are incredibly multi-sensory. Subtitled games have been a real boon to our family. When more of our kids were younger and fewer of them were readers, one of the older kids usually would read the subtitles aloud as the play progressed. Someone would be reading and someone would be hearing all the time. Harvest Moon and Zelda have been multi-sensory reading tutors in our family.

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