Michael

Michael was referred to the Bangor Child Guidance Clinic at the age of nine years nine months. His extreme weakness at reading and spelling had already caused his parents concern, and they wished for further investigation. I myself was not responsible for his original testing, but as his teacher I had ample opportunity thereafter for observing his behaviour.

His test results were:

WISC verbal IQ: 116

Performance IQ: 129 (Wechsler, 1949)

Terman-Merrill IQ: 128 (Terman and Merrill, 1937)

Schonell Graded Word Reading test: reading age 5.3 (Schonell and Schonell, 1952)

No spelling age was given, but when he took the Burt (1947) Dictation test he produced the following:

Mi deg cet his lug on an open ten

It is on a cat bot nat a deg

I sra har ran bie in the wet she cam to sec ro steal a bac net in the gar the crul lacl cen

The psychologist who originally tested Michael thought that absence from school and some learning inhibition due to emotional causes might be sufficient to account for Michael's weakness at reading and spelling. Even at the time, however, and with my very limited knowledge of dyslexia this seemed to me unlikely. His parents certainly showed some anxiety, but not a disproportionate amount in the circumstances. A psychiatric interview led Dr Simmons to conclude: 'I could find no good evidence of maladjustment of a kind that would warrant concern.'

I started on a teaching programme along similar lines to that which I had used in the case of Brenda. Michael was gradually introduced to the 'noises' made by the different vowel sounds. In addition I invented sentences requiring a knowledge of the 'noises' which he had already learned, but with no irregular words.

More stress, however, was laid in Michael's case on reading as well as on spelling. For the next eight months Michael came to the clinic once per week (with occasional absences owing to illness or around Christmas and Easter). At the end of eight months his reading age on the Schonell Word Recognition test (Schonell and Schonell, 1952) had gone up to 7.1, an increase of one year nine and a half months.

After a period at boarding school he returned about eight months later for more teaching. At this point I gave him the Schonell Word Recognition test again, and his score was 7.7. This suggested that even without special teaching his reading ability was at least holding its own, so to speak, with his chronological age. For about the next eight months he received fairly intensive tuition, usually for three periods a week instead of the one period which he had received earlier. At this time Michael was aged between nine and 10.

One of the things which I particularly noticed was that during his reading, as well as during his spelling, he was mixing up 'b' with 'd' and 'p' with 'q'. Table 2.1 provides examples of these and other errors.

Table 2.1. Some examples of Michael's reading errors

Target word

Read by him as

on

no

pot

top

Ben

der ... (pause)

quickly

p- p- (pause)

dog

bog

been

den-done

quickly

properly

boys

boys, no, dogs

was

saw

for

of

Adapted from Miles (1961)

Adapted from Miles (1961)

At one point I called his attention to 'p' and 'q' and 'b' and 'd' and asked him to imitate their spatial direction with his hands. He said, ' "p" goes this way and "q" this way.' But in his first demonstration he did it the wrong way round. Later, however, I noted, 'He has at last grasped the difference between "quickly" and "properly".'

During later sessions, when he was aged about 11, and I could ask him to spell long words such as 'discrimination', I found that in the case of four- or five-syllable words he could not even say them without confusion, let alone spell them. Thus he is reported in my notes as having been very much tied up over the words 'imagination' and 'conflagration'. He was clearly trying hard, but the word just would not come right!

It was not until many years later that I realised that becoming 'tied up' when saying certain long words could be an indicator of dyslexia. I then included the request to repeat some suitable words as part of the Bangor Dyslexia Test (Miles, 1997).

I also had access to his school books. Figure 2.1 is a reproduction of some work in his own handwriting.

In many of my talks I have presented this reproduction to local Dyslexia Associations and other organisations as an illustration of how a highly intelligent boy can nevertheless produce weird and inconsistent spellings.

To form part of the present chapter I have also transcribed some other extracts from his school books.

FIFTY YEARS IN DYSLEXIA RESEARCH ¿A-*- -v^-J/uiiji*

IV/iivp [J .ififii/.ir^i.i/iiiii.'i' fo.idi mtvj/omii ¡(¿Sid V.v »1 u iiqtdd, we .niv rhv substanpe htn distyty'ed in the liquid-. The residtutfi ¡¡quid ts i-uUeda saiutiim.Whpn vie ¿HsM/lve u Mibsniih t in ii liquid ¡mid tin: poirit fa teached l/re tvrii

¿i.s.w/ve ho in fie. then iee have a .ununited solution.

Figure 2.1. A sample of Michael's handwriting.

1. Latitude is macad desdns NS of the cwat. Aparl of latitude thit runs fow all the plas that aer at the same desdns macad NS of the rcaudr.

Latitude is measured distance NS of the equator. A parallel of latitude [is a line] that runs through all the places that are at the same distance measured NS of the equator.

2. How things flot. A thing flots, if it can pas auva a naf lecwed, and not be cafad. Gafate and the lecwed pajing the obsect up, helps a thing to flot, becas the Gafate is paling the obsect dawn, and the lccwed is pasing it up.

How things float. A thing floats, if it can pass over enough liquid, and not be covered. Gravity and the liquid pushing the object up helps a thing to float because gravity is pulling the object down, and the liquid is pushing it up.

3. D sgib Surface Tension. Surface Tension is lace a sgen go the lecwed, bat the is not a sgen at all, it is jest Gafate and the pasing of the lecwed. (The correct spelling of 'surface tension' is surprising, and my surmise is that the words had been written for him on the blackboard.)

Describe Surface Tension. Surface tension is like a skin on the liquid, but there is not a skin at all; it is just gravity and the pushing of the liquid.

4. Ien filings. Ien filings aer lecl peses of Ien, and we pat sam in the water, and sum of them boc fou the amajnae sgen and sam amand.

Iron filings. Iron filings are little pieces of iron, and we put some in the water, and some of them broke through the imaginary skin and some remained.

5. The negl. We pat a Negl in the water, fast we pat a pes of blating papa in the water, and pat the Negl on it and the papa sana and the Negl acded an the Surface Tension.

The Needle. We put a needle in the water; first we put a piece of blotting paper in the water, and put the needle on it; and the paper sank and the needle acted on the surface tension.

Michael's difficulty in producing the correct vowel was, if anything, more severe than Brenda's. The results of an analysis of the errors which he made in the dictation test at his first assessment are set out in Table 2.2 below.

It can be seen from this table that, as in Brenda's case, there is a significantly higher proportion of vowel errors than of consonant errors (note 2.1). In the first three lines the only mistake over a consonant is 'sra' for saw - which represents one mistake in 37 consonants as compared with 11 mistakes out of 16 in the case of vowels. The other 13 consonant errors are made up mostly of omissions.

Examination of the extracts from Michael's school books shows many of the same features that were found in Brenda's case, e.g. 'c' for 's' in 'macad' (measured) and 'pes' (piece), 'sd' for 'st' in 'desdns' (distance), 'f' for 'v' in 'dsolf' (dissolve), 'cafad' (covered) and 'gafate' (gravit) and 'd' for 't' in 'acded' (acted).

Other similar confusions are 'sg' for 'sc' or 'sk', as in 'dsgib' (describe) and 'sgen' (skin). In some cases the spelling corresponds to pronunciation at rather an infantile level, e.g. 'negl' for needle and 'lecl' for little.

In addition the letter 'c' is reversed ('sana' for sank; there is 'on' for no, and other misplacing of letters, e.g. 'ist' for its and 'sepedns' for substance.

Finally his attempts at liquid seem to show a struggle followed by a result with which he was presumably fairly well satisfied, 'lwcae', 'lwecwed' and 'lecwed'. The final result is in fact by far the nearest of the three to the actual sound of the word (lIkWId). It is difficult for those of us who are adequate spellers to realise what hard work it must have been for Michael to accomplish even this degree of correctness.

My lessons with Michael came to an end when he went away to a different boarding school. About a year later his parents reported that, though still weak at spelling, he was now a very adequate reader. Reflecting on Michael's case I was still not

Table 2.2. Number of correct and incorrect consonants and vowels in a sample of Michael's spelling

Correct

Incorrect

Consonants Vowels

64 30

14 19

Adapted from Miles (1961)

satisfied with the explanation offered by my colleague (see above) that absences from school and parental pressures were sufficient to account for the problems: there would in that case have been an impossible mismatch between cause and effect. The cause, as in Brenda's case, had to be constitutional in origin.

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