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The therapy of dyslexia with the Fenyvesi Programme
by Jenei Ferencné
In Hungary, the treatment of dyslexia is usually approached from the perspective of logopedia. As a practising teacher -with a degree in logopedia- I believe that the problem can best be approached through reading. Connecting words, fluent reading and the comprehension of texts is closer to teaching practice than to speech therapy.
A good teacher focuses primarily on the pupil, and for this reason has to recover the self-esteem of the child first and give him back their faith to prepare them for those failures that face them in the subsequent weeks. This way, the child will be clear about his problem, and with what and how he is supposed to do in order to rid himself from his dyslexia.
On the basis of these principles, during my years of teaching I have developed a therapy, which is based on teaching practice and takes all the above into account: this is the Fenyvesi Programme.
The dead end street of dyslexia
The first and most important symptom of the development of dyslexia is the mixing up of letters. The most frequent being the mixing up of b-d, primarily for the reason that they are visually very similar. Additionally, their place of articulation is very close. What makes their differentiation even more difficult is that the switch frequently results in the creation of a meaningful new word (as in the minimal pair: bal-dal = "left"-"song"). A similar confusion occurs in the case of vowels with similar places of articulation (ö-ü, á-e, f-v).
The child when receiving a word (either meaningful or meaningless) tries to make sense of it, and reads it again and again. Meanwhile, he realizes that he falls back behind the others, and tries to solve the problem in his own way: he leaves out or adds syllables or even whole sentences. He would like to catch up with the others, which -of course- cannot happen as he has no idea of what exactly he is reading.
In the case of dyslexic children problems with accents or suffixes, mixed up letters also appear in writing, which make it impossible to evaluate their spelling. In many cases they do not see the beginning or ending of words and sentences, and for this reason, write them together, without using punctuation marks.
The process starts in the second grade, and by the fifth grade the child is already struggling with such great problems: he is either lagging behind the others among the weakest students in class, or their parents put them to classes organized especially for students with dyslexia.
Reading and writing
In the Fenyvesi Programme, treatment of dyslexia takes place individually, once a week in a 60-minute session, to which a 20-minute practice at home is necessary.
With the special exercises, the switching of letters can be cured in 4-5 sessions, after this, the child will start to understand what he is reading; although slowly, in proportions, but reading what is actually written down. With daily practice, the technique of reading improves and their reading becomes more dynamic. They realize that they can learn to read and work together with their classmates.
With this method, the child?s reading can be fixed in 2-3 months, and after that it only depends on his or her diligence and abilities what results he or she achieves at school.
Fixing the reading skill in itself is not sufficient; there are many tasks to accomplish:
- Their comprehension of texts is not perfect.
- Their handwriting is full of mistakes, it is stuffed and in many cases, difficult to read.
- They have a lot to make up for in the case of grammar rules, even if they know the rules, they are unable to apply them.
- Maths tasks cause them problems if they are given with a text, the reading errors may make it impossible for them to solve the task.
- They have poor vocabulary, they cannot recognize textual connections, thus cannot form an opinion of the text they have read.
- They need to learn reading aloud.
- It is typical in the case of children with dyslexia that, although they are already familiar with the material, they know their homework, but they are just unable to speak in class. They are sitting their with sweating hands, and butterflies in their stomach when they are called on to speak. They have to become familiar with their own voice, and also become able to paraphrase the text they have read, to be able to say it with their own words. This is a very difficult task for a child who has collected most of his failures in this area (has been laughed at by classmates, and the teachers have made them sit down -which is better-, or have humiliated them)
- They have to learn to copy over texts.
- Most dyslexic children copy word by word, for this reason, they spend most of the time looking up to the board again and again, and searching for the part of text they have to continue copying.
- They need to practice dictation. Apart from dictation, they have to learn composition, writing outlines, writing sentences which can help them talk more about a particular topic.
- They need to practice putting accents on letters. Accents in the Hungarian language are very difficult to learn. For this reason, the aim is to lead the child to ?feel? when he needs to use an accent, and how. This requires listening skills and a lot of writing exercises.
- And in the end, self-evaluation has to be practiced. It is important that the student can check his writing and recognize mistakes that have remained in the written text.
Tasks for improvement
The treatment of dyslexia obviously does not only consist of improving reading and writing skills. It is complemented with a collection of games developed specifically for the purpose of differentiating letters, improving memory, cognitive skills, the construction of sentences, while providing an introduction to grammatical terms and provides a playful practise to the rules of spelling. These tasks are regarded as games to children -they see it as a puzzle to solve: a third grader girl noted that ?this is really amusing-, while solving one of the most difficult differentiation tasks.
In Hungary, Educational Acts list dyslexic students among persons with disabilities; for this reason, they become disabled for the public. This classification is the most difficult to deal with, because after the great number of failures and without valuable help, both the child and the parents tend to accept the situation. The main shortcoming of the methods generally applied is that they take years, while the child has to come up to daily expectations at classes. This encouraged me to compile a list of tasks which provides a way out in a very short period of time, and gives the child a feeling of success.
In the last six years, the method has proved that it actually works; therefore it is time that Hungarian and foreign practicing experts get to know more about it.
In Hungary, Dr. Ildikó Meixner was the first to draw my attention to dyslexic children, and developed a programme, which is still applied by Hungarian speech therapists. The only drawback of her programme is that the time of the therapy is set in years. If she was still among us, seeing the rapid spread of dyslexia, she would definitely try to improve her methods, as she claimed ?it is not the task of the therapist to search for the causes, but to help the child as quickly as possible?.
With all due respect to her memory, I am trying to familiarize parents and teachers in Hungary and abroad with the programme that considerably reduces the time of the therapy and helps the child to come up to the requirements of the school and life in a short time, while making reading a pleasant experience for them.
Dyslexia in Hungary
by Jenei FerencnéDyslexia is a serious problem of school children not only in Hungary, but also in other countries. This article aims at introducing a new, efficient method developed recently, in order to treat children with dyslexia.
Dyslexia in Hungary is one of the major unsolved problems of public education. According to the most optimistic estimations, 25-30% of young people are unable to read; that is to say, they do not understand the texts they read.
2. The emergence of a new variant of dyslexia
In recent years, a new variant of dyslexia has developed, which is related neither to heredity nor to mental activities. More than 90% of dyslexic children have this type of dyslexia. There are only assumptions as to the causes of the emergence of this phenomenon. Among these are the following:
In Hungary, children at the age of six are obliged to attend school. Whenever reading disorder occurs, it may be assumed that the child is not ready for schooling.
In many cases, Hungarian methods of teaching dictate a faster pace than it would be appropriate for the age or abilities of a child.
It sometimes occurs that the child was handicapped by speech disorders in nursery school, where his treatment by a speech therapist may have already taken place. It is possible, however, that there still remain confused areas in the language or in the inner hearing of the child. Those children who start talking later than the average may also have problems. They start out with a serious disadvantage, which is mainly due to the skipping of a period of their lives that would be essential - frequently called the period of asking why -, in which children tend to ask questions constantly. In the case of leaving out this period, parents may not be able to pass on knowledge to their children, in spite of their best intentions, for the simple reason that they may talk about something different from what is actually of interest to the children. For this reason, these children may be lacking knowledge that comes as natural to others.
3. A treatment for dyslexia
Meixner Ildikó was the first speech therapist in Hungary who started dealing with dyslexic children and was the first to create a programme which enabled her to actually start their treatment. She professed that those who intend to provide treatment for children with such a learning disorder may not go on to search for the source of the problem, but help the children instead.
Nowadays, it is a well-known fact that dyslexia can be cured quickly and easily with the use of the appropriate programme. Surprisingly, the results of applying this programme in treating the new variant of dyslexia does not differ much from that of received dyslexia; the only difference being that it takes a bit longer, and there is a possibility that interchanging letters occur occasionally in adulthood. However, for the adults, being fully aware of the problem facilitates self-correction considerably.
There is still no unified programme of treatment in the hands of the specialists. The most widespread method is the one developed by Meixner Ildikó, although a number of other types of programmes exist. Unfortunately, the less widespread methods are not worth mentioning, due to their very low level of efficiency, which is demonstrated by the inability of students to read, the increasing number of classes for dyslexic students in secondary education, and the various allowances granted to students in higher education.
The treatment of dyslexia is still not a separate branch of treating speech impediment and learning disorders. Speech therapists usually treat dyslexic children together with the ones handicapped by speech disorder; and in the same way, educators who do the same job also have to deal with more than one pupils at a time. The majority of the methods presently used by the so-called specialists have some similar aspects: they take up a long period of time, and it is difficult for pupils to get a real sense of achievement. The general practice thus goes against the fact that successful treatment can only be achieved at one-to-one sessions.
There are, however promising signs that the situation is about to improve: an increasing number of schools provide the optimal conditions for curing dyslexia. This is not yet a result of a decree by the government, but is owing to the positive attitude of schools.
4. The efficient method of treating dyslexia
What is it, after all, that makes a treatment efficient?
This section is intended to describe the most important steps to be followed in a programme for dyslexic pupils.
4.1 The first session: informing the child and the parents
The first and most important task is to provide information for the child and the parents. Even with a six or seven-year-old child, it is possible to discuss with him what the problem is, and the way it would be handled (of course, at a level appropriate to his age). It is important for the child to regain his self-confidence, to have confidence in the speech therapist, and to tackle all the tasks on his own. During the course of the first session, the pupil gets acquainted with the tasks, and has an opportunity to find out that his problem is not more than an illness with which he does not even need to go to hospital. Moreover, there is absolutely no need to change schools, or to be angry with the teacher, and the is no reason for being nervous and having a constant headache in the class. During this process of assessment, it is important to inform the parents and the child about the expected time of the end of the programme.
Success, however, requires a great effort of the pupil. Therefore, difficulties of the task and the importance of the continuity of practice has to be discussed with him beforehand. It is the student who has to decide if he can undertake this additional task beside his extracurricular activities. When practising at home, it is important that parents do not intervene in the process by helping the pupil, but only check that he has completed the tasks. The child's self-confidence and his sense of responsibility for doing the tasks can only be built up in this way. Practice at home does not take more than twenty minutes a day.
4.2 The treatment:
The first thing to do is to discontinue the child's use of interchanged letters. The worksheets are based on those used by speech therapists in general. The uniqueness of the method is achieved by the arrangement of the tasks in such a way that they are built on one another, proceeding from letter recognition to differentiation. The process takes place in the first 3-4 sessions. After that, mistaking the letters is not dealt with; if it may occur later on, the child will already be able to correct himself. These occurences are not due to mistaking the letters anymore, but to previous conditioning.
Meanwhile, pupils start to learn reading and copying. In the case of copying, self-correction has special importance. It is also essential that the principle of staging the tasks be kept, and the understanding of tasks be constantly checked.
4.3 Problems related to school subjects
The school subjects in which the most problems are caused by dyslexia are reading, and learning grammar. Since reading plays an important role in learning all the other subjects, difficulties with reading influences learning all of them. Extremely slow pace of reading and inefficient comprehension causes severe problems in reading and learning texts. In the case of mathematics, the child meets difficulties in solving tasks that are formulated with words. Even a simple task may cause problems because the interpretation of the task and the wording of the answer create obstacles for the student.
4.4 Overcoming problems with reading and grammar
In the third month of the programme, continuous reading is practised. It can be expected from the pupil that he reads tales and stories and gives an account of their content.
Learning of the grammar also makes many difficulties. In Hungarian, mistakes in marking the accents may change the meaning of words or can make the text incomprehensible. Frequently, changing the place of the accent in a word can create a new meaningful word, which is again a source of new problems with reading, because the mistaken word does not fit into the context. For this reason, much of the time of the treatment is taken up by the acquisition of grammar rules and putting them into actual use. Learning the rules does not pose a problem, it is more the use of them that challenges the pupils.
Children are prepared to face the fact that their present efforts will only show later on in the course of their studies. That the effect of the programme is delayed has several reasons: established behavioural disorders that are related to dyslexia, increased and unprovoked excitement, spasmodic fear of failure and the lack of courage to start speaking.
The aim of the development of the new treatment was to reduce the time children have to spend at the speech therapist. At school, the child has to do his daily tasks, and has to come up to the daily requirements set by the teacher. They are only granted an exemption from studying foreign languages, which in my view is an unfortunate situation. In my opinion, children need not be exempted, but helped in studying.
The programme described above allows 4, 6, or 10 months for the children to free himself from his problem. The treatment takes ten months for those children who carry the symptoms of hereditary dyslexia.
The success of the programme is not only proved by the performance of the children at school, but also by the interest of their teachers and the speech therapists treating them. The treatment of dyslexia may not be done together with those who have speech impediment, nor with other activities of educators; it can only be successfully treated at one-to-one sessions.
Jeneiné Fenyvesi Erzsébet
1154 Budapest, Gazdálkodó u. 3.
Tel.: 06 (20) 471 8007