by Marni McNiff
Dyslexia, an impairment in the brain’s ability to translate images received from the eyes and ears into understandable language, is one of the most common learning disabilities in the United States. The National Institutes of Health reports that 60–80% of people with learning disabilities have problems with reading and language skills.
The exact causes of dyslexia are still not known. The International Dyslexia Association’s website states, “the anatomical and brain imagery studies show differences in the way the brain of a dyslexic person develops and functions. Moreover, most people with dyslexia have been found to have problems with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word and/or learning how letters represent those sounds, a key factor in their reading difficulties. Dyslexia is not due to either lack of intelligence or desire to learn; with appropriate teaching methods, dyslexics can learn successfully.”
Dyslexia and Misconceptions
Susan Barton is the creator of the Barton Learning System, an at-home learning program for parents and educators that is based on the Orton-Gillingham method of treatment. She notes, “Many [people] still believe that dyslexia means you see things backwards or that you can’t read at all. They are unaware that spelling is the most revealing characteristic of dyslexia. Despite spending hours and hours studying for the weekly spelling test, and perhaps passing it, dyslexic students cannot retain their spelling words from one week to the next. And they cannot spell when writing sentences and compositions—not even the high frequency words such as ‘friend,’ ‘because, ‘or’ does’ And when they write, they just can’t seem to remember that a sentence must start with a capital letter, and that there has to be punctuation in a composition somewhere.”
Early Warning Signs for Dyslexia
The classic warning signs of dyslexia begin showing up during the preschool years and early intervention is key to treating dyslexia. Dyslexia specialist Doreen Bentley says, “Early intervention is absolutely the most effective way to work with a dyslexic student. We can identify children in preschool and start to work with them on phonemic awareness.”
Some early warning signs include:
- Delays in talking
- Awkward fist-like pencil grip
- Inability to follow directions
- Slow or poor recall of facts
- Poor playground skills
- Trouble making friends
- Difficulty understanding language and/or facial expressions
Because many children exhibit some developmental delays, dyslexia can go undetected in the early grades of schooling. AA dyslexic child will likely have difficulties in learning to read and may show signs of depression and low self-esteem. Behavior problems at home, as well as at school, are also frequently seen in dyslexic children, as is a developing dislike for school in general.
A dyslexic child’s success in school hinges on diagnosis and treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment put the dyslexic child at a distinct advantage over another child who is not diagnosed until third- or fourth-grade.
Dysphonetic vs. Dyseidetic Dyslexia
There are two terms to describe the typical symptoms of dyslexia. Dysphonetic dyslexia is related to the child with difficulty connecting sounds to symbols, has trouble sounding out words, and would have a fair amount of spelling mistakes that demonstrate a poor grasp of phonics. Dysphonetic is often referred to as auditory dyslexia because it relate to the way a person processes the sounds of language.
A dyseidetic dyslexic has a decent grasp of the concepts of phonics, but their difficultly lies within whole word recognitions and spelling. This type of dyslexia is often referred to as visual or surface dyslexia.
Most remedial programs offered to elementary students emphasize phonics. While this may help the dysphonetic dyslexic in some ways, it does not help all of the problems associated with dyslexia.
Phonics-based programs are usually of little or no help to the dyseidetic dyslexic, and can actually cause more confusion for the child.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Dyslexia
Dyslexia in young children is usually diagnosed by an educational psychologist or a pediatric neurologist. Parents of children having difficulties in school are legally entitled in the United States, to request an evaluation through their school district. In the US, it is under federal law that public school districts are required to identify children with dyslexia and provide them with appropriate educational services. Formal assessments are usually required before the child can begin to receive special services through the school system.
One state that has a leg up on the rest of the country is Texas. Texas passed a statewide law the requires public schools to screen children for dyslexia. If a student “matches the dyslexia profile,” that student gets research-based intervention from a dyslexia specialist through the public school system. Other states need to follow suit.
While there isn’t a “cure” for dyslexia, early intervention can ease some of the stresses associated with the learning disability and provide children with the tools they need for success. Parents can search for trained service providers in their area through the International Dyslexia Association’s website.