DislexiaHi there! Today I come to you not as a fellow writer or reader, but as a wife and mother of people with severe dyslexia. Although programs like Audible and Podiobooks put the production of audio-books within reach of the ever-growing indie community, I wonder how many authors really understand their true value. After all, we’re readers. To us, not many luxuries compare to the glorious pleasure of lounging in our favorite chair with a tantalizing new book or companionable favorite. We can barely wrap our minds around the possibility that someone would consider reading to be a chore worse than scrubbing a toilet with his personal toothbrush.

Before I go on, let me share some helpful vocabulary with you.

  • Phonemes: the sounds that make up a language. For example, the sound A represents in the word alligator.
  • Graphemes: the symbols used to represent the sounds that make up a language. In English, we usually call them “letters.” ๐Ÿ™‚

We’ve all heard or read somewhere that English is one of the hardest languages to learn, let alone master, but do many of us really understand what that means? Let me lay it out for you.

In Spanish, a grapheme always represents a single phoneme. In other words, every time you see a letter O, you say “oh”. (I adore Spanish!)

In French, a mere thirty-two phonemes are represented by about 250 letter combinations. That means, that every sound a French woman uses to sing a little ditty could be spelled, on average, 8 different ways. Yuck.

In English, we use forty-four phonemes. Anyone want to take a guess at how many ways there are to spell them?

Yes, you sir, in the cardigan… Nope. Not 500.

Over there. Ma’am? … No, I’m sorry, you’ll have to go higher than 850.

Anyone else? Anyone?

Alright then, I’ll tell you. There are over 1,100 ways to spell the forty-four phonemes in the English language. ELEVEN HUNDRED! That makes an average of 25 different ways to spell a single sound. Fun, huh?

Dyslexic_wordsNow, let’s say your brain is unable to process either phonemes or graphemes accurately. How in the world are you supposed to memorize all of these potential spellings? Not all of them can be processed the same way every time. For example, in American phonics, we teach our kids a little rhyme.

When two vowels go walking,
The first one does the talking.

Cute, right? Until we get to the “i before e” rule, itself having many exceptions. Rules like these, though immensely helpful in the long run, stop being cute real quick when a dyslexic kid begins to discover the vast number of quirks.

What many people without dyslexia don’t realize is that an activity as sedentary as reading may be exhausting work for those who do struggle with it. My middle daughter has ADHD. When I tell you the child is energetic, I’m not exaggerating. She was crawling by four and a half months old, running and climbing the baby gates by nine months, and when her itsy-bitsy legs could barely reach from one side of the door jamb to the other, she taught herself, without example, to chimney climb at the ripe age of four years. You could tell this child to spend hours on a trampoline and wear yourself out watching her long before she so much as broke a sweat.

My little girl doing a chimney climb. She was six when this picture was taken. At this point, not only can she climb to the top of the doorjamb, she can hold herself there with her legs to have her hands free for mischief.

My little girl doing a chimney climb. She was six when this picture was taken. At this point, not only can she climb to the top of the door jamb, she can hold herself there with her legs to have her hands free for mischief.

Ask her to read?

I can’t even tell you how it breaks my heart to watch my little jumping-bean’s shoulders round and tighten with the effort of getting through a single book, even a book she wants to read. It is painful to watch. My husband, no longer under the yoke of academics, rarely reads. When he does, he shifts frequently, almost undulates, his eyes struggling to focus on the words. It used to distress me greatly. Finally I got a clue, and volunteered to do the reading.

Sadly, mommy voices can wear out quickly. Especially in homes such as mine where speech issues and teaching duties combine to require a near-constant stream ofย  language demonstration from mom. Maybe one of these days I’ll pay a speech therapist to give me some training in choral speech so my voice will have more endurance. In the meantime, I’m sure you’re beginning to understand why homes like mine deeply appreciate the invention of audiobooks. If you’re an independent author, I hope you’ll consider turning your books into audio-books. ๐Ÿ™‚

Just for fun, I’ll leave you with a classic poem I’ve skewed to use a consistent set of letters or letter combinations to represent each phoneme.

Thu Niet

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