Tv – the enemy of child development? Apparently, yes…

Did you know that 30 percent of US households have televisions on all the time? In a piece entitled TV Causes Learning Lag in Infants – Yahoo! News Jeanna Bryner writes:

Infants “zone out” in front of the television, and it turns out this translates into less time interacting with parents, and possible lags in language development, a new study finds. “We’ve known that television exposure during infancy is associated with language delays and attentional problems, but so far it has remained unclear why,” said lead researcher Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages television watching before the age of 2, a time when critical development, such as language acquisition, occurs.
(Christakis said a baby’s brain triples in size during the first two years of life, so there’s a lot going on in that little noggin.)

They recorded the time spent goggling.

Analyses of the recordings revealed that each hour of additional television exposure was linked with a decrease of 770 words (7 percent) the child heard from an adult during the recording session.

Hours of television were also associated with a decrease in the number and length of child vocalisations and the back and forth between the child and an adult (called a conversational turn) says Bryner.
Some of these reductions are probably due to children being left alone in front of the television screen, the researchers write in the June issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. But “others may reflect situations in which adults, though present, are distracted by the screen and not interacting with their infant in a discernible manner.” And interaction is key for baby’s brain, apparently.
“The reason it’s concerning is because we know that hearing adults speak and being spoken to are critical exposures that play a role in infants development in language,” Christakis said. “My recommendation first is that children under the age of 2 be discouraged from watching television,” and Christakis added that even if the TV show is intended for the adults, the effect is the same for their children.
(Four of the authors on the paper were employed by the LENA Foundation, which paid for the data collection and develops technology for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of language delays and disorders in children and adults.)
Jeanna Bryner is Senior Writer for


Butterworth – an FAQ on Dyscalculia

In the story below, Professor Brian Butterworth is quoted (from the Indpendent) on the differences betweenDyslexia and Dyscalculia. It seems, from this link, however, that the story may not have had space to explain Butterworth properly. Here’s his own Frequently Asked Question:

How do I recognise a child who has dyscalculia? What are the symptoms and how does this differ from dyslexia with numbers?

As a basic indicator, the child will be performing below expectations (primarily yours, the teacher’s) with no obvious reason such as emotional state or an illness such as, say, glandular fever. This underachievement may manifest itself in specifics such as problems with knowing the value or worth of numbers, in realising than 9 is one less than 10, for example, or in being able to rapidly recall (as the NNS requires) basic number facts – or perhaps in a totally mechanical application of algorithms (procedures) with no understanding of why or what the result means or how to evaluate the answer.

Some children with good memories and good general abilities may not present as underachievers within a class, but may be dramatically underachieving in terms of their true potential. Some children just get stuck in the counting-on phase of development.

So recognition goes back to Butterworth’s test, which should back your subjective conclusions with standardised information. This should also identify the symptoms.

The (part) question as to how dyscalculia differs from ‘dyslexia with numbers’ will depend on the interpretation of ‘dyslexia with numbers’.

Over the past twelve or so years a number of specific learning difficulties have been identified, labelled and researched. These include Asperger’s syndrome, ADD, ADHD, dyspraxia, semantic pragmatic language disorder and dyscalculia. A child may exhibit the characteristics of just one of these, but there is a strong chance that more than one ‘condition’ will apply. Difficulties often occur together and this may be causal, independent or due to similar underlying aetiologies. This may be of theoretical interest to the teacher, but the manifestations of the difficulties in the classroom should be more pertinent.

My guess is that the interventions used for one disorder may very well impact on all disorders and their various combinations. This is not to say that one programme of intervention will help all children. It is far more subtle than that, but the basic principle, stated by workers such as Dr Harry Chasty in the UK and Dr Margaret Rawson in the USA, is ‘If the child doesn’t learn the way you teach, can you teach the way he learns?’

You have to ask: is there such a child as a ‘pure’ dyscalculic or a ‘pure’ dyslexic (difficulties only with literacy) or are there cases where the two conditions occur together for whatever reason? My guess is that the answer may be ‘No’ to the first question, and a simple ‘Yes’ to the second. It may be that one difficulty is dominant, but that does not mean that the other difficulty is totally absent.

My experience of working with pupils who have been diagnosed as severely dyslexic is that most, if not all, have difficulties in at least some areas of mathematics (most commonly in number). The key word here is ‘difficulty’. For example, I always mention a severely dyslexic young man who obtained a degree in mathematics, but could not give an instant correct answer to 7 x 8. Some dyslexic learners will exhibit very few mathematical difficulties, but mathematics is made up of many topics and my experience is that many dyslexic learners will experience difficulty in some areas of number but may very well shine in other areas.

So, not quite a simple as “the difference between word blindness and number blindness” which one might have assumed from the original report!

Brian Butterworth may have his numbers wrong

Many stories about Professor Brian Butterworth saying “more number blindness than word blindness. The Independent story by Steve Connor quoted research which found that between 3 and 6 per cent of children suffer from dyscalculia – the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia – compared to between 2.5 and 4.3 per cent of children who suffer from its linguistic counterpart.

‘Number blindness’ more common than dyslexia

More children suffer from an innate condition that renders them incapable of understanding arithmetic and numbers than those who suffer dyslexia or “word blindness”, according to a study of 1,500 school pupils.

The research found that between 3 and 6 per cent of children suffer from dyscalculia – the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia – compared to between 2.5 and 4.3 per cent of children who suffer from its linguistic counterpart.

Brian Butterworth, professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London, said the disability had nothing to do with how a child was taught, but was the result of children lacking a proper “sense of numbers”, which hinders them in maths lessons.

“Increasingly, the evidence shows that dyscalculia is just as common as dyslexia and yet it is not recognised nearly as widely by teachers, parents, schools, local authorities or central government,” Professor Butterworth said.

“Individuals may be unaware they have this condition. If they discover that they do, there are no dyscalculia charities to assist them as there are for dyslexia,” he told the Cheltenham Science Festival yesterday.

The study was carried out in Cuba by the Cuban Ministries of Health and Education, which commissioned a national survey to assess the extent of the problem using a simple screening test developed by Professor Butterworth.

“The Cubans have recognised this as a real and serious problem for a child’s future. Low numeracy affects life chances in employment and health,” Professor Butterworth said.

“Schoolchildren are made very unhappy by it and teachers often feel they are failing these children because they do not know how to help them,” he said.

Children who suffer from dyscalculia can excel in subjects that do not require numeracy but their chances of a university education can suffer because of the universal requirement to pass the maths GCSE.

Professor Butterworth said it was important to identify the problem early in life so children can be reassured about and given extra lessons that may help.

“Recognition of this condition in the UK is extremely patchy,” he said. “It can be extremely debilitating for people who are affected. Maths and calculations are essential in everyday life and low numeracy can be a real handicap in the workplace.”

What is dyscalculia?

*Dyscalculia, literally “bad counting”, is a genetically-linked learning disability which hampers a person’s ability to use and conceive of numbers. The symptoms are hard to distinguish from the effects of other educational problems, but experts advise that the strategies to help with the difficulties are the same. Sufferers should be taken step-by-step through the problem, using computer or multisensory learning aids. Being dyscalculic is not a recognised disability, so diagnosis cannot give sufferers special consideration in exams and job applications.

Questions arise: different numbers are always given for dyslexia, so that’s the first one to ask.

Also, is dyscalculia reall unrelated to dyslexia? It seems to be a common feature of profoundly dyslexic students I teach… coincidence? I suspect not.

Dyslexia isn’t just “word blindness” though that can be the most obvious symptom. It’s a complex of cerebral features, a variation on the “normal, literate” brain which seems to confer some advantages to thinking of the architectural sort (seeing the whole ‘big picture’ of a problem) at the expense of slowing down phonological processing, and short term memory.

I’ll try to get hold of the Professor’s actual research, if he was involved…

Too small to see

It’s Marilyn [left] . That’s clear. What you may find hard to believe is the size. She’s standing on a diamond: see image [right] for scale!

The man who does these sculptures is another successful dyslexic: Willard Wigan. See the blog at the BBC, which starts:

When Willard Wigan, who has dyslexia, started school in 1962, he wasn’t exactly blessed with forward-thinking teachers. He was considered illiterate by them, and his work was described as “disgusting” to the other children in the class.

You can see some more of Wigan’s sculptures here.

Manual Games? or Games Manual? Either way, it costs £29.10!

GamesIt’s nice to see “word blindness” in the pages of someone who sells helpful products! – it makes you feel they know what the problems are like. And so, without having in any way assessed Dyslexia Manual Games we report on something which could, actually, be the Dyslexia Games Manual!Teaching Expertise sells it, and wrote about it as follows:

Dyslexia Manual Games

‘Out of every 10 people you know, one will be dyslexic’  -British Dyslexia Association.

Dyslexia Manual Games will support your pupils with dyslexia and help to develop their literacy skills

‘This condition should not hinder young people’s education and life chances. Sadly, it all too often does. We need to be better at identifying pupils with dyslexia and then supporting them. ‘Schools Secretary Ed Balls.

According to the BBC, children with dyslexia are to receive extra help in some schools in England under a £3m pilot scheme. The government says half of pupils in 10 areas will be given catch-up reading lessons or one-to-one help from dyslexia specialists.

At this point, there’s a brief explanation of what dyslexia is; after which, the product name changes:

Dyslexia Games Manual is a range of games will develop auditory and visual awareness necessary to improve word-attack skills, while also providing over-learning, revision and reinforcement of vital literacy skills. The games are photocopiable sheets and come in a A4 ringbound folder.

Click here to order your Dyslexia Games Manual today!

The Dyslexia Games Manual (says the Teaching Expertise announcement) contains 55 games to help pupils develop literacy skills. The games fall into six main areas:

16 Memory games − to improve visual and auditory memory – and recall and discrimination.

13 Organisational skills − to understand connections, sequencing, orientation and categorisation.

2 Key words practice − to help pupils recognise individual words and strengthen sequential memory.

15 Word building − to encourage pupils to recognise regular spelling patterns.

3 Story building − to reinforce spellings of common words and develop concepts of sequences of events, leading to better storytelling and story writing.

6 Literacy skills revision − to improve reading of difficult words, without the aid of context.

According to the sales blurb:

The Dyslexia Games Manual allows you to use the power of games to increase concentration and develop motivation. But, most important of all, the games should increase self-confidence and raise self-esteem.

The games relate not just to the matter of not being able to spell, but also to the background reasons behind the dyslexic pupil’s problems. The dyslexic pupil has difficulty spelling becuase the part of the memory that handles this is not well developed. The aim of the games in this manual is to help get that part of the brain developed by persuading the pupil to take part in activities that will stretch the different memory functions of the brain.

The report then goes on to give an example of a game – Rhyming memories – in some detail.

If you wish to order the Dyslexia Games Manual you can order via invoice (only if you use your school/organisation address) or via debit/credit card. Dyslexia Games Manual is £29.10 (includes P&P and VAT).

Can we manage without Literacy?

There’s a thoughtful comment in the Economist by (as usual) an anonymous correspondent seriously suggesting that:

Teachers must recognise that our pedagogical tools are inconsistent with the skills needed to survive in a world where people are always connected to everyone and everything. In such a world, learning to think for oneself could well be more important than simply learning to read and write.

It’s not a stupid idea, despite the instant response of a professional literacy specialist, like myself,

As the days go by, this literacy blog will try to illustrate the changing world of literacy, and the role of dyslexia in business, and ask new questions. Questions like:

    • Can you be dyslexic and still read well?
    • Would dyslexia tuition be useful even if you’re literate?
    • Can “excellence” be achieved even if society ignores literacy

Teachers, we will argue, can do a lot of things! But can Society respond, and ask its teachers to do sensible things?

Mary Kewney