'Key' to dyslexia in mirror images

4th September 1998 at 01:00
DYSLEXIC pupils in Rochdale are to pilot a pioneering system of reading and writing being developed at Salford University.

Academics have come up with a new alphabet which depicts the mirror and upside-down image of each letter, which they hope will enable dyslexics to decipher words.

The alphabet - which they have called TOMAXAMOT because the word is a palindrome and each letter is symmetrical - has already helped students who had problems with literacy and were at risk of dropping out of their degree courses.

A software package is now being developed which can be personalised for each learner, and will be tested on three age groups in Rochdale schools.

The researchers want to experiment with 10, 14 and 18-year-olds to see how the system can help them develop their skills and how the alphabet can aid progress at different levels.

They believe that TOMAXAMOT will help children under the age of eight because they still have a tendency to write letters back-to-front, regardless of any learning difficulties which may emerge later.

Up to one in 20 children is thought to have learning problems linked to dyslexia.

Stephen Warman-Johnston, of Salford's department of professional studies, developed the system after seeing bright students struggle with basic skills.

He said: "It was frustrating to see intelligent young people drop out. Many methods have been tried to help dyslexics but this one actually takes to task the alphabet for the first time.

"It has taken about four years to develop and it started with me using a mirror to see how characters would look in reverse and upside-down because this is how dyslexics tend to see them."

He said that initial trials had proved encouraging, with students recognising the letters within a few minutes of first looking at the alphabet.

If the mirror image is reproduced in a lighter colour, Mr Johnston said dyslexics could be taught to recognise the traditional letter shapes.

The researchers have secured a Pounds 54,000 grant over two years from a charitable trust to enable them to continue and develop their work.

However, the Dyslexia Institute said this week it doubted whether the system would help many sufferers.

Institute director Liz Brooks said: "It sounds rather simplistic and does not address the fundamental problem which dyslexics have, which is to link sounds with the written word."

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