Definition Dyslexia is an impairment of the ability to read caused by a difference in brain function.
What is going on in the body? Dyslexia, also known as developmental reading disorder, is a learning disability. Its effects may not be obvious until a child is well into his or her school years. The impact of this learning disability, however, can grow as a child advances in school and can cause significant difficulty.
The ability to decode and understand a new word is dependent on the person's ability to break it down into phonemes, the basic units of sound. Dyslexia is the result of a deficiency in this phonemic processing. Approximately 20% of the population has some degree of dyslexia.
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? A child with dyslexia may be slow to reach language milestones in the first several years of life. He or she may be delayed in acquiring new words. Young children with dyslexia may also have difficulty in finding the word they want to say. They may not pronounce words properly. They might have trouble learning the names of colours and letters.
When dyslexic children reach school age, they experience difficulty in learning to read and soon fall behind their peers in reading. This may not be obvious at first. Parents and teachers may suspect the child is not paying attention or is not motivated to do schoolwork.
Inattentiveness can also be seen in a child with dyslexia. It takes much more mental energy for a child with dyslexia to read, because the process is not very efficient. The child can become easily fatigued by the process.
What are the causes and risks of the condition? Although many instances of dyslexia are genetically determined, others may be related to damage to the brain in the foetus and young infant. Dyslexia can be caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb, or foetal alcohol syndrome.
Infants born prematurely, especially those who are quite premature or have significant complications, may be at increased risk for dyslexia.
What can be done to prevent the condition? Pregnant women should avoid the use of illicit drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and any unnecessary medications while pregnant. Counselling to avoid teen pregnancy and comprehensive antenatal care for all pregnant women may help prevent some instances of dyslexia.
How is the condition diagnosed? Many children with dyslexia may not be identified until they have had several years of difficulty in school. Dyslexia, however, can be diagnosed by the end of second grade. The oral reading of a child with dyslexia, when compared with that of their classmates, will be slow and halting. They will have difficulty comprehending the meaning of what they are reading.
On standard achievement tests, such as the Woodcock-Johnson, a child with dyslexia usually scores significantly below grade level in language areas such as reading, spelling, and writing.
What are the long-term effects of the condition? A very bright child with dyslexia may not be identified until later because he or she is able to compensate enough to maintain average grades. When the task changes from learning to read to reading to learn, he or she will begin to fall behind. Some children with dyslexia may be able to get by until high school or college before they encounter significant difficulty.
Failure to identify dyslexia can lead to significant frustration, loss of motivation for school, depression, and life long educational and occupational under-achievement.
What are the risks to others? Dyslexia is not contagious and cannot be spread to others. Some cases of dyslexia are genetic. In these cases, genetic counselling may be helpful.
What are the treatments for the condition? Because dyslexia is caused by a difference in the structure and function of specific areas of the brain, there is no cure. Early identification is important for initiating treatment before the child with dyslexia becomes frustrated and loses motivation for learning in school.
The child with dyslexia should receive special education services directed at helping the child reach his or her highest reading potential. Parents play a vital role in the education of a child with dyslexia. They can be advocates to be sure that the child's disability is identified. Sometimes this may involve seeking a neuropsychological evaluation for the child outside the school setting.
What are the side effects of the treatments? In the case of intense training and special educational programs, a child with dyslexia may be frustrated as he or she struggles to conquer each step of learning.
What happens after treatment for the condition? Treatment for dyslexia may last for several years, and the child's needs may change during a lifetime. Carefully addressing and changing treatment as a person progresses through life will help tailor the treatment to fit the person's needs.
How is the condition monitored? Children with dyslexia experience many difficulties as they progress through school. The most important function that parents can serve is to provide strong emotional support to help their child master these difficulties. This involves being attentive to the child's emotional well-being and watching for signs of frustration or depression. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.
Author: Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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