Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, dys… WHAT?

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November 5, 2019
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February 27, 2020

By Lindie Moolman

In today’s society where everything is moving at a faster pace, knowledge is often a mere click of a button away and humankind is becoming more intellectually advanced. With this increase in intellectual advancement, there seems to also be an increase in the ‘dys’s’. These terms are used more and more frequently but what exactly do they mean?

The prefix ‘dys’ is derived from Greek and refers to that which is bad or impaired (Stark, 2010).

 Dys’ definitions

  • Dyslexia can be viewed as a reading and spelling disorder (De Jager, 2009).
  • Dyscalculia is a learning disorder affecting arithmetic calculations (Stark, 2010).
  • Dyspraxia refers to problems that are experienced with motor co-ordination (Muter & Likierman, 2008).

 In this article, the ‘dys’ that has an influence on reading and spelling, will be discussed in more detail.

Dyslexia is described by Stark (2010:7) as a neurological-functional problem as a result of a minimal brain dysfunction and/or differential brain dysfunction, which manifests as a specific learning disorder relating to an inadequate ability to decode, encode and apply.

The result of this is a problematic reading ability (decoding), spelling ability (encoding) and writing ability (nemkinesia).

Dr Griffin classified three types of dyslexia:

  • Dyseidesia (visual)
  • Dysphonesia (auditory)
  • Dysnemkinesia (motoric)
  1. What occurs in the brain when a child reads or writes? (Adapted from: Stark, 2010).

  • The eye receives a visual message which is converted into a nerve impulse. The nerve impulse moves to the occipital lobe.
  • From here the impulse is sent to the left angular gyrus. If the word is familiar to the child, a sight-sound match is made.
  • Whole-word conversion then occurs (sight reading), although this depends on whether the word has already been stored in the sight vocabulary.
  • When it is an unfamiliar word, Wernicke’s area is used for the phonetical (sound) decoding of the word.
  • The third area that is involved is the motor cortex. In the motor cortex, memory traces for the duplicating of letter forms are embedded; these are stored and then recalled when words are written down.
  • Normal readers use the left temporal hemisphere of the brain to decode words phonetically. In dyslexic individuals, the left part of the brain, associated with the phonetic decoding of words, functions ineffectively. These individuals then have the propensity to rely more on the right sections of the brain.

This process can be diagrammatically explained as follows:

The term sensory-motor is used in physical development, which forms the basis for the child’s overall development. Sensory refers to the senses and motor to the muscles. All information from the environment is taken in through our senses – touch, smell, taste, hearing and sight (De Jager & Victor, 2013). This information is taken to the brain via the inside senses, where it is then processed. This processed information must then travel via the inside senses to the muscles – which must then react. Whenever any label contains the prefix ‘dys’ it means that the flow of information is severely disrupted – either between the input and processing phase or between the processing and output phase (De Jager, 2009). This then results in the child experiencing problems with learning.

The inside senses are the senses that react to sensations and stimulation that occur inside the body.

What this means is that before a child can be diagnosed with dyslexia, his/her sensory, perceptual, cognitive and motor skills must be SUFFICIENTLY developed. And this is where parents play an important role.

Take note also that a child with a dominant left eye can also display signs of dyslexia as a result of the left eye’s natural propensity to read from right to left (De Jager, 2009).

  1. What can I do as a parent?

 A multi-disciplinary approach from several professions is important when investigating reading disability or any other conditions that are prefixed with ‘dys’.

Mind Moves® and other activities for conditions that begin with ‘dys’

  • A routine eye test is important. Optometrists can exclude any underlying pathological causes for poor visual acuity.
  • Make sure that the primitive reflexes have been inhibited.
  • Read out aloud to your child every night.
  • Play a lot outside. Jump on a trampoline, climb on a jungle gym, build puzzles together. PLAY.
  • Systematically establish first gravitational security, then spatial orientation, rhythm and timing.
  • Establish laterality.
  • Cross the midline.
  • Learn about rhythm and timing.
  • Learn the days of the week, months of the year, seasons and how to tell time.
  • Play games that practise sequencing – like dominoes.

 Mind Moves (De Jager, 2009) is a movement programme that parents and teachers can utilise on a daily basis to develop brain pathways which can help learners improve their reading and spelling skills.

The following Mind Moves for reading and spelling skills can be done daily, 3 times per day, if possible.

Power ON

Rub the indentation just below the collar bone in line with the left eye  

This exercise  re-establishes the electrical flow via the vagus nerve (to the speech organs and stomach) to help relax butterflies and talk with ease.

Antennae adjuster

Massage both ear lobes simultaneously from top to bottom using circular movements.

This move develops the near senses, auditory processing, auditory perception as well as receptive language ability.               

Mouse pad

Focus on the thumb held at elbow distance from the eyes. Move the thumb upwards, first around the left eye and then around the right eye.  Repeat five times. Swop hands and repeat the same process, always first drawing a  circle around the left eye and then around the right eye.

This move stimulates the visual, auditory and kinesthetic receptive ability, while crossing the midline to integrate the left and right parts of the brain and body. It develops eye-hand coordination and visual integration.

Visual workout

Keep the head straight. Look at one thumb, held at elbow distance from the eyes. Move the thumb to the left (at nose level), and then slowly to the right, crossing the visual midline. First do this with the eyes closed, imagining the position of the thumb. Open the eyes and check whether the eyes and thumb are in the same position. Repeat five times. Then repeat five times with eyes open. Repeat exercise with thumb held up and eyes turned up into a visual position (without turning the head), first with eyes closed and then with eyes open. Repeat the exercise with the thumb and eyes down into a kinesthetic position, first closed and then open. Rub the hands together briskly and place the warm palms over the eyes to relax them.

 This move stimulates easy transition between visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning. It promotes eye-hand coordination  and crossing the lateral midline.    


De Jager, M. 2009.  Mind Moves – moves that mend the mind.  Johannesburg: Mind Moves® Institute.

De Jager, M. 2011.  Brain development, MILESTONES and learning.  BabaGym and Mind Moves brain boosters. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute.

De Jager, M. & Victor, L.  2013.  Play Learn Know. A child is a work in progress.  Welgemoed: Metz Press.

Blythe, S.G. 2009.  Attention, Balance and Coordination.  The A.B.C. of learning success.  UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Muter, V. & Likierman, H.  2008.  Dyslexia.  A parent’s guide to dyslexia, learning difficulties.  London: Vermilion.

Stark, S.  2010.  Disleksie.  Vereeniging: Prestige Art Press.


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