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The Dyslexia Tax

by David Morgan || 13 November 2018

Some huge things can remain hidden, even when you are stood right beside them. They are like camouflaged elephants in the room. And sometimes those elephants do damage.

Most of us are unaware that one in every six people passing us on the street is unable to read simple text. And most of us are unaware just what an enormous impact that has on their lives. It is easy to say “she is dyslexic” without really knowing what that means for someone’s life, if reading is still hard for them.

There are three important myths to dismiss with this:

  1. Learning to read works out okay for most struggling 7 year-olds. The data show it doesn’t.
  2. A dyslexia diagnosis means you cannot learn to read well and spell accurately. We are teaching dyslexics to read and spell confidently all the time.
  3. Being unable to read well is normal and okay for dyslexics. No, no, no. Not being able to read is often devastating in multiple ways.

Busting Myth 1: Learning to read works out okay for most strugglers

If you have a seven year-old who is struggling to read, lots of people will tell you not to worry.They will tell you that it will work out and different children learn to read at different times. That is actually a myth.

If you look at the data, around one in five children are really struggling to read at the age of 7, on average. And around 20% of children leave school still unable to read at a 3rd grade level too. You can ask your local junior and senior schools to check what I am saying. Now, those two figures are the same, which means children are not blooming late. Those strugglers not ‘bloomin’ learning to read!

Almost all children who struggle to read at primary school never do learn to read properly. It’s a life sentence if they don’t get the right help. Check the OECD data for adult reading ability to see how the 20% is there again.

Busting Myth 2: A dyslexia diagnosis means you will never read

Many parents get a dyslexia diagnosis for their child and accept the suggestion that their child will never learn to read well, “because they are dyslexic”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We see dyslexics learning to read all the time. Some have even won prizes for their writing too.

Any experts who says dyslexics cannot learn to read is just an expert who doesn’t know how to help a dyslexic learn to read. We have taught thousands of dyslexics to read with our Easyread System without a problem.

Usually it just takes a few weeks, sometimes a bit longer. But we expect every dyslexic to become a good reader and speller with the right help. At dm-ed.com we actually guarantee good reading progress for every child.

Busting Myth 3: Being unable to read is normal and fine if you are dyslexic

Finally, what does it mean to the life of a dyslexic if they don’t master reading and writing accurately? People often seem to think that it is okay to accept that situation. We disagree.

First, it is not a good situation at elementary school. Not good at all.

All little children want to make their teacher and their parents happy. They also want to be seen to be okay by their friends. And reading is central to their day. They are learning to read at school and doing reading practice at home every day.

If they are struggling to read, those adults are going to be frustrated. It is unusual for primary teachers and parents to be experts at reading difficulty. They have little understanding of why a child would struggle to read, because they have never been taught why a bright child might struggle. So they tend to get frustrated. The struggling child knows that. It makes them feel bad.

Then their friends start to notice that they are still on the “baby” reading books. Some of their friends soon become free readers, while they are struggling with these very basic books. So now they are embarrassed by it with their peer group.  That makes them feel bad too.

Often these children start not wanting to go to school. That makes their parents even more frustrated. That makes these children feel even more bad.

But then it gets worse.

When the nightmare really starts

At elementary school you are learning lots of practical things. Reading is important, but there are many ways that you can do well, without being able to read. But now these children go to senior school.

That is a very different environment. Now you need to read for every subject. And the subjects are taught by people with no training in literacy. When you have not read the required chapter in the book, all they know is that you have not followed their reasonable request. Teachers are under pressure to get results and sometimes that pressure will transmit through to the struggling children.

So now school has become a daily agony of failure and public humiliation. Now your child is failing on every front. Maybe you have spent the money and got a diagnosis of dyslexia, but that just gives a label to your shared struggles. It does not stop them.

The dyslexia tax is really starting to bite now and deep psychological damage is being done to your child. If you want to read a great portrayal of how that is, read Pour Me A Life by AA Gill.

At this point, most children go down three possible paths for survival:

  1. Become the class joker. Some of the famous dyslexics in the media have followed this path and learned to entertain at school.
  2. Choose to win in your own system, by becoming delinquent. Then every punishment is a win, according to your distorted view of life. Half of our prison inmates cannot read, by the way.
  3. Go internal, lie low and hope to escape when you have finished your time in school.

Whichever path you take, your teenage years at school are going to be tough. You will either fail most of the tests put before you, or manage a few passes, but at a massive personal cost in terms of effort, compared to your peers. These last years at school represent a daily routine of struggle and regular humiliation for your failure to achieve. I know this because I struggled to read myself.

But then it gets worse.

The massive lifetime impact

The reality is that the adult world runs on text. Almost every interesting job needs you to read and write. Yes, maybe you can become a footballer or dancer or an artist or a photographer, but thousands of career paths are eliminated if you cannot read and write.

What if you really want to be a doctor, or a nurse, or a researcher? Maybe you want to go into the law or local government. Maybe you want to become a police officer. The list is endless. They are all impossible without literacy.

A surprising number of poor readers go into business and can do very well there. If they can sell, for instance, they will potentially succeed with limited literacy. But it takes considerable bravado to step into that environment knowing that you can be found to be lacking even a basic formal education.

The brutal reality is that many non-readers just accept that they can only do low-paid, largely manual work, often despite being very bright.

In almost every case these people will continue to live in fear of being seen to be functionally illiterate. They develop lots of little tricks to hide it, consistently “leaving their glasses behind” for instance. And this is now a life sentence for most of them.

But there is more to this than emotional pain and career frustration.

The million dollar dyslexia tax

It is worth doing a quick calculation for what this is likely to cost them over the next 50 years.

According to recent US government figures, the median salary for someone who does not graduate from high school in the US is $8,000 per annum less than someone who does get there diploma (without then going on to any further education). In 50 years of work that is $400,000 in lost income.

Many of these non-readers could do a university degree with the right qualifications, because many are very bright. Then their income would be over $35,000 higher, on average. In 50 years that is $1.75 million of lost income. Wow!

Some people point to the high achievers who do earn good money as non-reading dyslexics. We can all name a few. But really, how many of those are there? That is not a life plan to rely on, when you look at the millions and millions of adults struggling financially because of this one issue.

But it could be a lot worse than just a low income.

It can get even worse for some…

Turn away now if you don’t like to be upset.

I originally got involved in literacy education in the prison system. I am very glad I was only a day visitor, because life in prison for the inmates and the staff is exceptionally tough. If you have ideas of life in prison being a soft option, you need to visit one!

Half our prison inmates cannot read. Our project was to get the literate inmates to start teaching their peers to read. You can see more at www.ShannonTrust.org.uk. It works well and costs very little.

What was interesting to me was how many of them learned to read in just a few months. As an engineer I found that intriguing and started to try to see what had gone wrong for them first time around. That is what lead to us developing a new approach that worked more naturally with the brain.

Then the next surprise was to find our greatest supporters would be the officers on the prison wings. The reason is that they were quick to see the positive change in the mindset of the inmates.

Often the inmates go from deeply depressed and very hard to deal with before learning to read, to optimists who are happy to cooperate with the wing officers. I have seen hardened inmates and wing officers choking up about it. It seems that inside many of these career criminals there is still the little child aged 7, who just wanted to pass their reading test.

Okay, I am not saying your sweet 7-year-old is on the fast track to prison. But it does illustrate how this issue has deep impacts.

So what can we do about it? Here is the good news then. When we work through the systems we have developed over the last 15 years, with care and attention, we see a successful income every time. We have even had profoundly deaf children learning to read, which if you know anything about literacy will be surprising.

How to avoid the dyslexia tax

You can see from the above analysis why we are passionate about getting every child reading and spelling confidently. As the adults supporting these children, it is our duty really.

So the thing that worries me most about a child getting a dyslexia diagnosis is that the adults around them think it means they cannot learn to read. That is a total myth. We routinely see every dyslexic learn to read when they get the right help. Many of the dyslexics who have finished our Easyread process end up in the top quarter of their class for reading. And in any case, their natural intelligence can finally start to shine through in school.

The key is to understand what has been holding them back. You can see more about the main causes of dyslexia here, along with how to help a child overcome each issue. Once you understand why a child has been struggling, then the solution is often simple.

David Morgan has a BSc in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Education. Before becoming a literacy specialist, he was a business manager, and before that a cavalry officer in the British Army. David is the founder of David Morgan Education.