An interview with Sharon Tsonz , an expert educational psychologist
Hello Sharon, could you name the sectors that require reading assistance among the general population of people with learning disabilities? What is their proportion of that population?
"There are different kinds of learning disabilities – Dyslexia (including Alexia), Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia. Dyslexia is a congenital learning disability that negatively affects the skills that are essential for reading. A person that has Dyslexia finds it difficult to read at the same level as their peers despite having been through the same educational process. Research indicates that about 10% of elementary school students have some kind of learning disability (including children with ADHD or hyperactive children), most of whom suffer from reading disabilities.
What are the implications of such reading disabilities? Do the consequences vary depending on the age of the child?
"Dyslexia can appear at any age, but its manifestation varies according to the age of the child. When dealing with small children we might find difficulty with vocabulary and self-expression, while around first grade we might see difficulty in reading acquisition. Later on, often after corrective teaching, we can identify success in a technical sense, but there is difficulty in comprehending what is read (sometimes also due to ADHD)."
Is a reading difficulty manifested differently in the context of learning-oriented reading as compared to the context of recreational reading?
"Children with learning/memory/attention disorders find it easier to engage their limited resources in topics they love or find appealing, in a way that they are unable to do with texts they find boring. Additionally, songs, plays and dance are also "memory supportive" aids as the context facilitates the memorization process."
What are the alternatives to reading printed material for those with learning disabilities?
"Many of those with learning disabilities need someone to read aloud to them. Such a person is not always available (during the final examination period, this requires several hours a day). Moreover, not every person is capable of reading academic material aloud in a way that is correct and understandable. The task demands a skilled professional, especially because the target population has learning disabilities, or a combination of disabilities.
In your estimation, is there enough awareness of recorded books amongst students with learning disabilities and their parents?
"Unfortunately – no, there is not. During diagnostic assessment I inform parents about this option, but I assume that many families who could be taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity are not aware of its existence."
How does the use of recorded books affect the academic achievements of students with learning disabilities?
"The use of recorded books is very helpful in improving the academic achievements of students with reading difficulties. Firstly, it helps them to overcome their resistance to learning because it reduces the enormous difficulty involved in reading. Secondly, having the educational material read aloud to them frees them to put their best effort and attention into understanding and thinking about the actual content.
In the course of my work with students who have reading disabilities I can often observe a huge gap between their achievements when the material is being read aloud to them, and when they are reading it by themselves. Moreover, the use of recorded books helps the parents, as they are the ones who carry the main burden of reading aloud or paying a third party to do so for their children. The combination of the learner's ability to follow the text with his eyes while listening to the recorded text often produces the best possible results."
If recorded books were more available to people with learning disabilities, how, in your opinion, would that improve their quality of life?
"It would decrease their time spent on learning and their resistance to learning, raise their achievements, and make it easier for their families who dedicate so much of their time and money to that purpose.
Recorded materials enable the learner to learn independently, to have autonomy over the time spent on learning, without having to be dependent on the good will of others."
Sharon Tsonz – an expert educational psychologist. She performs diagnosis, consulting, treatment and parental guidance. She is head of the psychological service at the "Tamar" local authority operates a private clinic and gives lectures for parents on a wide range of issues.