Lisa Salmon looks at the weird, wonderful and sometimes weary world of family life.

School can be hard for many kids - but for those with dyslexia, it's extra tough.

They struggle with reading and writing, and may often have been wrongly labelled as stupid because of their difficulties.

But the estimated 10% of people with dyslexia are often of above-average intelligence, although they are classed as having a specific learning difficulty.

The term dyslexia simply means difficulty with words, and the most obvious problems are with reading, spelling and writing.

However, there are often a number of additional problems, including putting speech sounds together incorrectly, confusion in directionality (left from right, up or down) and in learning to tell the time.

Problems in remembering things are also common, especially when it involves written language.

There are many ways of addressing the problems that people with dyslexia have through teaching. But one method takes a different approach by looking at the condition not as a learning difficulty, but as a gift.

The method, devised by dyslexic American Ron Davis, claims to have a 97% success rate with its teaching, which is based around people with dyslexia thinking in pictures, rather than words.

Brain scanning studies suggest that in people with dyslexia the connections between different language areas of the brain don't work as efficiently as they should. While these differences aren't linked to intelligence, there's evidence that many people with dyslexia have strengths in tasks that involve creative and visually-based thinking.

At the age of 38, Davis, who was labelled "functionally illiterate" at school, discovered a way to switch off the mental processes that caused him to see printed words in a distorted way.

For the first time, he read a book cover-to-cover without struggling.

In the 30 years since then, he has written three books, including The Gift Of Dyslexia (Souvenir Press, £14.99), and devised the Davis Dyslexia Correction Program, which is taught in 40 countries.

He believes that dyslexia is a result of an inherent mental gift or talent, and says: "People who develop dyslexia think in pictures, rather than words. They are imaginative and creative, and they try to solve problems by looking at the whole picture, rather than working step-by-step.

"In order to understand the gift of dyslexia, we need to view the learning disability known as dyslexia from a different angle."

"It is the result of a perceptual talent. In some situations, the talent becomes a liability."

To address that liability, the Davis Program relies on using the dyslexic's mental talents. It isn't based on phonics, as a dyslexic's picture-based thinking means they have difficulty thinking with the sounds of words.

Instead, Davis methods teach a visual and meaning-based approach.

Richard Whitehead, director of the Davis Learning Foundation in the UK, explains: "In diversion from the traditional medical model of seeing dyslexia as a structural or neurological disability, we see it as a different way of thinking."

"What we very much see in dyslexics are people who learn with and through their imagination."

Instead of phonics, a creative process is used to make words come to life for people with dyslexia.

One way of doing this is to make a visual meaning out of clay for words that don't usually have a visual picture associated with them, such as 'the' and 'of'.

By creating some sort of visual meaning for these words, a person with dyslexia assigns them a visual 'trigger'.

"People can then create meaning directly, without having to express that meaning in words," says Whitehead.

"You can then attach the words to it and master it. It's a creative learning approach."

"We combine internal self-management tools with multi-sensory learning, based around the meanings of words, that make words come to life for imaginative thinkers."

The programme, which is usually delivered in an intensive 30 hours, is available privately in the UK, currently from 45 practitioners nationwide, many of whom are parents of children with dyslexia.

It's typically used on children from the age of eight upwards, and adults, although there are also programmes for younger children.

A study to measure the Davis method's effectiveness, by the US Reading Research Council, found an average increase of 21% in reading scores, and 17% in language scores after the intensive programme.

Long-term results depend on the degree of follow-up, the Davis Program says.

"The results are usually very dramatic," says Whitehead.

"We've had clients who've progressed from a reading age of two or three years below their natural age to a reading age that was two or three years above."

He says it's not a miracle quick-fix and there's a home follow-on programme which can take up to a year.

"You get a huge surge in self-esteem as the children we teach start to see why their problems have been happening."

Rachel Lawson of the British Dyslexia Association stresses that the charity doesn't endorse alternative therapies, such as the Davis method, and won't comment on them.

She says: "We endorse multi-sensory structured teaching from qualified specific learning difficulty teachers."

"Multi-sensory teaching means helping a child to learn through more than one of the senses, i.e using auditory, visual and kinesthetic (using touch/movement) learning styles."

:: For more information about the Davis Program, and UK providers, visit

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