What is Dyslexia?
Very literally, the word “dyslexia” means difficulty with words. It is made up of two Greek roots; dys which means “difficulty”, and lex which means “words.
A person with dyslexia has difficulties in reading, writing, and spelling, and sometimes oral expression but is often bright and capable in other areas, has had parental support, good academic instruction, and usually does not have hearing or vision problems.
Research has found that 5-10% of the population is dyslexic. There are significant things that are consistent for most people with dyslexia; however, an individual’s struggles can look different from person to person. Dyslexia can be seen in a range from mild to severe, can co-exist with other disabilities, and be affected is the person’s unique strengths and/or difficulties.
Some dyslexic students actually seem to read quite well, but a look at their spelling shows what they really understand about letters and sounds or how words are put together and they likely have difficulty decoding unknown multi-syllable words. Sometimes a child will seem to be learning to read very well in the early grades because they rely heavily on picture clues and their own background knowledge. However most children with dyslexia “hit a wall” in their reading development because of their underlying struggles with sounds, letters, and their ability to decode unknown words.
Research indicates that dyslexia doesn’t have any relationship to intelligence but is a neurological condition caused by different wiring in the brain. While there isn’t any cure for dyslexia, an individual with dyslexia can learn and is often gifted in some other area. In fact, many well-known celebrities have been diagnosed with dyslexia. Countless individuals with dyslexia actually credit their success to the different way that their brain is wired. Among the dyslexia success stories are Thomas Edison (inventor), Anne Bancroft (polar explorer), Henry Winkler (actor, producer, and author), and Joe Whitt, Jr. (NFL coach with the Green Bay Packers).
The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity posts a great collection of dyslexia success stories. You may enjoy reading their stories.
The international Dyslexia Association adopted this official definition in 2002:
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.
Characteristics of Dyslexia
In the preschool years you may notice:
- Delayed speech development
- Difficulty pronouncing words and mixing up sounds and syllables in multi-syllable words
- Confusion between the names of letters and numbers
- Difficulty rhyming words
- Confusion with directionality words such as right/left, over/under, and before/after
Kindergarten and First Grade
In the Kindergarten and 1st grade years you may also notice:
- Difficulty remembering the names of letters and being able to recall them quickly
- Difficulty recalling the sounds that the letters represent
- Trouble memorizing their address, phone number, or the alphabet
- Difficulties with handwriting tasks and learning how to make each letter correctly
- Difficulty learning to decode words by letter sounds and recognizing whole words
- Difficulty spelling the sounds of a word in a plausible way that can be recognized by the reader
- Difficulty learning to read and spell common sight words
- When speaking, has difficulty finding the correct word and will often call objects by a more general term
In later elementary grades you may notice all of the symptoms listed above plus:
- Letter and number reversals that continue past the end of 1st grade
- Handwriting that is difficulty to read
- Difficulty learning cursive
- Reading that is slow, choppy, and inaccurate
- These specific types of reading inaccuracies
- Guessing at a word based on shape or context
- Skipping or misreading prepositions (at, to, of)
- Ignoring suffixes
- can’t sound out unknown words
- Poor spelling
- Speech sounds are omitted or added to a word
- Wrong letter spellings are used for sounds in the word
- Persistent errors with spelling frequently used sight words
- Difficulty telling time with a clock with hands
- Difficulties with math
- Memorizing multiplication tables
- Memorizing the sequence of steps in multi-step problems
- Directionality difficulties
- Difficulty with organization
- Extremely messy bedroom, backpack, and desk
Middle School and High School
At the middle school and high school you may see any of the symptoms from earlier years plus:
- Limited vocabulary
- Poor written expression and a noticeable discrepancy between their verbal skills and their written compositions
- Difficulty in mastering a foreign language
- Difficulty reading printed music
An adult with dyslexia may have had any of the symptoms listed above in their educational past and may still:
- Read slowly
- Need to read a page two or three times to understand it
- Avoid projects that require extensive reading
- Spell terribly and still have errors in their spelling after using spell check
- Have difficulty pronouncing uncommon multi-syllable words when reading
- Have difficulties putting thoughts onto paper and avoids writing whenever possible
- Still have difficulty remembering their right from their left
- Often get lost, even in a familiar city
- Continue to confuse b and d, especially when tired or sick
3 Common Dyslexia Myths
Dyslexia is where they see things backwards.
Dyslexics do not see things backwards or upside down, however, they are often confused between letters such as b and d, p and q, and m and w, n and u. This is actually the result of auditory confusions and processing difficulties and because they do not fully understand or remember the sounds that each letter makes.
My child can read so it can’t be dyslexia.
Someone with dyslexia can read – some may actually read very well – but many of them will read only up to a point and then “hit the wall” by 3rd grade. Actually a better way to identify someone with dyslexia is by their spelling. Their spelling shows what they really understand about letters and sounds and how words work.
Dyslexia is so rare. It can’t be that.
Dyslexia is not rare! More than 30 years of reading research tells us that up to 20% of the population has dyslexia. That’s 1 in every 5! But of that amount, there is a large range in the level of severity. Dyslexia occurs along a continuum from mild, to moderate, to severe, to profound. Some people only have dyslexia; others have co-existing disabilities along with their dyslexia. For example, close to half those diagnosed with dyslexia also have ADD/ADHD.
What should I do to help my child?
When a child is diagnosed with dyslexia, usually both special teaching and classroom accommodations are recommended.
When a child struggles with reading, it is important to insure that they are getting the right kind of help. Specialized teaching/tutoring is often required. This tutoring is most effective when it is one-on-one instruction and is delivered by a teacher with who understands the dyslexic student and has training and experience to effectively guide the student’s learning.
Reading researchers tell us that the best time to address a student’s difficulties is during kindergarten and first grade but there is also research to back up the claim that almost all individuals with dyslexia, no matter their age, can learn to read. Focused and appropriate instruction is extremely important for all students, but for older students the specialized tutoring may need to be more intensive and require a longer time-frame for the child’s reading skill to reaches their grade level.
A parent may find the help they are looking for in their child’s school, but unfortunately in many school settings, teachers are not knowledgeable about dyslexia or know the correct methods to help these students. They may consider students with dyslexia to be lazy, stupid, or trouble makers. Therefore, many parents find that seeking out individualized reading instruction by a trained professional is their best option. The teacher/tutor’s methods need to be based on a systematic and explicit understanding of sounds, letters, and structure of the English language. This reading instruction goes by a variety of names including Orton Gillingham, Sturctured Literacy, Simultaneous Multisensory, Explicit Phonics, and others.
Darlene Larson is a qualified dyslexia specialist whose tutoring and consultation services may be able to help your child. She also offers coaching services for other teachers or tutors. Contact her for a free consultation today.
Accommodations are also important for the dyslexic student. Accommodations do not change what is being taught, but they will provide slight changes in how the student receives the information, learns to master new skills, or shows their understanding of the material that is being learned. Some common accommodations that may be recommended for a dyslexic student are Text-to-Speech (audio text), extra time on tests or having the tests read orally, accepting dictated homework or teaching the student to use technology tools such as Speech-to-Text, grading on content instead of spelling or penmanship, etc.
Darlene Larson can guide you and your child in how to use specific accommodations and in helping you determine the kinds of assistance that will be the most beneficial for you child.