Dyslexia: A Guide For Parents
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a condition in which a person is unable to acquire the basic language skills of reading. The National Institutes of Health define dyslexia as "a disorder manifested in learning to read despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence and socio-cultural opportunity." It is estimated that at least 10 million children, or approximately 17% of school age children, are poor readers. Reading problems occur with equal frequency in boys and girls.
Reading is made up of several language skill components. Basic to the acquisition of reading is the ability to recognize and remember the sound correspondence and to rapidly decode and analyze sound segments within words. Difficulty with the acquisition of these basic skills is a reliable indicator of reading difficulties. Deficits in decoding skills also will affect spelling and written language. Auditory processing and recall of spoken language may also be problem areas for the dyslexic. Research suggests some dyslexics may have a reduced ability to discriminate between similar sounds in words and may process oral language more slowly than others.
While the common denominator among dyslexics is their difficulty with language processing and learning, the effects of dyslexia vary greatly from person to person, producing different symptoms and varying degrees of severity. The most common trait among people with dyslexia is that they read at levels significantly lower than expected for people of their intelligence and age.
What are the causes of dyslexia?
At the present time, the causes of dyslexia are unknown. It is known to be neurologically based and a persistent, lifelong condition. Dyslexia is often inherited and other family members may have similar learning patterns. Recent research suggests that some dyslexics may have a slight difference in brain structure and functioning of the areas connected with language learning. Other research suggests that some dyslexics may have a reduced ability to process speech rapidly.
What are the characteristics of dyslexia?
- Reverses letters, words and numbers
- Confuses the order of letters in words
- Does not recognize words previously learned
- Spells a word several different ways without recognizing correct version
- Does not hear fine differences in words; i.e. writes "pin" for "pen"
- Confuses left and right; may write letters backwards
- Has poor reading comprehension
- Has difficulty carrying out a sequence of directions
- Experiences difficulty stating thoughts in an organized, cogent way
- Has difficulty pronouncing words, may reverse or substitute parts of words
- Has difficulty remembering what has recently been read
- Has difficulty concentrating when reading or writing
- Demonstrates inability to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant information
- Spells poorly; misspelling is illogical
- Has problems taking notes accurately
- Has difficulty organizing and completing written projects
Frequently, children may display many of these characteristics while they are acquiring the basic skills of reading. However, when a child exhibits severe difficulty learning basic reading skills or demonstrates a high frequency of dyslexic characteristics over a period of time, other instructional options should be considered.
What is the benefit of educational evaluation?
It is extremely important that reading disorders be diagnosed early. Research confirms that poor reading skills can be greatly improved if addressed in the early primary grades. A child or individual who is significantly behind his or her peers in reading skills should receive a comprehensive educational evaluation.
The results of the evaluation provide a profile of the child's abilities and areas of academic strengths and needs. From this information, a recommendation can be made regarding the teaching method for the child. Once a child has been diagnosed with dyslexia or a reading disability, he or she should receive reading instruction from a reading specialist with expertise in the area of reading disabilities. Skilled teaching and committed learning can mitigate the effects of even the most severe dyslexia.
What type of education intervention is available?
Because they learn and process language differently, dyslexics need special programs to learn reading, spelling and writing skills. Current research suggests that a direct instruction approach that utilizes a structured and cumulative phonetic methodology is the best teaching method. Dyslexia and reading disabilities can be helped, whatever the degree of severity.
Date reviewed: February 2005
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Schwab Foundation for Learning