The Story of James

James dreamed of being able to read

When we met James he was clearly bright and he had been working hard at his reading for years. His parents were very keen to see him reading and he attended a good school.

But James was now 8 years old and his reading ability had reached a low plateau. The only thing that was going up was his frustration and his sense of despair.

So, with each month that passed, his peers were getting a month further ahead. And James knew it. He could see friends reading books that he could only dream of reading. They were reading things like the Harry Potter series and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. James really wanted to read, but despite all his efforts, it was just not happening for him.

He constantly guessed words

He could read a bit, of course. In fact, in the early stages he seemed to be doing well and everyone was pleased. But now reading had become a guessing game for him. He knew some of the words, but had to use the picture and the rest of the sentence to work out the others. He was getting it wrong a lot.

Sometimes he would even look at a word that he had read on the page before and would be struggling with it again, moments later. So he would try a guess, with a word that started with the same first letter and that might fit. The short words were the hardest for him to get right, because there were so many options.

His parents were frustrated and worried

He could now feel his parents’ rising frustration beside him too. They were really great parents and very kind, but even so! It was hard for them not to be baffled by what was going on. Seeing him get simple words like ‘this’, ‘that’ and ‘then’ wrong after three years of practice was pretty tough.

James liked to get things right and feeling his parents getting cross about repeated mistakes was hard for him. It actually made it all more difficult because he could feel his brain blur and occasionally there had been a bit of a scene, which was horrible for everyone.

His spelling was atrocious

James’ spelling was a puzzle too. They would learn the ten words each week together, as asked by his teacher, and James would generally do well in the spelling test. But then a week or two later he would be completely unable to write those same words accurately in his free writing. Most of his spelling was atrocious.

Working on his spelling felt like pushing water up a hill.

His confidence and self-belief collapsed

By then James was feeling like he was at the end of his tether with it all. He was beginning to think that maybe he was just stupid and he should just give up. That was why his mother had come to us. She felt it was beginning to change him. Her bright, happy little boy was starting to disappear, in a frightening way. It was like he was drowning in the stress of it all. He would sometimes bob to the surface again, but for how much longer?

James’ teacher just suggested doing more reading together, but frankly his mother didn’t feel that was really helping him progress.

So she made contact with us.

A DM consultation helped pinpoint the issue

We spent some time talking to her about what she had seen. He was so typical of so many of the children we have seen, that we could start describing James to her without her telling us further detail.

James was a very visual child. He loved Lego and building stuff. He was pretty good at it too.

He was very chatty, but he had had a few hours of speech training when he was younger, because some of his words were not that clear at that stage. His speech was fine now.

His reading was full of guesses, particularly with the short words. And sometimes he didn’t seem to quite understand what he had read, even when he got it right. And his spelling was horrendous.

We hear that again and again and again.

Of course we are always happy to hear it because we know exactly how to fix the situation.

“Optilexia” or sight-reading was the underlying cause

James fitted what we call an Optilexic pattern. We coined the word because we were referring to this pattern so much that we needed a word for it.

What this means is that he had been memorizing the shape of whole words, rather than trying to decode them letter by letter. This had seemed quick and easy for him at first, when the books only contained 10-15 words. But now it was getting much harder, because the text was more complex. Memorizing ten words is fine and maybe a hundred. But a thousand words? Or ten thousand words? That is beyond most of us.

The problem is that that was how James was trying to read. He didn’t have a decoding system to fall back on. And all European-style languages are designed to be decoded, not sight-read visually.

He could pass a spelling test by memorizing the whole list, using his visual memory. But that photographic memory was only good for the test. A week later it had faded and he had no idea how to spell the words in any other way. So he would use letter names and a basic phonetic alphabet, but knew he was writing gibberish because English spelling is so irregular.

Applying the best solution

We put James onto the Trainertext visual phonics process we use, which involves a 10-15 minute lesson online each day. It is designed to help a child keep decoding words, even when they are unfamiliar and irregular, until it becomes easy and automatic. And it uses lots of gaming to keep the children engaged.

He started on a 10-day trial, but even within a day or two he knew that this was feeling different. It was like someone had turned the light on, and now he knew how to get through the lessons. That was a new experience for him with reading!

The lessons started very easy indeed anyhow, but even as they got more complicated he felt as if he could do them okay, with the odd bit of help from his parents.

The whole experience had gone from horrible to being quite fun and his parents seemed much happier too!

Within a couple of weeks he was decoding routinely in the lessons, even with quite long and irregular words. There was no change in his normal reading yet, but James was happy to do the lessons and felt they were helping.

Over the next couple of months, James’ reading pattern steadily changed in his head. He began to ‘hear’ the words as he read them and they became easy to understand.

Reaching reading breakthrough

After about 70 lessons it really began to drop into place with his normal reading too.

His big breakthrough came when he was happy to read a passage of a book out loud in class for the first time. His mother was in tears writing us her message that day.

James has finished with us now. After about six months his reading was normal to above-average in his class and his spelling was now starting to change a lot too. He was reading voraciously and he had finished the first two books of Harry Potter.

After nine months he found that he was spelling around 90% of the words right in his free writing and that was improving steadily too. When he spent the time to learn a tricky word, he found he could retain it, instead of having it crumble away. And most words he could spell without really knowing how he was doing it. It would just come up from his subconcious.

A typical DM result for us; a life-changing one for James

James was very typical of what we see. Some children get a quicker result and for a few it is a longer journey. It can take 12-18 months if someone has some auditory memory difficulties or an auditory processing deficit. But, in relation to a lifetime of reading, 18 months isn’t too bad. Most of us actually take 2-3 years to learn to read anyhow, even when it all goes okay. It took me a lot longer than that!

Some children have some visual issues that have to be addressed. We are quite practiced at that and can usually get a good result in a week or two, but it requires doing some exercises, which can be hard to get done in a busy life. We actually think it is worth making life a bit less busy to achieve such an important breakthrough, but we don’t always win that argument easily!

We have been working on the processes that James used for over 12 years. In the past there have always been children who baffled us or who gave up before we achieved the aim. But we kept working on the process, finding new solutions to each little problem that came across.

Our unconditional guarantee was a great motivator to keep hunting for solutions for every child, even when it required quite a bit of investment, but actually it also fitted with our aims anyhow. It is our mission to make reading easy for every learner.

And in 2015 we had our first year when every child on our home-based system got good progress and was reading proficiently by the time they finished with us.

If you have a child struggling to read or spell, we really hope you will give our free ten lesson trial a try.  It may be life-changing for your child.